Lothar Baumgarten

The intellectual concentration of Lothar Baumgarten’s work is contained in Die Namen der Bäume (The names of the trees), a book of found and original texts with photographs both from scientific literature and taken by the artist during a stay he made among South American Indians. His life among the Indians is the key to Baumgarten’s thinking about art, and also links up the works shown here. Baumgarten’s installations from the late ’60s are probably only now coming clear in their poetry of colors, materials, signs, and forms; Gran Sabana, 1969, for example, portrays the myth of the creation, with its fallen Brazilian tree which is cut into pieces on the ground. In front of it are parrot feathers, the precious wealth of the ancient Indian civilizations, lying among plaster which has been scattered about; beyond is a tetrahedron of blue paint. To the side is the artist’s notebook from this same period.

In one space of this installation are photographs taken by Baumgarten during the late ’70s. These make up a poetic dialogue with the landscape—the habitat of the Indians with whom the artist spent more than a year, the world of trees and animals. The mountain is the mythical king. In the next space, red and blue parrot feathers above small red pedestal friezes alternate on the walls with more of the photos. Between the supporting columns in the middle of the space Baumgarten has placed small tetrahedrons, and the columns and tetrahedrons are painted in a sequence based on the primary colors. A fictional journey into another culture is expressed in the exhibition; the photos have documented the real encounter.

This installation is more clearly indebted to the architecture of the gallery space than are those of the late ’60s, with their more literary references. And the work also runs counter to the present development of art, both in its photographic elements and in its poetic, late-’60s type of installation. To a large extent, Baumgarten has withdrawn from the culture market. His life among the Indians, for which he prepared by intensive studies of the scientific literature, emphatically characterizes his conception of art and culture; he is not concerned with the adaptation of another world in the form of a simple transfer, or of kitsch, nostalgic mythmaking. As with the transformations of the mythological scene in the early installation, his photographs testify to a fundamental commitment to the renewal of cultural thinking.

Both the mythological symbols and the photographs demonstrate Baumgarten’s impulses for a consciousness that draws its energies from its intuitive zones; he seeks the kind of integration of man, culture, and environment that is lost to Western civilization. What Baumgarten finds among the Indians, a spiritual connection between man and his environment, he is intent on reanimating in Western consciousness. His emphasis on the role of architecture reflects an attempt to anchor that foreign cultural element as a creative force in his own country. The installation, expanded by the photos, is provided spatially and integrally, in its architecture, with mythic and cultural symbols. The references to the cultural levels of mankind’s history are diverse; organic found fragments (the feathers) and geometric signs have been decisive factors in all cultures. They are deeply rooted in man’s unconscious thinking. Rational pragmatism has cut off these roots, and to activate them anew for a culture worthy of the name is the driving force behind this work. This monument to the Indians is a monument to culture.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Martha Humphreys.