Eugen Schönebeck

Galerie Sylvia Menzel

How can art, as the intersection of the individual and society, bring about change? This question was posed by an exhibition of work by Eugen Schönebeck who stopped exhibiting in the mid ’60s, and had ceased to make art altogether by 1966. The 50 drawings on view here, which had never before been publicly shown, were all done between 1960 and 1964, the period of his friendship with Georg Baselitz. At that time Schönebeck and Baselitz cultivated the role of the artist as radical, antibourgeois outsider. In their two famous “Pandämonische Manifeste” (Pandemonic manifestos, 1963) they sketched an existential view of the artist who seeks unmediated access to the human psyche through the ’work of art. After his immigration to West Germany, Schönebeck who is originally from the German Democratic Republic and was brought up in an artistic environment of Socialist Realism, experienced the art of the West “as a drug.” He began with free tachist drawings, into which human figures increasingly intruded. Der Gehreuzigte (The crucified, 1964), Gemarterte (The martyred, 1963), and Opfer (Victims, 1963), all included in this exhibition, can be read as counterimages to the West German Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) mentality of the ’60s. Schönebeck represents the human being as an oppressed creature and focuses on the issue of whether there exists the possibility of making human experience directly visible in art.

After the end of his friendship with Baselitz (around 1964), Schonebeck asked why human disaster arises, and answered the question with political paintings—portraits of Mayakovski, Lenin, Mao, who all spoke for the necessity of social change. But Schönebeck distrusts his own utopian dreams. After 1966 he withdrew into silence. By refusing to make art, he asserts the absolute impossibility of art as an effective instrument of change. The decision that Schönebeck made in the ’60s is, in the most profound way, a contribution to art today.

Wolfgang Max Faust

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland.