Turn of the Fire
12.11.2017 until 07.01.2018
In the person of Ruth Baumgarte (1923–2013) the Ludwig Museum is presenting an artist whose expressive, sometimes almost apocalyptic work addressed the social and socio-political upheavals that have taken place on the African continent even before a more general art-historical discourse began to take shape. Ruth Baumgarte’s work has been shown in museums and art associations all over the world. The Ludwig Museum is staging her Africa Cycle in a monographic setting for the first time, while placing it in a new scholarly relationship with the current reflexion on the situation in Africa.
Born in Coburg in 1923, the daughter of actress Margarethe Kellner-Conrady and the actor, director and future head of UFA’s production department Kurt Rupli, the artist grew up in Berlin. From 1941 to 1944 she studied at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste and was profoundly marked by the Second World War and the Battle for Berlin, which she experienced at first hand. After marrying the artist Eduard Busse she moved to Bielefeld, where she worked in a freelance capacity as a painter and graphic artist.
On her 40-plus trips to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and other parts of east Africa, some of which lasted several months, the artist developed a fluent painting style executed in rapid brush-strokes. She was skilled in dreaming up scenes and narrative settings into which she integrated her human figures, often plunging her motifs into harmonious colour ‘chords’ using watercolour techniques. The focus of her artistic interest was on people and their sensitivities, dreams, longings and lost opportunities. Her predilection for details, in particular for character studies underpinned her painterly compositions, which were frequently permeated by a surrealistic expression. Only at a relatively late stage did she begin to document her extensive travel experiences and, once back in her studio in Bielefeld, to turn them into finished pictures with the addition of further motifs and the use of compositional devices.
Africa provided the spark which ignited Ruth Baumgarte’s artistic individuality into a pronounced style all of her own. For her, Africa was more than a superficial view of what was still a largely unknown continent. She produced almost visionary compositions, which in an orgy of colour capture the fire, the heat, the solitude and the fascination of Africa Her figurative paintings and drawings develop on the one hand from the motifs, but even more from the immediate visual experience, from pure seeing. Ruth Baumgarte observed the African countries she visited from an outsider’s perspective, and yet was at the same time deeply rooted in a view of landscape and people that bring out another aspect: her affinity to Surrealism. In parallel, though, she formulated human figures that developed into symbols. Figure and landscape become one and symbolically emphasize the symbiotic alliance.
Ruth Baumgarte’s confrontation with Africa took place against the background of her knowledge of the art-historical tradition that peaked in the work of Eugène Delacroix, Paul Klee, August Macke and Louis Moilliet. Ruth Baumgarte continued this painterly tradition, while extending it by adding the critical observation of one who was herself involved as a human being, without wanting to impose her own view of things on those she was confronting. To this extent, Ruth Baumgarte’s works are strongly expressive while at the same time pervaded by her critical eye for the social upheavals in Africa.
The exhibition is supported by the Kunststiftung Ruth Baumgarte, Bielefeld.