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Fritz Fenzl
Encounters with ‘Guernica’
Re-discovered photographs by Fritz Fenzl of the 1956 Picasso exhibition in Hamburg

In conjunction with the
3rd Triennial of Photography – Hamburg 2005

17 April – 3 July 2005

Fritz Frenzl

On 24 October 1955, Germany’s first ever full-scale retrospective of Pablo Picasso’s work was opened in Munich’s Haus der Kunst. At the end of that year this large exhibition then travelled to Cologne, after which, opening on 10 March 1956, it went on display for more than six weeks in the Hamburg Kunsthalle on the top floor of the old building. This retrospective gave the public its first opportunity to become acquainted with an oeuvre that barely twenty years earlier had been branded as ‘degenerate’ by the National Socialist regime, removed from the country’s museum collections and sold off. Picasso was the epitome of Modernism. This was modern art from abroad whose impact in Germany was, quite naturally, both confusing and enlightening.

Picasso himself must have been aware of the significance of this exhibition in Germany and for his art-viewing audience. This, surely, was what led him to grant permission for his most controversial work, Guernica, the vast wall painting he conceived for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris, to be loaned out for the exhibition in Germany. It depicts the horrors of the destruction unleashed on the town of Guernica in April 1937 by Germany’s Condor Legion. Picasso had donated this painting to the Spanish people, but loaned it to the New York Museum of Modern Art for the duration of the Franco dictatorship.

Picasso’s Guernica in the Hamburg Kunsthalle – hard to believe today. Some of the more elderly lovers of art still remember having seen this work here. Its sheer size prohibited it being hung on a wall, so it was mounted on a structure standing diagonally in the gallery (now the Max Beckmann room). Placed in front of it along the wall was a long bench that gave visitors the opportunity to sit and intensively examine it.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commissioned the renowned photographer Fritz Fenzl (born in 1916) to document the Picasso exhibition in the Hamburg Kunsthalle. Fritz Fenzl was less concerned with the presentation of the works themselves than with observing the reactions of the exhibition visitors, capturing the way they behaved and moved, and recording their cautious welcome, incomprehension or even overt rejection of modern art. Fenzl thus succeeded in compiling a fascinating photographic document of the reception modern art was given in post-war Germany.

In the course of one afternoon in the Picasso exhibition in Hamburg, Fritz Fenzl shot altogether 271 pictures, of which only a small number were reproduced in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung somewhat later to celebrate Picasso’s birthday. Prints were never made of most of his negatives, which is why his photographs have remained unknown until the present day. Fritz Fenzl, living in south Germany, instantly agreed to the idea of enlarging some of these photographs for the first time and exhibiting them in conjunction with the 3rd Triennial of Photography – Hamburg 2005. He has personally supported this project by printing the enlargements of selected negatives himself.

The exhibition Encounters with ‘Guernica’ is supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung.

Curator of the exhibition: Dr. Ulrich Luckhardt

© Fritz Frenzl © Fritz Frenzl © Fritz Frenzl
© Fritz Frenzl © Fritz Frenzl
© Fritz Frenzl © Fritz Frenzl © Fritz Frenzl

 

 
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