R.B. Kitaj - Die Retrospektive
19 July to 27 October 2013
Galerie der Gegenwart, 2. Obergeschoss

R.B. Kitaj
R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) © R. B. Kitaj Estate; UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, Los Angeles


Biography

R. B. Kitaj

1932
Born Ronald Brooks-Benway on 29 October in Chagrin Falls near Cleveland, Ohio; his mother, Jeanne Brooks, is the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants; his father, Sigmund Benway, abandons the family soon after Ronald's birth

1941
Jeanne Brooks marries Walter Kitaj, a Viennese Jew who emigrated to the United States in 1938; Ronald takes his stepfather's surname

1949–54
Works intermittently as a merchant seaman, travelling around the Caribbean and visiting many South American countries; adopts a restless lifestyle involving frequent relocations; develops a passion for literature, which becomes his "spiritual home"

1950
Studies at the Cooper Union Institute in New York, where he is taught drawing by Sidney Delevante

1951
Kitaj travels to Europe for the first time; studies at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna under Fritz Wotruba and Albert Paris von Gütersloh; meets Elsi Roessler, a fellow American student

1953
Marries Elsi Roessler in New York; returns to Vienna and travels around Europe; in Catalonia, Spain, he meets and becomes close friends with Josep Vicente Romà, a political activist; this encounter inspires him to create several paintings on the theme of revolution and resistance

1956/57
Serves in the United States Army, stationed in Darmstadt and in Fontainebleau, near Paris

1957–59
Moves to England to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford; attends lectures by the art historian Edgar Wind and studies the writings of Aby Warburg, an influential art theorist and cultural critic from Hamburg, which encourage Kitaj to develop a collage-like painting style

1958
Birth of his son Lemuel (Lem)

1959-61
Moves to Dulwich Village in South London and continues his studies at the Royal College of Art; begins lifelong friendships with fellow painter David Hockney and the architects Sandy Wilson and M. J. Long; follows reports of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem that awakens his sense of Jewish identity

1963
Kitaj has his first solo exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art in London

1964
Takes part in documenta 3 and the Venice Biennale; he and his wife adopt a daughter, Dominie, who is of Indian origin

1965
Returns to America for a solo exhibition at Marlborough-Gerson Gallery in New York; becomes acquainted with artists and writers such as Mark Rothko and Susan Sontag; Alfred Barr buys Kitaj's painting The Ohio Gang, 1964, for the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); Kitaj begins studying the writings of Walter Benjamin, which are to become an important source of inspiration for his paintings

1967/68
Teaches art at the University of California, Berkeley; becomes close friends with the poet Robert Creeley

1969
Kitaj's wife, Elsi Roessler, commits suicide

1970/71
First major solo exhibition in Germany is held at the Kestner-Gesellschaft in Hanover;
Kitaj teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles; meets the American artist Sandra Fisher and they move in together a year later in London

1974
Visits an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris featuring works by Edgar Degas; these
inspire Kitaj to produce a series of large-scale, vibrantly coloured works in pastel; from the mid-1970s onwards, he begins to focus intensively on his Jewish heritage and strives to create a new kind of specifically Jewish art

1976
Kitaj curates an exhibition entitled The Human Clay for the Arts Council of Great Britain; in the preface to the accompanying catalogue he coins the now familiar term "School of London" to describe a group of contemporary figurative painters, including himself

1981/82
Retrospective at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio and the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Kitaj is awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of London

1983
Marries Sandra Fisher in the Sephardic Bevis Marks Synagogue in London according to Orthodox tradition

1984
Birth of their son Max

1988
Publication of Erstes Manifest des Diasporismus; the English edition – First Diasporist Manifesto – is published in 1989

1994
A retrospective of Kitaj's work is held at the Tate Gallery in London and although it is a popular success, the critical reviews are scathing; the exhibition is much more warmly received when subsequently shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the artist's second wife, Sandra Fisher, dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm

1995
Kitaj is awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale

1997
Forty years after he first came to England, Kitaj returns to the United States with his son Max, settling in Westwood, Los Angeles

1998
A retrospective is held at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Jüdisches Museum in Vienna and the Sprengel Museum in Hanover

2001
Kitaj starts writing his autobiography, Confessions of an old Jewish Painter, which remains unpublished during his lifetime

2007
Publication of Second Diasporist Manifesto; having suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years, R. B. Kitaj commits suicide on 21 October