Charlotte Salomon, the Painter Killed in Auschwitz between Life and Theater

By Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Charlotte Salomon, a Berlin Jewish artist, was one of the most original and pioneering female painters of the 1900s. Her work “Life? or Theater? ” condenses her artistic career: some eight hundred compositions that trace her artistic life; an innovative style that we could compare to the contemporary graphic novel in which painting, comics, cinema, and theater come together, transmitting moments of touching historical and personal drama with immediacy and lightness.

Who was Charlotte?

Charlotte was born in Berlin in 1917 to Jewish parents: her father Albert was a surgeon and a university professor and her mother, Franziska Grunwald, was a nurse. Her mother committed suicide by throwing herself out of a window when Charlotte was nine, but the girl was told her mother died of a serious illness. It was also kept silent that this was but the latest in a series of suicides among women of the family.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Leben oder Theater.  Charlotte Salamon.
From the German, Leben = Life, Oder = Or, Theater = Theater

In 1933, following the newly enacted German racial laws, Charlotte’s maternal grandparents emigrated to Villefranche-sur-Mer, France, but her father,
with his new wife Paula Lindberg and Charlotte, resisted for some time as he was able to practice his profession. In these years, thanks to Paula, a renowned soprano, Charlotte was immersed in the world of music and art, so much so that in 1935 she was accepted being the only one hundred percent Jewish person at the National School of the Academy of Fine Berlin Arts. Here she learned traditional artistic techniques, while at the same time being exposed to modern works of art of the so-called “degenerate art”, which indelibly marks her style.

Over time, her life inevitably became marked by racial discrimination and limitations and on Crystal Night on November 9, 1938, Charlotte left Berlin to join her grandparents in France, while her father and his wife took refuge in Holland.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Crstal Night in Berlin, Germany
Crystal Night

One night in September 1939 Charlotte prevented the suicide of her grandmother, who had fallen into depression over the ongoing events, and in this circumstance, the painter learned of the long history of family depression. This upset the artist so, it catapulted her into moments of anxiety and despair that led her to see art as a way of salvation. Starting to paint with tireless energy that in what, two years, 1940-1942, would become her great work: “Life? or Theater?”

The bound volumes amount to 800 and when added to the preparatory drawings and sketches become more than 1300. This work of art can be defined as total and coinciding with the very life of the artist who narrates her exile in France, her daily life including her first love, in a setting that can be defined as a proto-graphic novel. The episodes are divided into acts as in a Singspiel (Austrian-German musical theatrical genre) and give life to a musical novel of exuberant expressive power, in which each table makes its own story and at the same time asks for a layered and linked reading.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon and her grandparents
Charlotte Salomon With Her Grandparents

A series of tempera with sinuous captions, rhythmic, onomatopoeic, and torrential words, which create a dual game between sound and color, sucking the viewer and dragging him into a world in which space and time blend and alternate. The expressionist lexicon is bubbly, detailed, and with rich and warm colors that recall Matisse, details of the oneiric dimension that recall Chagall, scenes of strong exasperation typical of Munch’s painting.

Charlotte outlines each event with a typical feminine delicacy, in which the language, absolutely unprecedented at the time, varies according to the subject treated. The continuous stylistic metamorphosis is testified by hundreds of sheets that directly or metaphorically touch the salient experiences of the painter’s affective and cultural training: photography, crippled negative, still image, deformed illustration.

Now I am a document, now irony, now oneiric metaphysics, now philosophical poetry.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Gouache

The staged memory is not immediate, it is the obscene private and public of the twentieth century treated and elaborated in words, images, and music, with characters, dialogues, fractures, changes of perspectives, temporal and spatial changes: a work that hybridizes codes and different languages.

Charlotte narrates the tangle between her personal story and the collective story and in both flows dramatic plots develop, creating a perfect symmetry between the catastrophic series of external circumstances and the inner tragedies of her personal life, improving a compositional tendency that tells events through trauma: pain is processed and not removed.

An alternation of real-life and Shakespearean staging, in which Charlotte recomposes the inner rupture given by the inexorable presence of death in her family history and at the same time in European history. Through the presence of Charlotte with her grandparents Gouache infinitely replicated masks or varied in shape, she can break the fatal chain of suicides, putting the whole of
history in the picture:

When the measure of life is full, it is necessary to start again from the theater.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon - Stolperstein
The “Stolperstein” for Charlotte Salomon on Wielandstr 15 in Berlin – Charlottenburg, Germany. Stolperstein – meaning “stumbling block” — are placed on the ground in front of the former homes in Germany of people killed by the Nazi regime. The Stolpersteine project was conceived by artist Gunter Denmig.

Time passes, but the terrifying wind of racial persecution blows over Europe. In 1943 she was forced to hand over all her works to a friend, and in September she married Alexander Nagler, also a German refugee. But soon the couple is jailed. After her incarceration, news about her life becomes fragmented. She died at 26, a few months pregnant, after reaching Auschwitz, perhaps on the day of her arrival following the terrible train ride to the concentration camp.

The painter was forgotten for a long time, perhaps for being too avant-garde, until Willem Sandberg organized a first retrospective exhibition at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, followed by important international milestones, and not least the choice of Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev who included her in 2012 in the Documenta exhibition in Kassel saying, as Joel Cahen (director of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam) remembers, it was “her definitive entry into the world of modern art.”

Charlotte Salomon’s work, on the other hand, finds an Italian look for the first time with the publication and full translation of her “Vita? O Teatro?”, the illustrated volume with slipcase published by Castelvecchi Editore, which today remains an artistic and literary monument, almost a total work of art of a shocking force, a work that is intensely connected to today’s world, to the modalities of communication and relationships, based on images, sounds, and intuitive messages.

Perhaps the greatest book of the twentieth century.
As a work of visual art, it is a triumph. As a novel, it is a triumph.

– Jonathan Safram Foer

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Charlotte Salomon - Self Portrait

Charlotte Salomon – Self Portrait


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Other writings by Asia Leonardi on Andrea Liguori, Francesca Woodman, Steve McCurry and Escher.

The blog’s last post focused on the Van Gogh’s “Chair.”

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Van Gogh’s Chair: Omens of Tragedy

By Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

I first saw Vincent Van Gogh’s painting ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’ (1888) in secondary school, in the middle of an art class.

My art teacher had no particular regard for art history. She found it uninteresting, and it was never a fundamental part of the classes she taught. She was a tiny thing, my teacher, always dressed in bold, screaming colors and imaginative accessories. She more often than not wore startlingly high heels, which retrospectively I suppose must have been rather agonizing considering how long she wore them for. I remember a certain pair – they were hot pink stilettos, with some sort of adornment on the front that looked like a piece of candy.

I do believe she was quite the darling of many of the boys and it seemed like she played up to this role quite readily. Come to think of it, I reckon a few of my secondary-school teachers played up to that side of juvenile sexuality, probably to encourage good behavior and obedience. That isn’t to say it was only the female teachers. On the contrary, I have had a few (borderline) flirtatious male teachers teach me at one time or another during my secondary and college education. I have always been quite obsessed with the forbidden sexuality of those in authority, and I’ve certainly had many a teacher-crush.

Anyway, back to the art class. In my last year of secondary school, we had to paint a ‘final piece’, and deduce its contents on a separate written piece, dissecting it and commenting on the techniques we used to create it. I must say I really do despise self-reflection with regards to artwork. I know that, for myself, when I create something, whether it be written, painted, drawn, played…whatever it is, it is almost always spontaneously generated. Occasionally I will vaguely plan the ongoing trajectory of a piece I’m in the middle of so as not to lose creative fire, but I won’t generally plan prior to beginning it. Inspiration sparks at the most bizarre of times, and no plan or bullet point list tends to help me to get there, to that perfect peak of creative energy that suddenly begins to flow like a flood and ignite the best work. But, of course, one has to ‘feign’ planning in order to escape being reprimanded for not doing so. Dutifully, I searched through the limited collection of art books we had in class to search for ‘inspiration’. I came across a short text about Van Gogh, which detailed a few of his paintings along with a mini biography. I flipped through the paintings in the center of the book, then stopped abruptly. The chair looked back at me, and I stared at it. Such a lonely piece. So isolated and sedentary. I fell into a silence, and the noise of the world around me became a dull, quiet roar, like the sound of distant waves. It was like I was waiting for the occupant of the chair to return and light up his pipe. But he never came.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Van Gogh's Chair

Van Gogh’s Chair

I had a class in art history this year, and in one of the weeks my teacher brought up Van Gogh when speaking of post-impressionism. While my teacher swept through pictures of the sunflowers, the beautiful night skies, and the vibrant cafes up on the interactive whiteboard, I thought about the chair. I decided it was essential I delve into it, that I dive into the painting that near brought me to tears upon my initial viewing of it. I was not always a believer in the dissection of art, as I was of the opinion that it would inevitably ruin the intrigue and beauty of it through over-analysis. But, through my study of literature and more advanced music theory over these past few years, I have learned that studying art in any form can bring one to enjoy a work even more than one did prior. I decided to dissect Van Gogh’s melancholic painting, to see what I could find in it, and whether I could find that lonesome character that had left his seat and his tobacco in such a hurry. Here is what I have come up with:

In deciphering ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’, an approach concerning the metonymy – substituting an object or attribute for a person or emotion – prompted by the painting I feel is essential. The chair, illustrated in oil-on-canvas, is clearly a daylight rendering, with a light source suggested as emerging from the top left, unseen, corner, and reflected onto the light-colored wood in thick, golden brushstrokes. The brightness and air of simplicity in the painting could reflect Van Gogh’s self-reflection. However, simultaneously, ‘Omens of tragedy [rumble] beneath thick smears of beaming yellow’, as contemporary poet Niall O’Sullivan suggested in a poem framed side-by-side with the image in the National Gallery.

The positioning of the chair in the center of a sombre-toned brassy kitchen tiles is to me melancholic. The chair’s emptiness creates an unsettling sense of loneliness, which is further emphasised by its asymmetry; unequal bars connected to dumpy, shapeless chair legs. Supposedly “Empty chairs had a very personal significance for van Gogh, who appears to have associated objects strongly with people” [1]. Gogh’s inspiration for the painting was most likely Victorian magazine ‘The Graphic’ which published an illustration in 1870 by Luke Filde, dubbed ‘The Empty Chair, Gad’s Hill’. This was painted after Charles Dickens’s death, a chair with no owner, yet an object so completely synonymous with its owner (Dickens) that it became an embodiment of him in itself. It is well documented that Van Gogh was a huge admirer of Dickens’ works, and supposedly wrote letter emphatically proclaiming his love for the writer, using phrases like: ‘I want to paint what Dickens has done with words’[2]. Van Gogh continued to show his admiration for Dickens through his art, and ‘The Arlésienne’ (1890), which was painted in his last year of life, depicts a Dickens novel on the table in front of the female figure. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. This emotionally charged use of the symbolism could certainly have affected Gogh in some way. The emotionally charged use of symbolism (using symbols to represent ideas, and in this case a person) in Filde’s painting could certainly have deeply affected Van Gogh, leading to his own chair portraits.

The personalizing of his own chair as being metonymically associated with himself can be furthered by his positioning of his own personal objects on the chair; the hastily painted pipe (it is believed Van Gogh followed Dickens’s prescription of smoking for melancholia) and the open bag of tobacco. These intimate objects seem to be connected with the candle depicted on the painting Van Gogh did of fellow artist Paul Gauguin’s own ‘Chair’ (‘Gauguin’s Chair’ 1888). Perhaps he considered Gauguin’s ‘light’ as essential, not only to light the tobacco in his pipe, but to light up his own work. I will comment on Van Gogh and Gauguin’s artistic relationship, as well as the significance of the contrasting chairs he painted, in a moment.

The complexity of the configuration of the painting with areas of wider, continual brushstrokes (see the first front rung of the chair) juxtaposed to thicker, busier areas (the foremost chair leg), create a distorted three-dimensional image, elevating this mundane object to something rather more sinisterly representative of a despairing mental state, potentially pointing to Van Gogh’s own mental deterioration. This supports Victoria Charles’ notion that ‘Van Gogh’s life and work are so intertwined that it is hardly possible to see his pictures without reading in them the story of his life’[3]. Does this indicate that, for Van Gogh, ‘painting had become identical with life itself’[4], the only way for him to communicate the difficulties and pains of living?

I feel that a further analytical comparison of this painting to Van Gogh’s contrasting depiction, ‘Gauguin’s Chair’, is necessary to contextually analyze this painting. Both canvases were painted once relations between the once-amicable artists had become strained due to Van Gogh’s poor mental health. Van Gogh has hoped that his artist’s studio, the ‘Yellow House’, would become a studio for himself with Gauguin as his artistic mentor. But his vision of harmonious living with Gauguin did not last long, as after 9 weeks of living together Van Gogh started falling through a downwards spiral into deep depression and bipolar disorder. After Van Gogh sliced off his ear in a fit of violent anger he was sent to an insane asylum, and his dream of working with Gauguin swiftly ended. Van Gogh painted both chairs just as his relationship with Gauguin was becoming strained.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Image of Gaguin's Chair

Gaguin’s Chair, 1888

‘Gauguin’s Chair’ is a baroque-style envisioning in its exaggerated features and emphasis on ‘tenebrism’ (the dramatic use of light and dark). It is of a deep, sensual palate that is startling richer than that used to depict his own chair. This image seems to suggest a nocturnal exoticism and complexity that appears juxtaposed to the garish simplicity of Van Gogh’s own chair. These chairs are both ‘alive, like strange creatures’[5]. Van Gogh here employs the ‘intense colours and dramatic shapes…[that] anticipated Expressionism [the use of artistic distortion to create different emotions]’[6]. The light sources – a candle and a gas-lantern – create a far more claustrophobic image than that of Van Gogh’s own chair, which is lit by external sources, symbolic perhaps of Van Gogh perceiving Gauguin as self-interested and thus self-illuminated in this painting, though one cannot say for sure he felt this sort of animosity towards his fellow artist. By all accounts, Van Gogh was utterly bewitched by Gauguin’s artwork and was highly insistent that Gauguin should come and work with him to help him better his own art. Gauguin recounts in his memoirs how much of a dutifully hardworking artist and loving man Van Gogh was prior to his ever-increasing episodes of ‘madness’. Maybe the use of this internal, unattainable light indicates that Van Gogh perceived Gauguin as his last hope, hope that was swiftly dwindling.

Another aspect of the painting I wish to briefly discuss is its musicality, as I believe it is integral to understanding Van Gogh’s artistic technique. Before moving to The Yellow House, Van Gogh articulated to his brother Theo that the paintings he so viscerally envisioned he would come to paint in Southern France would be ‘a symphony in blue and yellow’[7]. Van Gogh’s persistent application of ‘words related to music – such as ‘harmony’, ‘piano’, ‘note’, ‘register’, ‘clarion’ and ‘scherzo’’[8] in written correspondence during his life can be used to analyse the painting of his chair. This painting seems indeed an homage to the so-called ‘Yellow House’ gallery he so dearly endeavoured to pursue with Gauguin. Its vibrantly warm autumnal palate echoes the ‘dark ochre to bright cadmium’[9] that Van Gogh ‘was continually comparing [to] the sounds made by the piano’ [10] during his piano lessons in Paris. The melodic use of a simple base palate in this painting isolates the chair in its own lonesome song, lingering on the edge of a climax into chaos. To me, that is what this chair evokes. An all-consuming loneliness fuelled by rejection and solitude. An attempt to create an image out of a void of emptiness, to make beauty from estrangement and a desperation to connect. I find it achingly beautiful and overwhelmingly sad. In this piece I feel that I can hear the profound music that so deeply affected Vincent – Wagner, Beethoven, Berlioz – and inspired his own creation. This chair, to me, is a painting of Van Gogh himself, of his life, a life despairing for a friendship and a dream so soon blighted, fearful of the darkness yet to come.


Natascha Veldhorst, translated by Diane Webb, Van Gogh and Music: A Symphony in Blue and Yellow, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018)

Josephine Cutts and James Smith, Intro by: Lucinda Hawksley, Essential Van Gogh (Parragon Publishing, UK, 2000)

Victoria Charles, ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, (Parkstone Press International, 2012)

Ed. Ingo F. Walther, Impressionist Art, (Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis, Koln, 2016)

Guardian Online:

The National Gallery Online:

Quoted in Thompson, Paige, ‘How Vincent Van Gogh was Inspired by the Works of Charles Dickens’, pub. In ‘Sotheby’s’ (URL:, July 29th 2019

[1] Josephine Cutts and James Smith, Intro by: Lucinda Hawksley, Essential Van Gogh (Parragon Publishing, UK, 2000)

[2] Quoted in Paige Thompson, ‘How Vincent Van Gogh was Inspired by the Works of Charles Dickens’, pub. In ‘Sotheby’s’ (URL:, July 29th 2019

[3] Victoria Charles, ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, (Parkstone Press International, 2012), p. 7

[4] Ibid. 324

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ed. Ingo F. Walther, Impressionist Art, (Taschen Bibliotheca Universalis, Koln, 2016), p. 326

 [7] Natascha Veldhorst, translated by Diane Webb, Van Gogh and Music: A Symphony in Blue and Yellow, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2018), p. 1-2

[8] Ibid. p. 2

[9] Ibid. Anton Kerssemaker, pg 7

[10] Ibid. Anton Kerssemaker, pg 7

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Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com

More writing by Hazel Anna Rogers here and here.
The blog’s last post discussed Activist Art.
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Activist Art – Art as Protest

by Rosie Lesso for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Art and politics have a closely intertwined relationship going back millennia. But it is only in the past 100 years that artists have embraced art as a form of political protest, one that can educate, inspire or instigate change. Known as ‘activist art’ or ‘protest art,’ this fusion of art and activism is daring, provocative and confrontational, attempting to speak for the voiceless and marginalized, challenging political leaders, institutional managers and individuals to make change. In our social media driven society the impact of activist art is more relevant than ever, able as it is to reach large international audiences with pressing issues of the day, such as climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, feminism, racism and the abuse of power.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Diego Rivera - The Uprising

Diego Rivera, The Uprising, 1931, image via MoMA and The Observer

The boundaries between acts of public protest and performance art are porous and blurred, so it can be hard to trace back a clear historical narrative for today’s activist art. But some of the most influential artists to first experiment with a fusion of politics and art were the German Dadaists, whose ridiculous, nonsensical poetry and performance art was fueled by angry defiance against the barbarism of the First World War. In the 1920s and 1930s the Mexican Muralist Movement brought their political agenda out into the streets with sprawling public murals that condemned the ruling class, capitalism and the church, calling for Mexico’s ordinary workers to lead the country into the future. Picasso’s huge, frieze-like Guernica of 1937, was a more harrowing message to the public, conveying the horrific brutalities of the Spanish Civil War with broken, dismembered bodies and screaming, tortured faces.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Yayo Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, Anti-War, Brooklyn Bridge, 1968, image via ARTnews

Anti-war sentiment continued through the 1960s and 1970s as artists raged against the Vietnam War with happenings that reflected the dawn of the hippie era. Yayoi Kusama tried to kill hate with love, staging naked protests on the streets of New York, while Chris Burden deliberately wounded himself to bring home the realities of unseen suffering. Other sociopolitical issues that found their way into artistic forms of protest during the 1970s and 1980s are battles still being fought today, sometimes by the same voices that arose during that time. These include feminist artists who rejected the gender biases of the past, and ethnically diverse groups who continue to rally against marginalization.

The Carl Kruse Art Blog - Guerrilla Girls Image

Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met. Museum?, 1989, image courtesy Guerrilla Girls

One of the most outspoken groups of this era were The Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous, all-female group based in New York who aimed to subvert what they saw as the “male, pale, stale, Yale,” biases of the art world with a series of jarring and satirical poster campaigns. Wearing gorilla masks to conceal their identities, they pasted posters bearing embarrassing statistics across the streets of New York throughout the 1980s, challenging art institutions to address sexist and racist discrimination. Still an active group today, The Guerrilla Girls continue to create posters, performances and videos highlighting wider societal inequities, embracing Instagram and YouTube as further platforms for the dissemination of ideas. As well as educating the wider public about art world discrimination, their campaigning has played an active and important role in the rising inclusivity of museums and galleries worldwide.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Pussy Riot Photo

Pussy Riot, Punk Prayer, 2012, image via TV Guide VG

The Guerrilla Girls undoubtedly had a profound impact on the feminist Russian protest group Pussy Riot, who first stormed onto the international art scene in 2012. Dressed in balaclavas and brightly colored clothes, they staged a series of pop-up events across Moscow directed against Putin’s regime, speaking against the segregation of women, racially diverse groups and LGBTQ+ individuals. Their most notorious art protest, Punk Prayer, was staged at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral in 2012, where they performed an obscenity-laced song highlighting their country’s institutional sexism and racism and calling “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, chase Putin out!” Posted online, their stunt quickly went viral, before making its way to the enraged Russian authorities. Accused of hooliganism and religious hatred, several members were imprisoned after the event, but their activist stunt had already earned them an international following, raising a warning to the world about the destructive impact of Russia’s government.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - The American People Series Photo

The American People Series #20: Die, 1967, image via The New York Times

Given how raw racial politics continue to be, it is perhaps no surprise that many protest artists have chosen to address this troublesome issue. African-American artist, activist and educator Faith Ringgold’s imagery since the 1970s has been jarring and influential. Her violently direct painting The American People Series #20, Die, 1967, addressed the brutality of New York’s 1964 race riots, highlighting the violence of a racially divided America with a universal language that is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s. Ringgold deliberately exposed the violence of the events, noting, “If [the media] did show a photograph or a picture of any kind of riot, they never showed the blood…So I wanted to make sure that I put the blood in there, because I knew that blood meant death, and that’s what happened at those riots.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - faith Ringold #2

Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach #2, 1990

In the 1980s Ringgold turned to the unlikely medium of story quilting, embracing this uniquely feminine language as a tool to present a more unified, hopeful vision of life for African Americans. The much-celebrated stories and imagery of her ‘Tar Beach’ quilts of the 1990s have more recently been expanded by Ringgold into a best-selling children’s book celebrating the power of imagination, whose goal is to inspire a new generation of young people about acceptance and hope.

Carl Krus Art Blog - Jen Reid Statue

Marc Quinn, A Surge of Power, 2020, image via RTE, more here.

When Black Lives Matter protests raged across Europe and the U.S. earlier this year following the tragic death of George Floyd, a whole arena of artists responded with pop-up performances, artworks and events. One of the most memorable was by British artist Marc Quinn in Bristol; when a group of protestors pulled down the statue of a former slave trader and left an empty plinth in its wake, Quinn produced a bronze statue of British BLM protestor Jen Rein and installed it in its place, titled A Surge of Power, 2020. Some criticized him of opportunism, while others praised his ingenuity and kinship with the cause, even if the statue was subsequently removed by local authorities. But Quinn’s collusion with protestors in this work is an important part of the worldwide debate surrounding public art monuments, with many asking whether it is time for monuments of problematic figures from the past to be removed and replaced (See other Carl Kruse blog posts, Statues and Monuments, and Columbus Beheaded.

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Photo of Ai Wei Dropping Vase.

Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995, image via Public Delivery

Like Quinn, Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is another artist who has staged many well-publicized stunts since the 1990s, most frequently directed at the oppressive nature of the Chinese government. One of his most publicized projects involved dropping a valuable ancient Chinese urn in Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995, to signify his anger at Communist China’s erasure of cultural memory. More recently, Straight, 2012, was made in response to the tragic collapse of a school in China during an earthquake which killed 5,000 children. Ai spent four years making this work, gathering a huge mass of broken reinforcement bars from the building’s wreckage and bending them into a series of wave-like forms to echo the motion of the earthquake. Ai’s tragic memorial to this horrific event was also deeply embarrassing for the Chinese government, highlighting what Ai saw as blatant corruption, negligence and needless suffering brought about by the building’s poor construction.

BP or not BP?, Trojan Horse political protest outside the British Museum, 2020 image via Trebuchet Magazine

The role institutions play in climate change is another hot topic for today’s activist artists, and the activist theater group BP or not BP? is one of the United Kingdom’s most influential to emerge in recent times. Earlier this year they amassed a large gathering outside the British Museum for two full days to protest against BP’s sponsorship of the exhibition Troy: Myth and Reality. With them they brought a four-meter-long Trojan horse hiding protestors inside, while they projected a light display onto the museum’s façade reading “BP Must Fall.” Described as a “creative takeover,” the event pushed for the British Museum to sever ties with the multi-million pound oil-company. As group member Sarah Horne pointed out, “For too long, the museum has sided with its mega-polluter partner rather than the communities it is meant to represent, many of whom are already experiencing the intensifying impacts of our changing climate.” The attention-grabbing antics of this anti-oil campaign group have already persuaded prominent arts institutions to sever ties with BP, including The Royal Shakespeare Company, Tate Britain, The National Theatre and The National Galleries of Scotland, proving some arts institutions are more willing to work with and be influenced by activist artists than others.

Kara Walker, Fons Americanus, 2019, Tate Modern, (detail). Photo: © Tate (Matt Greenwood), image via Tate Modern

Tate Modern (for a visit there and commentary check out our post here) chose to turn towards, rather than away from its past when they invited African American artist Kara Walker to create a Hyundai Commission for the huge Turbine Hall in 2019. Her totemic water sculpture Fons Americanus was designed as a parody of the traditional Victorian water fountain, filled with grotesque stories of exploitation related to the history of slavery. Water here becomes a potent emblem of the transatlantic slave trade on which so much of Britain was built, gushing through violently contorted, caricatured figures as a brutal reminder of the horrific past.

It is no accident that this rising tower is sheet-white, a jarring reminder of the violence that constructed white colonialism, but there is also a nod to here to the whiteness of the sugar industry in which Henry Tate built his empire. Although slavery had been abolished by the time Tate was making his name, the sugar industry before him was entirely reliant on the grueling work of slaves. Tate Modern has openly acknowledged this past, writing, “it is … not possible to separate the Tate galleries from the history of colonial slavery from which in part they derive their existence.” But working with artists and bringing the past out into the light allows a vitally important rewriting of history to take place, one which can lead towards a more inclusive future through the power of art.


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Andrea Liguori, a Wonderful Mind in Berlin

by Asia Leonardi for the Carl Kruse Arts Blog

Into the urban traffic of Berlin so many people are walking, with them come ideas from all over the world, sometimes changing the surrounding environment. This is the case of Andrea Liguori, an architect from Palermo who has now lived in Berlin for many years. I had a pleasant chat with Andrea, where he told me about his work, his love for architecture and painting.

What brought you to Berlin, Andrea?

“What brought me to Berlin? A girl; sometimes happens that love takes you around the world … sometimes you move for work, other times because you meet someone who moves something inside you. What I always point out is that it’s not so important how you got there but why you stayed there. In my case the reasons for staying were mainly the business aspect, Berlin is a beautiful reality, there is room for all: but also so much competition, and you have to
live with this. for an architect like me there is so much to do, and many possible niches… Here the field of architecture is very interesting because new construction sites are always opening, and Berlin has also an important role in the history of architecture, it was one of the headquarter’s of the Bauhaus.”

Carl Kruse Blog - Andrea Liguori - Wood House

Woodhouse by Andrea Liguori

How did you start your career?

“My very first experience was working in a studio in Palermo with two partners, an experience that I abandoned once I moved. Here I started working in the studio of an architect who spoke Italian, and it was useful for me to start learning German. Gradually I got to know the local reality, I built new acquaintances, and I started being able to do some more personal projects. Today I am a consultant for a studio, with which I design new buildings, such as hotels and apartments … but I also have my studio, where I take care of my projects, which mostly concern bars, restaurants, or small villas.”

And how do you divide yourself between the two activities?

“Since I am an external consultant, I can manage my time based on the importance of the projects I have. I work a lot, I often stay up late, I work on weekends, but all in all, when you find something you like it’s a hobby, and you feel like you never work. I’m not saying it’s exactly like that, because sometimes the tiredness is real, but I enjoy it. I never get bored because I like to differentiate. I’m also into furniture design. Me and a friend of mine have a company in Palermo, we design lamps, objects, we have also worked as
designers for Italian firms. In short, I have a holistic approach, I deal with a bit of everything that has to do with the world of drawing, design, architecture.”

Carl Kruse Blog - Andrea Liguori - Hotel in Georgia

Andrea Liguori – Hotel in Georgia

How do your ideas arise, and how do you put them into practice?

”With architecture, there is a study of reference manuals, while the creative process in design is more important and lighter. It comes from the experience as an individual when you go to a place or buy an object, you look at it, you
are interested, you think about possible changes …but the best ideas always
come in moments of leisure, of freedom, as the theory of creative idleness explains: when you are relaxed, maybe take a shower, an interesting idea comes to your mind more easily.”

How did you experience the lockdown? Was it a
period of greater creativity?

“When we are busy with everyday commitments there are many bureaucratic issues to complete, emails to write, accountants, lawyers, appointments to deal with. During the lockdown, all of this has slowed down a bit, I felt less pressure, and thus creativity increased. I have never been bored, thanks to my other passion that is painting… I paint with watercolors. Three or four years ago I also held a watercolor paintings exhibition in Palermo inspired by places in my city, and I keep painting to this day. I feel a little homesick now and then, but it relaxes me, I like the subject, and I continue to paint.”

Carl Kruse Art Blog - Foro Italico

Foro Italico in Palermo. Watercolor by Andrea Liguori

Was there a project that had left a mark on you, or that you particularly enjoyed doing?

“There is no more important project than others, everyone has their importance. Projects are a bit like children for an architect. I like traveling a lot, and I try to do projects all over the world, and those have a special flavor to me, even if it’s a smaller project. For example, at the moment I am working on the project of a large hotel here in Germany but I enjoyed doing a very small boutique in Miami, Florida last year because it was an opportunity to
discover a new world, a fun place … They are all projects born thanks to public relations, it is important in my opinion to convey your passion to others, you manage to involve them, and they call you and ask you for advice. Social networks also have their weight, with Instagram I share things that maybe don’t have much to do with my work but that give the idea of my vision of the world, of what I like to do, and maybe if there is someone who knows me
and sees himself in my posts he looks for me, calls me and the affinity is

Andrea is a fascinating man, with a firm and confident gaze; he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. His university love continues to blossom day by day: he lives with his partner in his Berlin apartment. What struck me most about Andrea is the dedication and commitment he puts into his work, his delicacy in the choice of words, which reveals a brilliant creative intuition, typical of a successful architect. Transforming an idea into something real is what I admire most about architecture, and about art in general: Berlin’s urban planning is varied, always open to new construction sites, always new, always changing, ready to welcome those who, like Andrea, dare to put their personality into this wonderful city.

Carl Kruse Blog - Andrea Liguori - President of Italy

Andrea Liguori with Italian President Sergio Mattarella


Homepage: Carl Kruse Art Blog
Contact: carl AT carlkruse DOT com
Other posts by Asia Leonardi are here, here and here.

Berlin related posts on the blog include the Boros Bunker art gallery and coverage of Berlin artist Yury Kharcehnko.
Carl Kruse is active in Berlin with the Ivy Circle.