Frankfurt Westhausen May 20, 2021
Dear Ursula Schwippert,
dear friends of Burkhard Brunn,
It is an honor for me on behalf of the friends to say a few words of farewell for Burkhard Brunn, to hold what was once so aptly called a funeral address. There is a lot to be said about him but having to say it today while taking leave of him is difficult and requires a certain amount of composure given his stature, his constant maintenance of a calm exterior, his sense of propriety, and his inner strength. A few years ago, at the opening of an exhibition by Charlotte Posenenske we chanced upon Konrad Fischer, a well-known curator, who though it was the day of his wife’s funeral embarked on his accustomed tour of the galleries. Burkhard Brunn was deeply impressed by that, he greatly admired how Fischer maintained such composure even when faced by death. Let us make a collective effort today to accompany Burkhard Brunn on his last journey in the manner he would have wished.
Burkhard Brunn judged men by their wives. And he made it expressly clear that this was how the two of us got to know each other better. However, in considering his two wives and partners it is also possible to get closer to the man himself. Namely, these two strong women both of whom he loved so much, each for different reasons, unite the two outer parameters of his sphere of activity: Art and sociology which here ought to stand for the social, in other words the transcending, spiritual and the socio-analytical, the idealist and visionary, and the political woman capable of action. Art as that which is beyond all measure, which was not previously conceivable, is surprising and shifts the goalposts and sociology as the analytical, critical and political regulator of moral coexistence. You could have wonderful discussions with Burkhard Brunn on this topic, he always had a surprising perspective and illuminatingly sober arguments and analyses of great persuasiveness. Naturally, both sides belong together, art and sociology, and are, providing you avoid any contact with doctrines, are kindred spirits and correspond with one another. In personified form we can also in this manner observe Burkhard Brunn’s interaction with Charlotte Posenenske and Ursula Schwippert. On the one hand, you have the radical artist who outlines a new kind of vocabulary that is close to the edge and finally, after a radical break, moves away from this edge towards the socio-political. She did not want to make any compromises that she considered unproductive. And all of this from the time of their love towards the end of her work as an artist in an alliance with her companion Burkhard Brunn.
And on the other hand, Ursula Schwippert, on the political side as the trade union’s employee representative, a woman of action committed to the assertion of justice and economic participation. Her husband is involved in this work on a daily basis at least as her advisor and as someone with whom she can discuss ideas. Otherwise, the two of them tour the exhibitions and museums of the world.
Burkhard Brunn meandered in this constellation of art and culture, on the one hand, and the analysis and shaping of society and politics all his life. But without mingling the two spheres. He knew all too well that what is good and right does not come into the world because you call on it and that when applied politically morals and idealism have a tendency to become authoritarian and end in the gulag. We often talked about that. Allow me to quote his wonderful definition of what political is: “At a time when all actions were considered political what Charlotte and I meant by ‘political’ was to persuade others through argument to alter or preserve the world according to rational and morally founded criteria.” This touches on a central term of Burkhard Brunn’s personal stance, namely liberty, by which ultimately he always also meant his own. He could not stand it if someone tried to tell him how to do something. For him there was no such thing as “We always did it like that”. For him the liberty of art was its essential force and its decisive quality. This is a hotly-discussed topic once again today.
Naturally, a few words must also be said at this point about everything that Burkhard Brunn did for Charlotte Posenenske even though everyone here present is sufficiently well informed to realize that the world has him to thank for Charlotte Posenenske. It is definitely possible to talk of his contribution to her world fame as his most important achievement without wishing to detract from any of his many other activities. He saw it that way himself. First he was the man who saved her work, then he undertook tirelessly to ensure her return to the public’s attention, and was capable of rousing enthusiasm in others and getting them to collaborate with him on keeping her ideas alive and continuing them, and together with a growing number of enthusiastic comrades-in-arms setting the wave in motion which then as we all know became a global current and led to the international importance of her work and ideas being inscribed into 20th century art. Like many of his other friends we also got to know him through this enthusiasm for her work. It was in 1999 when the first overview exhibition took place in Frankfurt in Galerie ak with whom I collaborated at the time and what I saw made my eyes blaze with excitement. I then wrote a text in the guise of an open letter to the curator Konstantin Adamopoulos and to Burkhard Brunn, I no longer remember via what channel it was published but it was this text that formed the basis of our relationship, one which over time became more intimate, friendly in a deeper sense and last year then culminated in him proposing we move to the familiar form “Du” that I never then found easy to use with him.
Burkhard Brunn’s public image is clearly dominated today by his outstanding role as the dynamic administrator of Charlotte Posenenske’s estate. However, his personality also embraces a wide spectrum of interests and intellectual hunting grounds that he moved through with great humor and an ease that somewhat softened his reputation as a rather strict man. This was essentially expressed in his work as an author and curator of exhibitions. For a long time, he worked as a journalist and wrote essays on a wide range of topics, sometimes on bizarre subjects that when read prove to be surprisingly close to life and full of insights. You need only think of his brilliant texts on the phenomenon on the interior and exterior of our body, dazzling, short prose items say about the fly or about the tongue. And he took a devilish delight in settling the score linguistically with his favorite enemies, such as the fraternity of hunters. Here, too, as an author incidentally he combines the sociological with the artistic. But not least of all it was his fundamental research and texts on Casanova, an admiration we shared from day one.
In his work as a curator of thematic exhibitions that he ran with that special verve of his he brought together those artists he so appreciated in varying constellations in exhibitions ascribing to them a highly individual subject that he found especially interesting about art and that clarified his own concept of art. We need only think of the phenomena of movement, or of the shadow so typical for Brunn and revolving around intellectual figures for whom he curated exhibitions until recently and that correspond beneath the surface with the previously mentioned issue of inside and outside. The constant element in all these exhibitions was the work of Charlotte Posenenske that decisively shaped his concept of art. On this basis as the initiator, theorist and calm rock at the center of things Burkhard Brunn managed this somewhat disparate group of artists guiding them through well-known galleries. His concept was crowned by success, the program worked, and that was a great satisfaction for him and made him very happy. As it did the artists.
This vigorous, strong man whom we liked to refer to among ourselves as “The Rock” who drank his bottle of Riesling every day and never fell over even if he’d had two, has now fallen over after all. The only Continental European who in our hotel in Southampton, was capable of enjoying kippers with poached eggs for breakfast, who could argue pugnaciously on all matters that affected him even in the slightest, and there were quite a few, was unyielding when he was not convinced and could also be tough when his sharp intellect fought back but was a man who could be very caring and charming, always generous, his generosity is legendary! And who could take such delight in the joy of others. Like at our annual oyster meal, 50 of them for us both and how we enjoyed it. We often argued in the way that probably most of the people present here today did and sometimes it was really painful. But who are we to argue with in future? Who is so passionate about their cause and is also up to it intellectually and emotionally? Now there is not only the gap left by the absence of the concerned friend but also one left by the friend who enjoys a good argument which is precisely what advances us. Even if it is tiring.
And now the inconceivable has happened after all, he is no longer amongst us. Even though I still have his clear, penetrating voice in my ears as do surely many of those present today. In recent years he had already experienced several journeys on the Styx and in the course of serious illnesses come into contact with the darkness of the other side. But he returned every time with his strong willpower and did not complain but loved life all the more. He came back because he still had tasks to complete, there was always so much to do, so many plans, so much that was interesting and made life worth living that he needed to attend to. All of us benefitted from his drive. Sadly, this time he did not come back, he was once too often at that border, that other which we do not know, was stronger. He knew as much and not only took it calmly, with the same equanimity that led him to observe proprieties all his life, but he also accepted death in the same way that he loved life. These might just be common phrases, but Burkhard Brunn filled them with life and showed us with the dignified manner with which he died that there is something extraordinary, I would venture to say exemplary, if it is possible to use the word exemplary in connection with death, at any rate that is one more thing that we can learn from him. Happy the person who succeeded in that!
After all the formal is not technicality, but has to do with dignity, decency and morals, with a good life plan irrespective of how much is then actually realized, with the message that life with its inevitable end is a difficult and often enough arduous matter, but nonetheless beautiful and worth living and especially for the thoughtful a fulfilling task during which our many doubts and questions about meaning and truth, motivate, indeed only what is right and wrong, motivate and fire us. As they did him.
I would like to conclude this speech with an early memory of Burkhard Brunn that he wrote to me years ago when I was out on the Lahn. A fantasy about his profound attachment to the Earth that he loved and that is receiving him today: “I have a pleasant memory of the Lahn: many, many years ago, let’s say around 65, I closed my eyes and let myself be carried along by the river, my arms wrapped around a large ball. It was a wonderful sensation of floating. I was completely enraptured. Come home safely.”
Thank you for everything, Burkhard Brunn, and come home safely!