After her first husband, under whose surname Charlotte became known as an artist, died in 2004, there is no one left who can really report on her life with any real accuracy. Her Jewish relatives emigrated to the United States, to England, or to Brazil before the Third Reich. And those who knew Charlotte in person are no longer with us. I am still in contact with a cousin of hers, who is now well over ninety and occasionally visited us when he was on business trips to or from what was then Czechoslovakia. Then there are a few acquaintances from the Frankfurt art scene from the late sixties who will remember Charlotte, but I could not expect to obtain exact information for research purposes from them that went much beyond impressions or descriptions of atmosphere, the simple reason being that when Charlotte severed her ties with art in 1968 she likewise withdrew from the art scene. She no longer responded to enquiries. Indeed, she disappeared into a different life. After Peter Roehr, her close artist friend, died in 1968 having hardly reached the age of twenty-four, the only person who remained as a friend from the old days was Paul Maenz, who supplied us with bulletins on his exhibitions, which Charlotte read very attentively. That was the only current information she had from the world of art.
Only I am in a position to report on her childhood, youth, and family, as well as on the time after she broke with art, as I was fortunate enough to live together with her from 1968 until her premature death in 1985. We married shortly before she died.
I wish to record for posterity what she told me about herself, to the extent that I have remembered it. With a few exceptions (some things I experienced first hand or heard of from Paul Maenz) my only source has been Charlotte. Thus, in many respects my report will not be without gaps and will certainly be subjective. I will tell the story spontaneously, the way I remember it. This of course means that I will jump back and forth in time and will only vaguely proceed in a chronological manner. Moreover, I shall attempt to relate everything I have to say to Charlotte’s work. I neither wish to write a biography nor do I lay claim to any great literary skill. I merely want to convey information that I feel is suitable to help promote a better general understanding of Charlotte as an artist. From this viewpoint, our life together after her break with art is only interesting to the extent that it allows us to infer things about her artistic oeuvre.
Charlotte’s oeuvre is now on display in several renowned museums and collections,  and in 2005, on the twentieth anniversary of her death, were showcased in a major retrospective at the Taxispalais in Innsbruck—and subsequently at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Siegen. I am aware that younger people who value her work feel a need to discover more about the life of the most significant Minimalist Conceptual artist than I wrote about her in the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, catalogue. 
1 How I Got to Know Charlotte
I had heard a lot about Lottie Mayer before seeing her for the first time. Lottie had been school speaker at the Wiesbaden School for Girls on Boseplatz, and together with Carter Kniffler, her social studies teacher, Lottie had founded a theater group, Lottie had been painting sets for the theater since she was fourteen, Lottie, together with Mary Kitaj (who was related to the artist of the same name), an American sergeant with political duties, and Kniffler had been involved with political education programs and in compiling a pupil’s self-determination policy, Lottie had made speeches, Lottie here, Lottie there—and Lottie was beautiful. She had thick black hair, a full mouth, and sparkling eyes. And she was tall. In class photos she towered above all the other girls. Because she attended anarchist meetings she was known in Wiesbaden as “red Lottie.” My wife Grid and her friend Alice, who went to the same school but were a couple of classes lower, were not the only girls that idolized her.
Later, in 1966: “There’s Lottie!” shouted Grid, pointing to the handsome, frizzy-haired woman attentively listening to the remarks of a visitor to a Marielies Hess Foundation exhibition in a room at Hessischer Rundfunk, the local broadcasting station—her head slightly to one side, stooping slightly, holding her glasses between her lips. It could have been Adam Seide, the publisher of a unique magazine called Egoist, which in 1968 had presented Charlotte’s Drehflügel (Revolving Vanes) object and in 1970 intended to print her refusal to take part in an exhibition. He made several peculiar introductions for her. In 1966, she had exhibited an object at the broadcasting station that consisted of four staggered rectangular cookie tins. It was positioned on the wall and painted red, green, blue, and yellow such that the particular color of each tin overlapped on the one next to it. The colors undermined the sculptural nature of the object, 3 a theme that runs through Charlotte’s entire oeuvre. Grid introduced me to Charlotte. Not knowing my wife, Charlotte was polite and reserved. As opposed to Grid—who wasted no time telling her that she, too, was an artist—she hardly seemed to be spontaneous, and made a very aloof impression, which in those liberal times struck us as very old-fashioned. Grid—herself a striking young woman—was delighted to have introduced me in person to her former idol, and had no idea that I would shortly leave her for Charlotte.
It was the era of wild parties. Wealthy professionals, who had their finger on the pulse of things, opened the doors of their villas and enormous old apartments to all sorts of people. No front door was locked. Artists, philosophy students, prospective bomb makers, ad men, lawyers, and small-time criminals sat around together, bragging about the revolution and smoking joints. It was chic to perform in public what had previously been considered private and intimate, which meant that without even knowing the tenant, one simply barged into bedrooms, surprising couples who were in no way embarrassed to finish off what they had already begun—while Andy Warhol’s helium cushions floated through the room and stoned partygoers slept on transparent plastic chairs. It was all new. French cheeses with unpronounceable names, Italian ham, olives, sausage, and huge loaves of white bread were all piled up on the sideboard; there were large pans of alternative soups, and the wine flowed like water. Lots of people just breezed in and disappeared again with a large piece of cheese and a bottle of red wine. Inaccessible circles became accessible, exclusiveness was frowned on and “elite” a swearword.
I met Charlotte for the second time in the home of a well-known architect. It was already early morning. Grid and the others wanted to have a sauna—at the same time still an unusual feature in Germany. Charlotte, however, did not sauna with other people. Nor did I. In fact, in the seventeen years we lived together in good middle-class fashion we kept strictly separate what we considered to be private and intimate from what we wanted to let others know. For us, the physical and psychological exhibitionism that at the time was all the rage as a pronounced statement on the destruction of the private sphere had something enforced and violent about it. We found this pseudo-individual pompousness embarrassing. Charlotte for one had decided not to consider herself so important in future. This new solidarity was initially an unfamiliar form of coexistence, in which everyone addressed everyone else in the familiar, thereby assuming an equality that did not (yet) exist. Charlotte was unhappy talking about herself and steadfastly addressed those persons very formally who insisted on being on familiar terms with her. To other people she came across as aloof. So while the others were in the sauna we sat in the kitchen, eating what was left of the cheese. Paul Posenenske, her husband, did not go to parties like this, because he held the position of Professor at the University of Kassel and only came home at weekends. He was an architect and urban planner and (or so I have recently learned from an architect) wielded a fair amount of influence as a teacher. Charlotte was proud of the fact that her husband had built the university, which I also readily found attractive. One day they invited Grid and myself to their home. As Posenenske was the Municipal Councilor for Building in Offenbach, they lived in the Isenburg Castle on the Main River, which at the time housed the municipal building authority. The furnishings in the apartment in the Renaissance manor house were very modern and sparse and included, or so I seem top remember, transparent plastic chairs. A tower with a stone spiral staircase led to the apartment, which had thin windows and thick walls that had been painted white. There were no pictures. No other objets d’art. Charlotte’s studio was above, in the attic, but she did not show it to us. Grid was a barrel of laughs to the point of impertinence, playful, loud, and sexy. The Posenenskes evidently found us entertaining, or interesting. Perhaps we seemed authentic and up to date to them as our elders. Because we had drunk too much to drive back to Wiesbaden, they invited us to stay the night there.
A few months later, Grid threw a party in our attic apartment in Wiesbaden, with a huge washing pot full of mussels in white wine. Charlotte was there. It was here that in her light, clear voice, and in the presence of others she said something quite audacious to me that for a woman who refused to sauna with others was most astonishing. This deliberately staged performance was in fact part of her personal revolution, which she was courageously pursuing. And then the Posenenskes invited us to go to Holland with them for a few days. We were all extremely cheerful, even the somewhat pensive professor. In a Chinese restaurant it struck me just how concentrated Charlotte was in her eating. She closed her eyes as she savored every bite and scarcely spoke during the meal. I have always admired the intensity with which she lived, whether at work or at play. It was only after her premature death that the image of the candle burning at both ends occurred to me. A little later I visited Charlotte in Offenbach— alone. Thereupon, on the spur of the moment, she invited me to go with her to Berlin for a week. René Block, who at the time was exhibiting a few of her works, had invited her. At the time I was teaching Latin at a private school and called in sick. Charlotte liked driving, and drove well—in particular trucks, by the way, which she used to transport her large objects. (Once I remember a taxi blocking the road in Frankfurt’s Westend. There was no driver to be seen far and wide, and the engine was running. Charlotte got out of her Citroen— the Posenenskes had a DS, back then the most avant-garde car there was—got in the taxi and drove it round the corner. At the time I was hugely impressed by something like that.) We stayed in a hotel for the entire week in Berlin. When driving back we were faced with the question of what was to happen now. We did not want to go our separate ways, but had both seemingly been happily married until then. As the exemplary wife Charlotte had even hosted large society events in the castle, attended among others by local politicians from the Social Democratic Party—Posenenske’s father was Chairman of the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (Education and Science Union) in Hesse. Both our marriages failed all at once.
Charlotte owned a small house in Wiesbaden—her parental home. We settled in as best we could in the attic. We met in front of the main entrance, neither us with much more than a toothbrush with us. As was the wont in those days, we put the foam rubber mattresses we had managed to obtain straight on the floor. It looked like improvisation. Charlotte liked so-called director’s chairs, which were easy to fold up and put away. She kept on stressing how temporary a state of affairs it was, even if it was probably going to last for a while. Perhaps that had something to do with her experience in theater: being able to rearrange things or move on at any time represented a form of independence—which is what that era was all about. There was all sorts of handiwork to be done in the attic. Being the male I thought I ought to do it. Having drilled a few holes in the wall to put up a dividing wall in front of the shower, Charlotte asked me to give her the drill. And proceeded to drill one hole next to the other with such accuracy that it could have been her job. That was the beginning of a life together that liberated me within the relationship from the traditional gender roles. She was a superb handywoman. She had learned a lot from her work in the theater painting room, and a lot from Frank, her mother’s later lover, who was a carpenter. So far. I am prepared to report thus far, and in this way, on my life with Charlotte. With just a few exceptions I will mostly relate what she told me herself. Perhaps just one more point: when I came home from school at midday to my wife Grid, I was accustomed to finding a meal waiting. So I came home now—just like before—and sat down at the table in the attic, where the stove and Charlotte’s small children’s wardrobe were, and waited. Charlotte began discussing something or other with me until I asked if there was anything to eat. She had nothing to offer. So we went downstairs and to the Kaiser’s supermarket nearby, where we bought a cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, etc. We placed it all on the kitchen table and began talking again. Because I was starving by now, it was I, by the way, who began cutting it all up to make a small salad. And Charlotte helped me. It was our first simple joint meal. Charlotte’s utopia, and she also tried to create it in the private sphere, was cooperation, one that was not based on a clear-cut division of labor, which as is well known leads to claims to being in charge. She wanted to avoid that from the outset. As of that salad we did everything together—from eating down to the sentences in our joint articles. It was, however, an extremely arduous process, as we both thought we knew what was right. We argued and argued—and loved every moment of it. We enjoyed being increasingly able to express what we thought and wanted—which was part of the freedom for which we so longed. Today whenever I think back to that era of new beginnings (and it was so important for so many) two words occur to me with regard to my life with Charlotte that dictated our actions: freedom and solidarity. And this was not just a liberation from the restrictions imposed by society’s conventions, in other words “freedom from something,” but also the “freedom for something,” namely the possibility of entering into relationships that were otherwise denied us in our own social circles, and thus enabled to live as we wished. For Charlotte that meant the freedom to show solidarity, or put paradoxically, the freedom to create ties by virtue of her own decisions. For Charlotte, solidarity meant cooperation. Even in discussions she was interested less in communicating and more in solving the problem being discussed. She saw these conversations as a joint production, from which she expected results. She wanted to work with others, because it was her work that gave her the most vivid awareness of her self.
2 Origins and Family
In one of the attic rooms there as an oval oil painting of Charlotte’s bearded grandfather, who was Jewish. Henry Mayer from Herbolzheim in the Palatinate had been a very wealthy man. His wife,
Charlotte, whose name the artist adopted of her own accord, despite having been baptized Liselotte Henriette, came from a family of Bad Dürkheim vineyard owners. Grandfather Mayer, who had emigrated to America in 1848 and had taken American citizenship, made a fortune manufacturing cloth for sails, which he himself shipped across the ocean to the United States. This kind of ship admittedly already boasted boilers and chimneys, but it had sails as well. Henry Mayer exported the cloth that was used for the settlers’ covered wagons. Whenever I watch a western I am reminded of Charlotte’s grandfather, who left to each of his children a million gold marks and, as a sign of gratitude to the country where he had found his fortune, gave them American first names.
Dr. Joseph Dawson Mayer, or Jo, Charlotte’s father, was born in 1870 and had trained to be a pharmacist’s assistant in Zurich, Biel, Davos, and Basel before studying pharmacy in Heidelberg. He was very generous. Even as a student he employed a cook, whom he then took with him to Wiesbaden. For five hundred thousand gold marks he bought a license to run a pharmacy, and in 1898 he took over the Taunus Pharmacy, which—if I am not mistaken—is the third- or fourth-oldest pharmacy in Wiesbaden. It still exists today, and remains furnished and equipped in the style of the nineteenth century. Dr. Mayer spoke fluent English and French, as well as a little Russian. In the decades before World War I, Wiesbaden had been an international spa town, where even the German Kaiser took the famous warm waters and where Dostoyevsky is reputed to have used the casino to make studies for his Der Spieler (The Gambler). Spa guests would stroll up and down Wilhelmstrasse, which was referred to as the “Rue,” or through the park and visit the nouveau-Baroque opera, in which there is still a “Kaiser’s Box.” Black warmwater beetles, a type of cockroach that prefers damp surroundings, inhabited the cellar in Taunusstrasse, and were even known to scurry across tables in the noble Hotel Rose, nowadays the State Chancellery. Dr. Mayer was an extremely well-brought-up, friendly, and kind gentleman, whose hobby-horse was a collection of old pharmaceutical paraphernalia that occupied the entire second storey of the house, which was built around a square interior courtyard. To the rear there were herbs, the scent of which—Charlotte told me—wafted through the entire house when she was a child. She said there was at all times a fragrance resembling that of the open countryside. In the early thirties, Dr. Mayer sold what was “at the time most the significant pharmaceutical collection in Germany,”  and which included the entire interior fittings of a pharmacy, to E. R. Squibb & Sons, the U. S. corporation, which exhibited it in its New York premises under the name “The Squibb Ancient Pharmacy” and later donated it to the Smithsonian Institution, the American National Museum in Washington. Presumably Dr. Mayer intended to use the proceeds from the sale for when he emigrated. In his pockets, Charlotte’s father always carried with him sweets to give to children, and he adored engaging in conversation with beautiful ladies. As was customary, he had married a Jewess, Hedwig (Hedy) Simon, the daughter of a Munich banker. But then Ellen Dörner came into his life.
Ellen, Charlotte’s mother, who was born in 1893 and died in 1961, was working at the time as an assistant in the medical practice of Dr. Géronne, who was treating Dr. Mayer for a kick from a horse. Having trained at a school of commerce, she had previously worked as a laboratory assistant at Metallbank in Frankfurt, which later became part of Degussa. Dr. Mayer kept a horse in nearby Tattersal and was accustomed to riding down Taunusstrasse, past his pharmacy into the Nero Valley as far as the “Rabengrund,” a large meadow with old trees, where Wiesbaden citizens enjoyed walking. (At the time there was a bridle path on Taunusstrasse). If one imagines the wealthy pharmacist, who wore tailor-made suits and handmade shoes, summoned his hairdresser to his home, and during sultry summers moved into the hotel on Neroberg, where it was cooler, it could be a scene straight from the Belle Époque. He fell so in love with Ellen Dörner that he divorced his Jewish wife and married the woman who was twenty-three years his junior. His Jewish family, who in no way found the marriage befitting his standing, never approved. Jewish couples do not divorce. Perhaps the fact that he also married a gentile played a part.
Since grandfather Mayer had been a frequent visitor to America and knew several people there, most of Dr. Mayer’s six siblings had already emigrated to the USA before the Nazis came to power. One of his brothers, Dr. Willy Mayer, who had had his own pediatric clinic in Mannheim, became a professor at the renowned John Hopkins University in Baltimore, while another, Alfred Mayer, ran a factory producing children’s clothing. Which is how as a child Charlotte now and again came to wear American dresses and perhaps even blue jeans— which were quite unknown in Germany back then. Uncle Arthur Mayer had emigrated to England. Dr. Jo Mayer also had three sisters: Jenny, who died early; Anna, who, having emigrated to Brazil, managed to keep her and her husband, Karlsruhe lawyer Dr. Emil Homburger’s heads above water by knitting garments; and Charlotte’s great aunt Cel (Celine). Charlotte once told me that she had fond memories of all her “dear long-nosed aunties” bending over her bed like kind fairies when she was a child. However, the idea of a large, protective, extended family would appear to have been a product of her imagination, as only two aunties actually come into question and I am really not sure whether they would have come to Germany after 1933.
When Charlotte was born on October 28, 1930, her mother was thirty-seven and her father sixty. He was immensely proud of his little daughter, and no less of the fact that even at his ripe old age he had still fathered a child. After all, in those days, at sixty one was in every respect far more likely to be a grandfather. Charlotte remained an only child.
Ellen Dörner came from a working-class background. Dörner is a common name in Biebrich, a small town on the Rhine just to the south of Wiesbaden, with a fair amount of industry. Charlotte’s mother also had several siblings: August Dörner, who ran a cigar shop in Essen before displaying entrepreneurial spirit as the leaseholder of the Essen Gruga trade fair. Charlotte told me that he was highly energetic, very humorous, and full of life, and in this regard resembled her mother. (Shortly after World War II, the uncle had invited her to Essen. Charlotte described to me how on a hot summer day, with a backpack on her back, she had stumbled through the light-drenched ruins of a city that had been totally reduced to rubble and which seemed completely empty of life.) Then there was Willi Dörner, a hairdresser in Wiesbaden, who failed the master craftsmen examination he needed to pass to be able to set up his own business, despite Charlotte’s parents having supported him. He was, Charlotte said, a so-called beau and not exactly blessed with intelligence. There was also Aunt Edith, who was married to someone in the SS, of all things.
In other words, on the one hand, Charlotte came from a wealthy, middle-class family, and on the other, from a working-class family, as her grandfather on the Biebrich side of the family had been a stoker on the Reichsbahn railway. This involved shoveling coal day in day out—filthy work. The grandfather was a drinker, and Charlotte knew him only by word of mouth. I know nothing about her maternal grandmother.
I believe that Charlotte was greatly influenced by the two sides to her origins: the middle-class and working-class roots, incapable as she was of feeling totally affiliated to either of them. In sociological terms, her life was one long inconsistency with regard to her status. She did not consider herself a member of the petit bourgeoisie that emulates the bourgeoisie and is ever fearful of slipping down to working-class status. Or perhaps she did after all. It is a well-known fact that in Karl Marx’ analysis of society there are only two classes— for reasons of methodology he ignored the nobility and the petit bourgeoisie, because for him the basic structure of society was the relationship between capital and labor. Here and there, however, he does mention the land gentry, while treating the petit bourgeoisie— as was the case with the great French novelists—with ridicule. At the beginning of our time together, I took Charlotte to several cider pubs in Frankfurt and to the cottages in the Rheingau wine-growing region that the vintners open to the public at harvest season, which I knew from earlier days. Even today they are still frequented in particular by the so-called lower orders, workmen, the owners of small houses and shops in the region, and employees from the Boehringer chemicals factory in Ingelheim. Charlotte observed closely what for her was a totally new milieu through the lens of whether or not she actually belonged to it as a social system. In this context, I well recall us once sitting down at a table in the vintners’ hall in Kiedrich at which a couple wearing traditional green loden clothing was sipping wine. We were convinced we had sat down next to pigheaded rightwingers. However, once we had, after all, struck up conversation about this and that, the man told us that in these parts Kiedrich was known as “Neindorf” (the village that says no), because when the Nazis were in power it had been the only place in the fiercely conservative Rheingau region to resist one of their decrees. It turned out that the man worked for the Wiesbaden public utilities and was a left-wing social democrat. This encounter gave Charlotte food for thought. She was happy when able to refute unpleasant prejudices, and came to terms just a little more with being petit bourgeois.
Ellen Mayer was an ambitious woman. After Dr. Mayer had arranged for her to have private tutoring in English, French, and music— in those days it was perfectly normal for young non-middleclass women to receive instruction in whatever they needed in order to be able to engage in conversation with guests without embarrassing the man of the house—Frau Mayer ran her household, which included cook and housemaid, so well that her husband could boast the fame of its hospitality. Rheingau Riesling was served, as were the primeurs—the food prepared had a Baden influence, because Anna, the cook, hailed from that region where, gourmets say, German food is at its best. Together with Charlotte, I once visited Anna in a home for senior citizens. She had asked for a good bottle of Bordeaux. The most famous guest at the Mayer residence was the Russian painter Alexei von Jawlensky, who at the time was living in Wiesbaden, in a small street off Taunusstrasse that is now named after him. In the attic we later found a dusty, slightly damaged painting by him that Ellen Mayer had kept there. A certain Dr. Behrens, a dashing young lawyer and ladykiller, whom Ellen Mayer had got to know at the tennis club, also visited. Charlotte assumed that he was the lover of her mother, who in Wiesbaden was considered to be a beautiful woman who lived life to the full. When I made his acquaintance, he was over ninety years old. It was his great ambition in old age to be the last of his high school graduation class to die. He claimed to be Charlotte’s biological father, attempting to prove his reputation as a seducer by pestering his alleged daughter in the back of the Citroen, as I noticed in the rearview mirror. Though she was not in the least interested in the claimed paternity, she was nonetheless extremely hurt by someone wanting to supersede her father, whom she had loved so dearly. So much so that other than myself, she later on only had older men as friends. We never saw Ali—as he liked his friends to call him, again. When he lay dying, somewhere near Koblenz, and had his housekeeper call his alleged daughter, she disowned him, because she was neither related to him nor did she care for him. She was unable to forgive the vain old man for his impudent trespass. His son, a former good-for-nothing in Wiesbaden and now a top manager at Colgate in the United States, never forgave her for refusing to visit his father on his death bed. Before the father did pass away we once visited the son in the Frankfurter Hof hotel. He looked just like a murderer in a film noir and made such cynical remarks as he was hanging up his suits that we were glad never to have set eyes on him again.
3 Childhood and Youth
Father Mayer did everything for his little daughter. He particularly loved taking her for walks and introducing her to everybody. “This is my little Lottie!” he would announce proudly. Charlotte had a children’s plate that could be warmed by putting hot water in a chamber in the base of the plate. She liked alphabet soup, making simple words on its edge. Whenever father Mayer read the newspaper, Charlotte would sit under the desk between his feet, asking him about everybody and everything. Charlotte could read by the time she was just four. And later on, when we were studying together, she read everything twice as quickly as I did, and I am not exactly a slow reader. On the plate was written in old-fashioned writing: “Erst mach dein Sach’, dann spiel und lach!” (Do first things first, then play and have fun). That corresponded with the modern-day division of working and living to which Charlotte later adhered, although in her line of work she could have coped with any interruption whatever. Her style of working, however, involved intently devoting herself to one and the same thing time and time again. She worked as if she were a company employee.
At this time, Charlotte was busy writing her Picapora newspaper, the remains of which I still possess today. It was written by so-called Ringstanges and relates the experiences of the Mimaues. These Ringstanges have pointed noses, walk on all fours like small children, and point their bottoms upward. They are naked, but have no tails. They make fun of the Mimaues, who look like cushions and clouds and have no legs. The Mimaues are lethargic and a little stupid. They have tiny dots for eyes, sometimes not even that. Later on we always called cushions Mimaues. Certain types of cloud as well. Certain things and meals were also “mimauy.” Charlotte never kept anything that was unimportant for her. Indeed, if she saw no reason for keeping things, she tended to immediately throw them away. Picapora was a highly complex testament to her childhood and obviously important to her. In my opinion, the Mimaues and the Ringstanges represented two stages of her childhood, but perhaps also two sides to her character, the lethargic, sensual Mimaues, on the one hand, and the intelligent, nimble Ringstanges, on the other, who, by writing about them in a newspaper, reflect on what it must be like to be a Mimau. In its structure, the Picapora newspaper, which she wrote aged about five, is an example of Charlotte’s early need to differentiate analytically and think reflectively. She was enormously gifted when it came to understanding systems and designing them herself. She had a highly analytical and incisive mind, in other words she was capable of allocating phenomena to this or that category without ever losing sight of the way they fitted into the overall picture. Compiling questionnaires is part and parcel of sociological work. Formulating the questions highly selectively is not easy and requires a fair amount of linguistic skill. Charlotte never had any problem whatever with this.
Dr. Mayer, who also owned a small manufactory for creams and lotions, left the day-to-day running of the business to his employees, enabling him to spend most of his time with his little daughter. There was also another reason why he had so much spare time on his hands. More about that later. Once, when the two of them were walking to the Melibokus oak tree—a fat old oak tree from which, when conditions were right, one could back then see as far as the Melibokus, the highest point in the distant Odenwald forest—they passed a building van. Lottie, who was keen to know what was inside, pleaded with her father for as long as it took for him to break open the lock. Someone saw him doing it and he was convicted of attempted robbery. Charlotte repeatedly told me the story, clearly because it was proof that her father would do anything for her, even though he was a Jew—even something that was forbidden.
Charlotte’s mother was a passionate woman with a violent temper. Once when she was giving Charlotte a clip round the ears, her father happened to be standing in the door. There must have been an awful scene, because the father had strictly forbidden her to hit his daughter. He said “my” daughter. For as long as Charlotte’s father was alive, the mother never lost her cool in this way again. Later on she was often so livid that she ran round the table wielding a bread knife in pursuit of her daughter. This was evidence of the fact that she hailed from the lowest of orders. She got on badly with her daughter, but not so badly that she refused to pose naked for her. The two women had totally different temperaments. Ellen Mayer, practical and full of joie de vivre, thought in categories of self-preservation, social status, and pleasure, all of which was understandable given the difficulties involved in just surviving during and immediately after the war. When it suited her, however, she managed to be irrational and unfathomable, while at the same time a determined person who knuckled down. Charlotte, on the other hand, as a result of being alone and reading so much, began brooding at an early age. One reason for her mother’s awful attacks now and again could also have been her suspicion that there was also something going on between her lover, Heinrich Frank the carpenter, and her fifteen-yearold daughter. Charlotte hinted to me that Frank had indeed seduced her if not done something worse.
Like many Jews, Dr. Mayer never believed that the Nazis would go as far as they did. Yet when most of his Jewish acquaintances emigrated, he too weighed up the idea of uprooting. He made preparations to flee and sent a large amount of money, presumably the proceeds from the sale of his pharmacy collection, to Amsterdam. This aroused suspicions at the bank. In a short biography written in conjunction with her will, Charlotte wrote: “Even before my father died, many relatives and friends fled abroad, and several Jewish friends committed suicide. We spoke about it a lot at home. My father also made attempts to deposit money for our escape in an Amsterdam bank, but it was confiscated for contravening the Reich foreign currency laws.” Otherwise one was scarcely aware of the Nazis in the sluggish spa town. Everything was much calmer than in the big cities. All in all, even after the enforced sale of his pharmacy as part of the so-called Aryanization process in 1935, Dr. Mayer still lived in comparably tolerable circumstances. As of 1938, however, he started collecting in an envelope all those newspaper articles that made reference to laws and measures that affected Jews and labeled it: “Re. Decrees for Jews.” Despite his optimistic bon vivant disposition, he, too, was now becoming extremely concerned. On one of his long walks—a Nazi was now running the pharmacy—he went up to the Sonnenberg hill in Wiesbaden to a man who kept chickens. He was lucky enough to be able to buy a few eggs there for a Jewish lawyer acquaintance, who had recently been beaten up by the Nazis and was now confined to bed. Acquiring so-called “rationed” goods, however, was strictly forbidden. On his way back he was stopped by a man with Gestapo ID. He informed Dr. Mayer that he could reckon with immediate prosecution. On April 4, 1940, Charlotte’s father made his will.
On April 8 he poisoned himself, convinced that he was going to be sent to a concentration camp. Charlotte saw her father lying dead in a chair—and was completely distraught. She was in such a state of shock that she abandoned the outside world. She began reading like a maniac, fleeing from this world. There was not a single book in any of the Wiesbaden public libraries that she had not read. Later still— when we were already living together—she simply had to read anything with letters on it, even upside-down letters and those on wrapping paper. Whenever we got lost in a city we soon found our way again because simply by seeing them she had learnt by heart the names of all the streets as we were driving past. The Jews knew about the concentration camps and had a suspicion about what was happening in them. One heard time and again of Jewish households in which an urn with the ashes of a relative had been received. “Another urn has arrived,” they said. At this early stage, the Nazis still took the trouble to do this. There was always a mendacious accompanying letter. Charlotte wrote: “I was there when they took away our friends the Jakobsohns. Only a couple of weeks later they sent back their urns.” The second shock, which had almost as lasting an effect on Charlotte’s life as her father’s death, occurred on August 25, 1942. Her mother received the following letter from Charlotte’s school, and it evidently made such an impact that Charlotte kept it:
Frau Ellen Mayer, Wiesbaden, Taunusstr. 37 Under new ministerial decrees, immediate Jewish half-castes enrolled in Grade 1–4 at a secondary school must leave the school when the period of compulsory education ends. I hereby draw your attention officially to this decree. Your daughter Lottie must therefore leave this school as of Easter 1945. Heil Hitler! Dr. Koch (Senior Master)
Charlotte was twelve at the time and in her second year of secondary school. Although, according to the letter, she would only have had to leave the school towards the end of the war, the very threat had the intended effect. Charlotte, who had an incredible thirst for knowledge and had always been a very good pupil, was going to have to leave the place where she had felt totally at home. She was made aware of the fact that she no longer belonged there, that she was “different.” Without ever having spoken to Charlotte about it, to my mind this experience of not belonging explains her fundamental approach to life and many of the decisions she later made. There were several reasons why she stopped producing art in 1968, which I am gradually trying to outline. One reason was certainly that she considered an artist’s individualism to be a foolish illusion, an ideology that concealed the fact that every human is influenced by society to a far greater extent than he is aware of and could appreciate if he were aware of it. And if she thereupon studied sociology with a view to working for the trade unions, then the main reason, and of this I am absolutely convinced, was that she wanted finally to belong somewhere. She no longer wanted to be “different.” She wanted to be like everybody else, in other words no longer excluded. Shortly afterward, Charlotte was indeed expelled from school. Yet she never forgot that, and I quote—“Frau Lange, the teacher, defended me, and expressly explained to the class that Jews were humans just like anybody else.” Charlotte was impressed on several occasions by how it was indeed possible to put up resistance.
In their obsession with race, the Nazis began tracking down “Jewish half-castes” far sooner than originally announced. Charlotte knew by name three “half-castes” in the town. The fact that as a precautionary measure her mother had Reverend von Bernus baptize her on October 28, 1936, when she was six, was to no avail, because the Nazis did not consider the Jews to be a cultural community and instead declared them to be a race. The padre, who belonged to the “Confessional Church”—as did, incidentally, Dr. Hans Buttersack, Charlotte’s godfather, who had the courage to keep in contact with his Jewish friend Mayer—confirmed to Frau Mayer in a letter of April 4, 1940, that she had raised her daughter “in the Protestant faith since birth.” This testimonial bears the same date as Dr. Mayer’s will. It was thus written with the express intention of protecting Charlotte in mind. However, what really saved her life was a courageous act performed by Constable Kabis, who was in the mounted police and posted at the former police station close by in Stiftstrasse, and whose horses were stabled in Tattersal in a riding school in Coulinstrasse, also close by. Father Mayer had sometimes entrusted his daughter to the constable when out riding, and this upright man, who was faithful to the Kaiser and despised the “Führer” as an upstart, had Charlotte’s file disappear behind a cupboard in the cellar of the police station when he learnt that a deportation of “first-grade halfcastes” was imminent. Charlotte found this out at a later date from her mother, who, as the Aryan wife of a Jew, was guilty of sexual relations with a non-Aryan and, in the presence of her daughter, had on several occasions been humiliated by the Gestapo.
A certain Dr. Best, the pharmacist in the Kochbrunnen Pharmacy on the other side of the road, had now taken over the running of the “Aryanized” Taunus Pharmacy. A Nazi, he succeeded not only in appropriating the pharmacy, but also in evicting Charlotte and her mother from their apartment by stating that he needed it officially. In this case, the expropriation of Jewish property was again thinly veiled robbery committed by “Aryan” competitors. Ellen Mayer found somewhere to live in Taunusstrasse 37, where she hid her daughter in an unused laundry room until Germany was liberated. It was not without some satisfaction that Charlotte told me how she and her mother used antique furniture and silver candelabra to make an attractive room out of the laundry, even though it was always damp and there was never any light. They divided up the room by hanging carpets over taught washing lines. They even put up pictures on the walls. It was quite clearly culture that gave the two women the strength to carry on during these barbaric times. On the other hand, the mother also benefited from the virtues of her working-class origins during this period. Instead of complaining, she set about organizing whatever was essential in order to survive. She was no longer the woman that now and again would let a French word drop in conversation but instead fell back into the regional Hessian dialect. She would sunbathe on a small rear-courtyard balcony full of washing, wearing hardly a stitch and chat with the other women. Lottie, by contrast, was busy reading, day and night.
Following the death of Charlotte’s father, Ellen Mayer got to know Heinrich Frank, a carpenter from Georgenborn, who must have been a remarkable man. His workshop was in Nerostrasse and he was an expert in restoring antiques, of which there were many in Dr. Jo Mayer’s home. Late in the evening, Charlotte would slip out of the cellar and make her way to the workshop close by, where at this time of day there were frequently several men sitting around discussing politics. Frank, who on his journeyman’s travels had been as far as Russia, referred to himself as a communist, though in Charlotte’s opinion he was more of an anarchist. He raved about the Soviet Union, where everything had seemed wonderful to him. Frank was a sinewy, good-looking man who told a good tale. He was practical and had a solution for everything. In the war and postwar years, he was a tremendous support for Ellen Mayer and her daughter. The men she saw now and again at Frank’s were part of the Wiesbaden resistance. Confused though their political ideas might have been, they nonetheless managed to get French prisoners of war back to France in railway freight cars that were leaving the chemical factories in Biebrich. Because there was still a danger of Charlotte being discovered in her laundry room (Frau Meyer would not have put it past some of the other tenants in the house to denounce the girl), in the summer the men from the resistance took the daughter with them to the country—hidden beneath a blanket in a handcart. There she was able to spend some time among chickens and goats, her mind at ease. Charlotte wrote of Frank: “He helped us out with food, hid me for a while in Georgenborn and told us about his experiences in the workers’ movement, as a member of which he had been fighting the Nazis since 1933.”
American aircraft had scattered leaflets over Wiesbaden calling on the Germans to surrender. As the Americans intended to set up their headquarters there in the spa town, it was subjected to very little bombing, and only very late on. That was the story, anyway. Yet those bombs that did fall seemed mostly to land in Webergasse, in the immediate vicinity of the warm-water fountain, in other words not far from Taunusstrasse. Charlotte found it strange that her mother was tugging her through the burning streets instead of seeking protection in the air raid shelters. Ellen in fact wanted to check whether the bank, where she had deposited her valuables, was still standing. For that she was prepared to risk her life.
In Wiesbaden, as in most other places, silence reigned when the liberation—Charlotte only had scorn for the misleading phrase “collapse”— began. Then a single jeep appeared, with GIs sitting on it wielding their machine guns, among them the first blacks we had ever seen (until then we were only familiar with the black man in the Sarotti chocolate logo). People started emerging from the air-raid shelters. “Altstadt, the senior Nazi town councilor who lived in the front house,” wrote Charlotte, was an incredibly fat, sick man who was covered in bandages. He wandered through the streets, pulling behind him the bandages that were gradually unraveling. Charlotte was one of the first to run up to the liberators. It was a sunny day. She was very happy. She told me that she was also there when an emaciated old Jew crawled out of his hiding place in an ironmonger’s, which he owned. The people that had run his “Aryanized” shop during the Nazi era had hidden him there and kept him alive with food. Charlotte showed me the shop. That experience made a tremendous impression on her, as it demonstrated that there were simple people who had had the courage to protect a Jew for years, even though there was always talk of it being daring even to greet Jews. In Charlotte’s own words: “In 1945 I also witnessed Krotoschin, the old Jewish ironmonger, crawling out of the hiding place where a family in Hermannstrasse, communists, had kept him hidden, and was deeply impressed by the family’s bravery.”
4 After the War
In postwar Wiesbaden, the widows of high-ranking military officers and the wives of Nazis who had gone underground were forced to sell their jewelry and furniture. Ellen Mayer and Heinrich Frank together opened an antique shop. At the time, there were only Americans buying antiques. Frau Mayer and Charlotte used to push a large, twowheeled handcart to the neighborhoods around Sonnenbergerstrasse and Nerotal, where the patricians’ villas dating from the turn of the twentieth century stand, and loaded it up with antique chests, wardrobes, and armchairs, even crystal chandeliers, which Charlotte took apart and cleaned before putting them back together again. The Americans paid with cigarettes—the currency of the early postwar years. During that period in Frank’s workshop, Charlotte learned not only how to restore furniture, but also how to make fake pictures. In the area surrounding Wiesbaden there were displaced persons’ camps: these were foreigners that had been abducted by the Nazis and were awaiting permission to return home. Among them were many Poles, on the back of whose jackets were displayed the large letters D and P. The “DPs,” as they were known, traded with the Americans and were in possession of cigarettes. They would show up in Frau Mayer’s antique shop asking for painted Madonnas similar to the ones they were familiar with back home. This was how Charlotte began using old prints to paint pictures of the Madonna by Raffaëlli, flying in the face of style by giving them a gold background (N.B. genuine gold), which Frank had taught her how to apply in wafer-thin layers. It is well known that in the Sienna and Byzantine styles, in which Polish pictures of the Madonna are painted, gold backgrounds are a symbol of divine light, as opposed to Florentine Renaissance, which having discovered perspective, opened up space to the observer. The Poles wanted genuine pictures of the Madonna. To this end, Frank also taught Charlotte how to make wood look old, and how to make worm holes. She became good at forging, and even though she had a bad conscience about it, she did enjoy the challenge involved in the workmanship. She also worked in the painting department of the theater.
When she had been reinstated in school—and felt part of it again— she became extremely active. Together with Mary, the young American girl mentioned previously, who had joined the army so as to give the Germans democracy as opposed to herself being unemployed in her home country, Carter Kniffler, Charlotte’s social studies teacher, organized a theater group, which put on plays by Tennessee Williams and other modern American playwrights as well as courses in which the girls were taught the basics of democracy— because at the time there was still no democratic constitution. Kniffler, who stood over two meters tall and whose children were just as big, had the curious habit of turning around to look at anyone he found interesting—he just stopped in his tracks, other passers-by having to walk around him. One could not miss him, and he was a familiar figure throughout Wiesbaden. (I write this from my own experience, as I spent part of my youth in Wiesbaden. I lived at Freseniusstrasse 35, from where on summer evenings we could hear the Kniffler family in Kapellenstrasse opposite singing American folk songs.)
Together with Mary, who later became Jean Améry’s lover, enthused about anything Jewish and often visited us in Frankfurt, Kniffler represented American values. By contrast, Frank stood for the virtues of the Soviet Union. He attended communist gatherings with Charlotte. For the 1946 district assembly elections, Charlotte had drawn a drastic flyer for the party of anarchy. It depicted a candidate addressing the crowd at an election meeting: “I’ll give you the moon! Elect me and I’ll give it to you.” Having duly elected him, the citizens cry out: “The moon! We want the moon!” At which point the elected representative says: “The moon? There you go!” and proceeds to drop his pants and moon in front of them! As their name implies, anarchists do not think much of democracy’s complicated rules, whereas in Charlotte’s case a copy of the Basic Law of the State of Hesse, which was heavily influenced by the social democrats, as well as later on the Basic Law of the Federal Republic were at all times within easy reach. She quoted from them whenever she was outraged by anyone daring to question or infringe on them. For her, Article 1 of the Basic Law, which reads “The dignity of Man is inviolable,” amounted to a promise that Germany would never again be subjected to fascism.
Charlotte was sometimes incensed by things that I myself had to learn to consider bad. Words such as “half-Jew,” for example, which were in common usage even after the Nazi era. Such an expression only makes sense if one is a follower of the disastrous perception that there is such a thing as Jewish blood, which like any other liquid, can be divided up into quanta, in other words if one considers the Jews to be a race, as the Nazis did. Charlotte was very much incensed by the fact that Mary and even her Jewish cousin Heinz from Brazil talked about “half-Jews.” She always read the newspaper extremely carefully and was outraged by any thoughtless form of expression, believing as she did in the power and influence of the written word—including that of the wrong written word. So on the one hand there were Kniffler and Mary, the America fans, and on the other Frank, the Soviet Union enthusiast. Yet the opposition between East-West, which would later develop into the Cold War, was initially of no concern to the young girl: as far as she was concerned, the Americans meant freedom. Even when, later on, she participated in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in Berlin and Frankfurt, Charlotte never forgot that it was the Americans whom she had to thank for her liberation. The Russians, or communists, stood for solidarity.
Charlotte, however, wanted both. She was convinced that the breeding ground for racism and anti-Semitism was sown in schools. This was one good reason for her to be involved in the compiling of a constitution for pupil codetermination at her school. Charlotte was elected chairperson of the student council and was now the school speaker. An argumentative discussion partner, she headed several working groups. On top of her work in the painting department of the theater, where she learned how to handle enormous canvasses, the tremendous amount of school activities the eighteen-year-old was involved in represented her way of responding to having been expelled from school by the Nazis. She had reconquered her school; now it really did become her school, her home.
Herr Oppert, the director of studies, became aware of her gift for mathematics. He tried to get her interested in the problems he wrote about in specialist journals. Even when Charlotte was already married, he used to visit her in Offenbach and try to get her involved with mathematics. However, he had long since lost his former pupil, who to his distress had even given up mathematics, to Frau Jüttner, who at an early stage recognized Charlotte’s artistic talent and got her to apply to Willi Baumeister in Stuttgart after she had graduated from high school. Even when she had retired, she still followed the artistic career of her star pupil and even went as far as visiting Charlotte in the attics she lived in with me in the early seventies in order to get her to change her mind: because she, too, had learnt that Charlotte had given up art in 1968 and erroneously considered me to be the reason why. The look she gave me on the staircase was nothing if not full of hate.
Charlotte was always thankful to her resolute mother for having pursued reclaiming the pharmacy immediately after the end of the war, a course of action in which, following several court cases, she was ultimately successful. After liberation and before they got back their house in Taunusstrasse, mother and daughter had moved to Freseniusstrasse 35, an attractive villa in the upper Dambach Valley, in which by curious chance I also lived a few years later. The house belonged to a certain Frau Schröder, who used to sunbathe on the top-floor patio. She had lived on Java or Sumatra for years and was always tanned. Her apartment had a pleasant aroma to it, the fittings were Asian, but the way she used to swear at the children was pure Berlinese. Later, Charlotte and I secretly visited the garden, in which there was a large cherry tree, and showed each other the places we had buried our animals. For the most part, these were birds that had slammed with their heads into the large panes of glass on the veranda. When Ellen Mayer had finally got back the pharmacy, mother and daughter moved back into Taunusstrasse 20.
In 1957, Ellen Mayer rented out the first floor to Herr Pfeiffer and his family, the pharmacist who initially leased the pharmacy before buying it in 1962, although the actual premises remained the property of Frau Mayer and her daughter. Following the death of her mother, renting out the pharmacy premises and ultimately the two remaining stories of the small, three-story early-nineteenth-century house gave Charlotte the financial support without which she would have had to give up art. Even if the possible reasons and motives for her abandoning art have been the subject of much discussion, it was never a consideration that Charlotte did not have to make a living out of it. If being a professional artist means having to produce goods for the market and living or wanting to live on the proceeds, then she was never a professional artist. Charlotte was always aware of her privileged position.
Later on, when the pharmacist had died, she managed to rent out the premises to a bank. During this period, the entire building smelt of cigar smoke, and later on, when the bank had moved out again, we found chicken bones and other refuse behind the radiators. Because of the renovation work that the bank was contractually obliged to have done but refused, Charlotte took it to court, winning the case without any difficulty whatever. Afterwards, the director in charge at the major bank in question told her: “From our perspective, that house of yours makes you a frog.” At a later date, when I was in the Deutsche Bank HQ on one of the top floors where the Supervisory Board conducts its meetings, where I had put together a Vierkantrohre (Square Tubes) figure for a photo shoot, I looked down at Frankfurt from above and could well understand the perspective of Charlotte’s opponent, who incidentally was representing a different major bank. Indeed, from up there we do look like frogs. It was the only time that Charlotte had had any dealings with big money, and she never forgot that sentence about the frog.
In our search for a new tenant we came across a dynamic gentleman who thought the premises were wonderful, immediately signed the contract, and over the next few days had an enormous telephone system installed, which involved having to rip open all the walls so as to be able to lay all the thick cables. Convinced through this resolute action of the new tenant’s serious nature, and because he was involved in the complicated process of switching his several bank accounts, Charlotte allowed herself to be persuaded to give him a month’s grace to make the first payment. However, when he rang up one day and apologized for the poor quality of the line by saying that his aerial was iced over, we realized that he was calling from his car, something that at the time only top managers and posers could do. We began to get suspicious. We drove to Oberroden, where he had previously lived, and found the man sitting all alone at an old desk in an empty hall. We had been taken in by a trickster. He arrived late for the court case. He apologized by saying: “Excuse me, my Lord, but I just stepped off the ladder.” Charlotte had no experience whatever in business affairs. However, she familiarized herself with the law governing tenancy in its entirety and defended her case successfully. We looked after the old listed building as best we could and repaired and cleaned everything ourselves. Charlotte never forgot how resolutely her mother had fought for the little house. Enough said.
Having reacquired the pharmacy, Ellen Mayer gave up the antique shop. Even before sitting her final high school examinations, which, because she had been expelled from school by the Nazis, Charlotte was unable to do until the age of twenty-one, she went abroad for the first time: despite much misgiving on the part of her mother, she and a school friend went on a cycling trip round Holland, where anti-German feelings ran unexpectedly high. The girls were subjected to great animosity, which dismayed Charlotte who—innocent as she was—had not anticipated it. When she heard that the Germans had destroyed the dams in order to flood the countryside and drown the Dutch, she declined to tell of how she herself had had to hide from the Nazis. For her, this act of inhumanity was second only to the Holocaust. It would appear she made such an impression on a young Dutchman that he still planned to visit her as an old man. She had already died though. Nonetheless, Wim Dodemont insisted on coming to Frankfurt and turned up—on his bicycle. He ran a small ironmongery in a little town near ‘s-Hertogenbosch and from Frankfurt continued on his way on his large, fully laden bicycle to Santiago de Compostela—he was a devout pilgrim, with whom I spent an evening listening to him describing Charlotte as a young woman.
Charlotte was such a fan of the Dutch language that later on, she got me, too, to learn a little by means of a record. Once when we were lost in Middelburg she got out of the car to ask the way. I watched her talking to the locals. When she had got back in again, beaming with joy, she said: “It works.” Of all foreign countries, Charlotte liked Holland best. She loved the undramatic landscape, the red-brick houses with their large windows, the progressive architecture, the liberal attitudes, and of course the great Dutch (Protestant) painting, to which she felt more akin than to Flemish (Catholic) art. Despite not being religious, the serious rationality of Dutch art was closer to her heart than the joie de vivre voluptuousness of the Flemish people. Holland was the country of Piet Mondrian, her great role model —and we also drove to the lighthouse in Westkapelle, which he had painted. In Michel Seuphor’s major work on Mondrian, which Charlotte possessed, I am coming across evidence of how important he was for her: “In theory Mondrian himself rejected the inimitable unique quality of a work of art as something ethical and socially negative, postulating instead that art can be reproduced. The fact that Charlotte did not sign her square tube, and expressly determined that it could be reproduced, fitted in with her concept. Once, when we were looking down from the Rheingau hills to the Rhine, at this point particularly wide as it flows westward, Charlotte said: “It’s flowing towards Holland.” Holland, the country to which her father had intended to flee with his family. I think she associated Holland with her ideas of freedom.
In 1948, at the invitation of her Uncle Arthur, who had given up his costume jewelry factory in Pforzheim and had had to emigrate to England, Charlotte undertook a second trip. He lived in London, was a jewelry representative and took Charlotte with him when he presented his wares to the purchasing officers in large department stores. She was impressed by the distinguished manner in which negotiations were conducted, with the uncle, dressed in correct English attire, presenting rhinestone brooches in an elegant leather showcase. In my opinion, this polite approach—following the enforced togetherness of the air-raid shelters and the postwar living conditions that were as provisional as they were oppressive—corresponded to a very distinct aspect of her character: the need for distance. Even later on in the unchained sixties, Charlotte paid great attention to deportment and veiled her vulnerability beneath exceptional politeness. As such, to many she came across as unapproachable. In reality she had the gift of being able to keep intrusive people at a great distance by means of a single glance. She was reserved, spoke little, and, when she did it was in short, considered sentences. She returned from England with a British accent, much to the annoyance of her American friend Mary, and in 1951 got a “very good” grade on her high-school diploma examinations not only in English, but also in social studies and art. It is worth pointing out that at the time, “very good” was awarded only for outstanding achievement. Her school leaving certificate also states that Charlotte participated in working groups in German, history, drawing, and acting, also that her project for the year, lino cuts of the Gospel of St. John, had been marked “very good” and that “instead of mathematics she had chosen fine arts as her major subject and had produced outstanding results.” Science, on the other hand, did not really interest her, and the grades she achieved, “satisfactory” and “sufficient,” reflected this. She got a “good” for all other foreign languages. It is clear that Charlotte was a very ambitious student: her very good results in art and social studies reveal the two major interests that were to determine her later life: art and sociology.
Later on, her knowledge of English made it easier for her to get on with, for example, Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt, whom she had got to know through Konrad Fischer. Together with works by these and a whole host of other artists, Paul Maenz displayed four of Charlotte’s Reliefs in his first exhibition Serial Formations in 1967 at the Studiogalerie at Frankfurt University.
5 Studies, Stage Designer
Frau Jüttner, Charlotte’s art teacher, considered Willi Baumeister to be the most important German artist of the time, and managed to persuade Charlotte’s mother into letting her move to Stuttgart where—by chance—she found a small room in the Corbusier building in the Weissenhofsiedlung. From 1951–52 she studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts together with Winfried Gaul and Peter Brüning, both of whom are now dead. Gaul sent Charlotte a postcard, telling her that he thought her work was the best he had seen in recent times. For her, Willi Baumeister was not just a clever, empathic teacher, whom she very much admired; he fell in love with the intelligent, beautiful twenty-one-year-old. He gave her presents of prints and pictures, which he dedicated to her. He sent her postcards from his travels, which I donated to the Willi Baumeister Archive after Charlotte died. On October 14, 1952, he sent her an interesting letter assessing her talents and character: “slowly, very slowly perhaps, you will make your mark. I am convinced you will gain everything you wish. Your opinions and your whole nature seem to me to be well-founded and harmonious …” With all due respect, as far as Charlotte’s alleged harmonious trait is concerned, Baumeister was mistaken inasmuch as he interpreted her great need for harmony as a harmonious trait. Precisely because she saw contradictions everywhere—in herself as well, one only needs to think of the contradictory nature of her own origins—she longed for a solution to them. In my opinion there is also a psychological interpretation of the fact that she later turned to geometry, which is not only fundamental to technology and architecture but also to the way we live, inasmuch as it provides an overarching general code: with respect, her turning to geometry reveals Charlotte’s great need to belong. Because instead of an artistic individual code, which at times when works of art—such as those of the Informel—rigorously laid claim to being autonomous, was the usual form of artistic expression, she chose in geometry a code that allows one in pictorial terms to pursue a generally understandable form of expression and continue the great tradition of Modernism. As she mistrusted individuality— even her own—geometry gave her protection.
Charlotte’s need to belong is revealed everywhere: for example when at the beginning of her studies she swapped her avant-garde Citroen for a less striking car and stopped wearing the garish clothing popular at the time spent together with Peter Roehr and Paul Maenz, and from then on wore pullovers and trousers of an indeterminate color. She cut the striking Angela Davis-style Afro hair look. She wanted to look like everybody else, and certainly no longer extravagant. The idea of being a special, unique individual seemed wrong to her, and of wanting to live as a unique individual comical. Because to her, individuality seemed to a large extent to be imagined (as the individual’s perception), if he or she, as is so often the case, forgets that they consist of genetic makeup and the enormous achievements of other people. Which does not mean, however, that she simply conformed, because Charlotte was at all times a loner. Once she had given up art though she wanted to live a life that in principle anybody else could have lived, even if in reality they did not. She loved simple, good-quality objects. In this sense, everything in our apartment was so universalizable that in principle anyone could have lived there. With regard to aesthetics, that was a sort of categorical imperative. Charlotte had, for example, got it in her mind that a certain form of socket was the best shaped, and absolutely wanted to have this type. The shops in Frankfurt did not stock it however. Whereas I would have long taken any old socket, just so as to finally solve the problem, Charlotte thought nothing of visiting Siemens itself. We were led to a reception room where we waited until a gentleman appeared and politely enquired of us what we desired. Charlotte told him she wanted to buy a particular type of socket. The gentleman asked us how many we needed. We said five. He looked at us as if we were mad. Yet Charlotte was clever enough to mention that her husband was an architect. We received the five sockets.
This determination, even with regard to what others would have regarded as a quantité negligeable, was one of her characteristics. Charlotte once mentioned that the Frankfurt architect Ferdinand Kramer, whom she admired, had said that the inside of something had to be as hard as the outside. There was no rear. She shared this appreciation of quality. There was nothing individual in our apartment, no knickknacks, no photos. Many a guest was astonished to see that we had neon lights everywhere, which seemed to them very impersonal and reminded them too much of a working environment. Yet Charlotte obviously intended to give precisely this impression. She wanted to demonstrate to herself and others that we primarily spend our time working and had joined forces in order to work— which in many respects is indeed correct; in others, however, it is not. It is quite evident that in the way she lived Charlotte was attempting to realize a classic modernist concept. She gave me a plausible reason for her predilection for white walls: it was not a case of the inhabitants imbuing the walls with their own personality by means of documenting their individuality in objects, but rather they should themselves have act lively, sharply outlined in front of an uncluttered surface. The eclectic nineteenth century taste in home décor, which, given the profusion of objects, meant people were so unrecognizable that they themselves could have been taken for objects, was anathema to her. She failed, or rather declined to see the specific totalitarian aspect of modernism—the will to completely design life in its entirety (Adolf Loos wrote a humorous piece about it). She shared the idea of the “one best way,” in other words the assumption that there was, for example, an ideal drinking glass which, once it had been produced, would have solved once and for all the question of the perfect drinking vessel. Previous solutions were then either attempts or on the wrong path. In this case the ultimate glass would have been discovered, from which anybody could have drunk at any time. It is quite clear that ideals such as this fly totally in the face of the spirit of a capitalist management of affairs.
Charlotte was no longer around to experience pluralist post-modernism, which separated form from content, thereby paving the way, for example, for designing a host of differing corkscrews. She would have had problems with it. Like all radical modernists she tended to think in categories of “either/or.” She would have disliked the tolerant to indifferent “both/and” approach by which we live today, though which, with respect, is inevitable in a differentiated society. Her stance has nothing to do with an opinion that one can change but was, I believe, her strategy for life, by which she attempted to free herself from the stigma of being different—caused by her being ostracized for being a half-breed and once again by her being an artist—in order to join the great tradition of modernism. Totally voluntary, this attempt was a through and through independent approach to life.
It should be noted in this context that Charlotte, who considered the vocation of the artist that carried on using old-fashioned tools that had nothing to do with highly developed technology to be out of date and ludicrous, firmly believed in the opportunities that technology offered. (She would presumably have very much enjoyed working with electronic media in the way artists do today.) However, as we came to realize during the course of our sociology studies that technology is less and less a neutral tool and is, from the outset, being developed more and more with capitalist interests in mind, this was for Charlotte as serious an insight as that art, since the differentiation of the art trade to a subsystem governed by market forces in the late sixties, was a form of commodity like any other. Back to the fifties, however: in his letter mentioned earlier, Baumeister had attached a small photo he had taken himself. Beside it he had written: “take this out, not to be left in the letter!” The photo is of a reclining naked young woman wearing a pearl necklace: Charlotte! She had clearly posed as a model for him. Baumeister wrote in the style of a grandfather that there was nothing that warmed him more than the warmth of youth. Born in 1889, at the time he was sixty- three years old. As she told me herself, Charlotte was attracted to older men, and in Darmstadt she once showed me the hotel where, during the prudish Adenauer era, she had climbed over the roof at night to prevent causing an embarrassing scene for herself and her old love-struck teacher come morning. They both addressed each other in the formal manner, and their relationship remained one of tender friendship.
I do not know what prompted Charlotte to give up her studies so quickly and move to Lübeck to join a theater. Had her relationship to Baumeister become difficult? Did she think there was nothing more she could learn at university? Did she want to—or did she have to—earn money? Did gaining experience as a stage and costume designer appeal to her? Charlotte loved the theater, and had after all been familiar with it, including backstage work, since her schooldays. What is certain is that, unlike her fellow students, she did not want to become a freelance artist. From many a discussion I know that for Charlotte, cooperation was a paradigmatic term. However difficult it may have been, she was fundamentally enthusiastic about working together. As an example, we wrote our degree thesis together, word for word, and had ourselves examined together. She often explained to me how progressive she found the fact that at the theater, hundreds of people, from trombone players to stage hands, all interact in order to come up with a joint product. Behind the tenor, who is being applauded, there are all the others who have made the performance possible. He is not just himself, he also embodies all the others. Through him, all those who remain out of sight are likewise celebrated. Charlotte was highly conscious of previous efforts that went unnoticed, but on which the end product ultimately relied.
Later on, this experience of cooperation was also to play a large role in her art, for example in the case of the so-called Vierkantrohre, which involved others—from the helpers to the general public— all joining in to put together the corrugated cardboard elements in accordance with their own criteria. Even before she began studying, Charlotte had long been generally interested in things that exceed an individual’s potential. She referred to it as “the social”—i.e., cooperation in its most potent form—which she saw particularly strikingly illustrated in certain social and technical achievements. For this reason she had a predilection for large sizes, big machines, giant bridges, highrises, and highways. She once wrote that her objects were to be so big that only cranes could move them. Her positive relationship with America, where size is a quality in its own right, remained unbroken. Through size it was clear for everyone to see that realizing objects like these far exceeds the powers of any one individual. Her reservations about naïve individualism also stem from the fact that she was at all times conscious of the efforts that had previously gone into something; in other words, we can only perform even the smallest of tasks—just think of how we take running water, heating, light, and the sewerage system for granted—thanks to the work that others performed beforehand.
This train of thought also explains her decision to set up and have photographed at Frankfurt Airport not only her Vierkantrohre, but also the Großer Drehflügel (Large Revolving Vane), which is now on display at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. Just as little a coincidence as the airport is the traffic island on which Charlotte set up her Vierkantrohre in front of the castle in Offenbach. On November 20, 1967, the filmmaker Gerry Schum sent her a postcard which read: “The Offenbach scenes turned out very well. Art amidst traffic!” Charlotte saw both air and road traffic as a giant distribution net in which “the social” manifests itself. As the context for the objects, these places do not by chance have something of an attractive location used to present art in the nineties about them, in an attempt to make it appear more interesting by means of an unusual setting.
In 1988 und 1989, following Charlotte’s death, whenever I installed large-scale installations in the wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Frankfurt, in a Lufthansa hangar, at the main station in Frankfurt, in the Deutsche Bank twin towers, at the Frankfurt art fair, and in the chemicals factory in the Frankfurt district of Höchst, installations which in some case only ran for a single day in order to be photographed and filmed, they referenced Charlotte’s idea of places in society, places in which “the social” clearly comes to light.
The 1988 exhibition at the wholesale fruit and vegetable market (as the hub of a goods distribution network) was the first occasion on which the giant cardboard Vierkantrohre were displayed in an unusual place outside the gallery. Together with Marco Gietmann, I put up posters all along the road between the Portikus gallery, where Kasper König presented Franz West that very evening, and the fruit and vegetable market. The exhibition was the subject of much discussion for a long time to come, because neither Martin Elsässer’s market building (apart from among architects) nor Charlotte’s works were particularly well known in the art world. Together with the young men doing mandatory social service who had been allocated to Community Sister Annelie Traud, who had tended Charlotte until her death, I had positioned the objects at great distance between each other on the platforms, between which there were goods wagons here and there. (I of course knew that the Frankfurt Jews were deported in this type of wagon, but I chose the location not for this reason but for the ones already mentioned. At the time, no one knew that Charlotte was of Jewish descent). In the dismal, dirty surroundings, the objects seemed very out of place, yet at the same time curiously as if they belonged there. For the first time, I became aware of how much the context also determines just how a work of art comes across. After this, the fruit and vegetable market became a cult venue for art students, especially after Bärbel Grässlin invited, at the expense of her gallery, all those that came—and there really was an incredible number there—to the shabby pub where the workers can get something warm to eat at three in the morning and others just get drunk. The objects stood there for three days, and at night we locked them away in one of the cages where the tradespeople store their goods.
It took me a long time before I worked out Charlotte’s curious remark: “The Frankfurt junction is mine.” She told me what a pleasure it was seeing it from the air, and then crossing it herself by car. Frankfurter Kreuz, the title of the exhibition that Kasper König had succeeded in slotting in shortly before his move to Cologne, and at which in the summer of 2001 Charlotte’s Drehflügel were on display again for the first time in more than thirty years, suited her work admirably. Charlotte had in other words already developed her ideas about “the social” before even becoming aware of, with much satisfaction, the cycle of commodities and money depicted in volume two of Das Kapital, which in theory functions in a similar manner to the flow of blood in an organism.
From a psychological point of view, this strong need for working together with others, which had recently manifested itself in the emergence of “the social,” fits in with her profound wish to belong. Here, the fact that, apart from her possessive mother, Charlotte was alone in this world also plays a role. Her father was dead. She had no siblings. After the war, her Jewish relations in America had shown no interest in renewing contact with Ellen Mayer. In previous times, when Dr. Mayer was still alive, they had occasionally stopped by when traveling round Europe and had attempted to embarrass her by finding fault with the way she served food, the service, and the silverware. They wanted Charlotte’s mother to feel that she was an unwelcome parvenu.
The only one to pay frequent visits was cousin Heinz Homburger from Brazil, because he had to attend to import/export business in what was at the time Czechoslovakia. Charlotte often wondered if Heinz, who claimed to have launched his business career selling machetes, really was only dealing in machines, as he claimed. He was cheeky and cheerful and went on picnics with the two women in the country. I made his acquaintance later on; we went on a trip to the Rheingau region together and did a lot of laughing. He made a habit of driving in a straight line, even when there were bends, before wrenching round the steering wheel at the very last moment, causing all the passengers to shriek. Her mother’s relatives were spread all over and of no particular interest in Charlotte. She scarcely knew them. After the war, when the poor had to survive on turnips, she would occasionally take the hairdresser something nice to eat that her mother had prepared.
On top of having no family came the fact that Charlotte, for all her tremendous determination, was shy. On the few photos of her that exist she frequently has a nervous, as if startled expression. She never succeeded in becoming what is referred to as thick skinned. Although once at carnival time Charlotte, who had been invited to Mainz by friends of her mother, had danced, as she put it, “like a dervish” with whomever from one room to the next, she left on her own in the early hours. She had little in common with people of her own age. Even at school she had been older than the other pupils, which must have rendered making friends all the more difficult. So it was that in 1952, Charlotte went to Lübeck, where she became not only a stage but also a costume designer at the local state theater. She wallowed in fabrics. She enjoyed purchasing for the theater tailors, who performed their work sitting at large tables, huge bolts of glittering fabrics that were laid out in front of her. Later, on an excursion to Lübeck, Charlotte showed me the house, indeed the very room where she had lived at the time; owned as it was by the local authorities and because it was just being refurbished we could go in. It was here that she had to crack open the frozen water in her sink with a pair of scissors, and outside there was always a sweet smell from the rum factory not far away.
She had a boyfriend in Lübeck, whose name I have forgotten; it was an ordinary German name like Hans or Helmut. They worked together; he was also a stage designer, and a reliable character. He was much older than she was and had been in the war. They went on cycling trips together. I think he came from a farming background, and once, when the theater was on break, they visited the village he came from. Was it in the Odenwald? I can no longer remember. In Lübeck, Charlotte assumed the artist’s name Carola, Carola Mayer. She designed the costumes for around thirty plays—including Puccini’s Turandot—and, inasmuch as I could gauge from the Lübeck theater library, was responsible for the stage designs (at least) for George Bernhard Shaw’s Heroes, Paul Williams’ Bärenhäuter, and the musical comedy Feuerwerk by Erik Charell and Jürg Amstein. Charlotte was passionate about her work. If she liked a particular piece of work, there was no stopping her. Looking back it seems to me that it was only through work that she became aware of herself. Later, when we were working together, I occasionally had to tell her that I could not carry on, that although six years her junior, I was totally shattered—much to her astonishment. She was the first in and the last out. She thought it curious that other colleagues should go home even though the job at hand was not yet completed. As highly as she thought of the trade unions, she had no patience with those organized orchestra members who, when time was up, dropped their instruments as builders do their shovels, even though the rehearsal was not yet over. And she really could not understand that anyone could prefer working somewhere other than the theater, that wonderful institution. At the age of twenty-four, Charlotte was a member of the board of management and as such wielded some influence on the artistic design of the plays. In 1953, a festival was held in the Church of St. Mary featuring performances of Jedermann and the Johanna auf dem Scheiterhaufen oratorio by Paul Claudel with music by Arthur Honegger. Charlotte had also designed the costumes for this outstanding event. In 1954, the Lübeck Opera Ensemble gave guest performances of Gluck’s Iphigenie auf Tauris and Arabella by Richard Strauss in the state theater in Malmö. Taking with them all the stage sets, the ensemble traveled to Sweden by ferry. It would appear to have been a success; everyone got on famously, and Charlotte was amazed by how much the Swedes drank. Charlotte once told me amusedly that Anita Ekberg, who worked at the theater there and is nowadays best remembered for the scene in the Trevi Fountain in Rome in which Mastroianni admires her exotic informality, was so drunk that when the ferry was leaving, she did a handstand on the pier.
Now and again, Willi Baumeister made stage sets for the Staatstheater in Darmstadt, whose manager at the time was Gustav Sellner— back then alongside Bertolt Brecht the most influential director in Germany. During the Sellner era (1951–61), plays were performed on a tiny stage in the Orangerie. The windows in the Orangerie were bricked up. I think that Sellner and Baumeister were friends. Baumeister had on a previous occasion already got Charlotte involved with painting the scenery at the theater in Darmstadt, and he enjoyed working with her. On this basis, Sellner offered Charlotte the job of décor assistant alongside the stage designers Franz Mertz and Elli Büttner. She was glad to accept, because she was happy to work for such an excellent manager. Which is how, in 1954, she came to be living with her mother again in Wiesbaden, from where she took the bus every day to Darmstadt. Charlotte’s mother was overbearing in the ways she looked after her. Frau Mayer, for example would take a bowl of something for her daughter to eat to the bus, or would appear unannounced at rehearsals and refuse to be turned away by the theater staff. Charlotte was never able to get her to make a distinction between her professional and her private life, which resulted in many an embarrassing scene.
Charlotte had taken her high-school diploma examinations together with Paul Posenenske’s sister, who went into raptures to her brother about her. The sister succeeded in getting the two to meet, and in this way Charlotte acquired a serious admirer, who would not desist from waiting for her for hours on end in front of the theater. Paul was a reflective man who valued good quality and took his work as an architect just as seriously as Charlotte her work in the theater. In the late fifties and sixties, he had built churches and schools in the state of Hesse. He had no problem in getting Charlotte even more interested in architecture, and by doing so he also influenced her later artistic output, which, if we consider the giant Vierkantrohre and Drehflügel objects from 1967, were heading towards architecture— as El Lissitzky in Russia and in the Netherlands Mondrian’s De Stijl movement had been calling for. The last concept, which Charlotte did not realize, calls for two Raumteiler (Partitions) that are attached to two walls at right angles to each other and that close to form a cube, one corner of which is the corner of the wall, something that could be installed in an office or a large lounge. More than the fact that they can be accessed, what is intimated here is the usefulness of art, which is of renewed interest again today. Charlotte’s mindset reflected wholly the tradition of Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, and Bauhaus, which all strove to shape everyday life by means of art. By moving away from the panel, in which an old idea is preserved, looking through a window at an imaginary world; the panel that defines man as the observer, the spectator, and not as somebody who takes an active role in life; the panel that remains decoration and brightens up a dull life; the panel that is easiest to sell, because it fits into any existing room. Given this perspective, architecture in which one really does work and live is the art form into which art must develop. In this context, it can be seen that the Drehflügel take the shape of doors and the object can be entered. Accessibility—incidentally, which, representing a change in the point of view by which a work of art is considered and as an expression at the time of participation— at the same time plays a significant role in the work of Carl Andre, who had held an exhibition at Konrad Fischer’s in the same year as Charlotte, is also addressed in the form of the Vierkantrohre. As is evident from a drawing, at the exhibition at art & project in Amsterdam, Charlotte left in the stainless-steel Vierkantrohre installation a small space that cannot be derived from the dimensions of the modular system. Why thirty-two cm? She also left exactly the same space at the exhibition at the Nuremberg Werkbund, where, incidentally, Joseph Beuys defended her work before a group of incensed visitors. I once asked Niele Toroni, when he was working in the Portikus gallery in Frankfurt. And Toroni, who since the late sixties has been leaving behind the mere imprint of his no. 50 brush on anything that to him seems suitable, always at the same distance of thirty centimeters, which corresponds to the range in movement of his arm, immediately confirmed what I suspected: the ominous thirty-two-centimeter stem from the measurements of the human body. The gap needs to be precisely this wide for people to be able to pass through the installation.
And to likewise pass through the Drehflügel, in whose case an object’s accessibility is addressed even more clearly. In the tradition of El Lissitzky, in Charlotte’s case as well the route from the panel and the illusionary space on the picture surface to the real space in which we live has a political dimension: it represents the trend away from disinterested contemplation to interested action, from aesthetics to politics—if we ignore the fact that politics is also being rendered aesthetic. This is the social core of the problem between a surface and space that she constantly addressed; in other words, it is not merely an aesthetic problem, as one might assume.
6 Marriage to Paul Posenenske
For Charlotte, Paul Posenenske was the source not only of great appreciation of her concepts but also of advice concerning technique. She also often used his employees, for example Herr Boetzel and Herr Schulz, with whom she remained on friendly terms even after her divorce. I employ the word “use” deliberately, because anyone who is fortunate to know artists in person knows that they are ruthless in exploiting everything and everybody for their art. This ruthlessness is one aspect of their radical nature. Boetzel often photographed her works (for example those in the Lufthansa hangar).
Later on we often visited Horst and Phili Schulz in Frankfurt-Oberrad. Always very concise in what she said, Charlotte answered my question as to why she had married Paul Posenenske as follows: “He was a very good architect.” There was certainly nothing malicious about her statement. (She had no time for the witty, nasty little remarks that intelligent people like to use. She was more likely to find amusing things that children also laugh about.) Paul Posenenske, however, wanted to start a family, which was hardly compatible with Charlotte’s theater work, nor perhaps with her character either. She did not even want to get married. She was quite happy with a relationship that enabled useful, respectable work. She wanted him to build a sort of hut somewhere in the country where she could work.
In fact, later on they bought a tiny plot of land on Lerchesberg in the Frankfurt district of Sachsenhausen with blackberry bushes and cherry and plum trees. The studio never materialized though. In fall, however, there was so much fruit that Charlotte invited everybody she knew to help with the harvest. Paul Posenenske was a social democrat, supported the unions, and had been in the war. Above all, though, he had been against the Nazis, whose mindset was still in evidence everywhere right through to the early sixties. Charlotte particularly valued this aspect of his character. Paul was a mature, fatherly person who, like her mother, urged Charlotte to get married, an event that eventually took place on December 1, 1955. Ellen Mayer placed great importance on a stylish wedding— whereas Charlotte would probably have headed straight back to work at the theater after a registry office ceremony. That was no longer possible, however, as I shall explain shortly. Her mother booked a small reception in the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden and threw a smart dinner party. In their napkins the guests discovered a generous jetton enabling them, after the meal, to have a little flutter in the casino, which is located in the same building. When Paul Posenenske was appointed professor in Kassel, Ellen Mayer was pleased that her daughter had made a “good catch.”
Two elderly gentlemen, admirers of Frau Meyer, were also invited to the wedding: one was a Herr Focker, an accountant who was half blind and who, with his thick glasses, looked like a turtle. Polite to a fault, he later on used to fumble his way up to the attic to complete Charlotte’s tax return for her, adding up in his head the tiny figures he had written down with a sharpened pencil, his eyes five centimeters above the table. He always claimed that he could add up faster than a computer. Charlotte normally served him coffee and cake from a Sèvres service. We fetched the cake from a nearby café, and Charlotte was extremely choosy. His work completed, over a glass of Rauenthaler wine Herr Focker loved to enthuse about Ellen Mayer, whom he did not refrain from calling “a great woman.” The second elderly gentleman whom Charlotte had accepted from her mother’s circle was Dr. Joseph Grebner, a jovial, deeply religious Catholic, a former president of the senate of a senior court, who advised Charlotte in legal matters, as he had done her mother beforehand. He had drawn up a highly complicated rental agreement for the pharmacy, resulting in Charlotte being unable to increase the rent for thirty years, which meant she was forced to live very frugally.
Despite the fact that he was prone to boring us with Thomas Aquinas and trying to get us involved in philosophical and theological discussions, Charlotte was fond of the old-fashioned man, who was firmly convinced of the physical resurrection and was looking forward to meeting his loved ones again soon in heaven. During the Nazi era he had rejected pursuing a career, and as a punishment had been transferred to somewhere in the Hessian provinces. Joseph Grebner had not budged an inch when the Nazis were in power, something for which Charlotte held him in high esteem. As devoted as Charlotte was to her theater work, displaying no other ambition than to perform her tasks particularly well — in obligation to the play, the audience, her colleagues, the director, and the image she had of herself—so she was as little interested in the theater gossip, the small and larger intrigues, and the usual power struggles. As such, without being ever being aware of it, she remained an outsider, and thus something she had never wanted to be again. She was trusting inasmuch as she had firmly intended at all times to expect the best of the people she worked with. She was also prepared to believe what people told her. I presume she would still have worked for the theater if she had been paid little or even nothing at all. On top of which her shyness and modesty could easily have been interpreted as arrogance, particularly as she was extremely industrious and voluntarily did things which she was not obliged to do. As such, Charlotte was a welcome target. She was maliciously accused of having an affair that involved professional advantages. She was incensed and deeply hurt. She never found out, however, who was behind the intrigue. It must have been awful for her, especially as the behavior she was accused of was totally unbefitting her character.
Frustrated, she left the theater after just one season (1954–55), during which she had designed the sets and costumes for two minor comedies: Song of Songs by Jean Giraudoux and One Phoenix Too Many by Christopher Fry. In a review in the January 24, 1955, edition of the Darmstädter Echo newspaper, Georg Hensel wrote: “Carola Mayer’s set is cleverly constructed” (Phoenix). Like other stage designers at the time, Charlotte made use of insinuations—everything appeared to have been just thrown together and improvised and in terms of style was reminiscent of certain pictures by Dufy and drawings by Cocteau. The sets were clearly directed against Naturalism, such as that which was part and parcel of the program at the Brecht Theater in East Berlin. Some of her designs deliberately look flat, highlighting the actual physical movements the actors make on stage. It would appear that even here the foundations had been laid for Charlotte’s constant theme, the relationship between the twodimensional and space—yet one should avoid attaching too much importance to it, because the coexistence of the perspective, spacecreating side view and the two-dimensional, painterly view from above has been around since Cubism. During the previous season, Willi Baumeister and Carola Tolkmitt had together designed and created the sets and costumes for Max Kommerell’s Kasperlespiele für grosse Leute, whereby Baumeister said that the costumes played as active a role in the plot as the actors, an idea that Brecht also applied to props. I am sure that Charlotte shared his opinion entirely. In 1955, she left the theater and got married.
She now called herself Charlotte Mayer-Posenenske and signed her first pictures CMP. She gave up “Carola,” her stage name, and a few years later her maiden name as well. She regarded both eras as the past, and now signed her works CP—until she gave it up altogether, that is. Though the colored Reliefs are still signed CP, neither the Vierkantrohre nor the Drehflügel are. So that her art be treated like normal goods, the artist remained anonymous. Much deliberation went into Charlotte changing her names. I do not know why she called herself “Charlotte” after her grandmother instead of “Henriette Liselotte.” I only know that the latter must have been a jovial person who liked dancing. Perhaps it was the naming process itself that was important to Charlotte, inasmuch as it involves an act of self-creation if, as she did, one takes seriously the fact that a name bears some influence on whatever it refers to—which is indeed claimed by the saying nomen est omen.
Whatever the case, she certainly did not change her name at the drop of a hat. If she signed her work using P as the second initial it meant that she had finally come to terms with her status as a wife and was for her an accepted social fact. Making her work anonymous was the first step towards the ultimate decision to give up art altogether. Charlotte’s attempt to belong by means of working with others had failed in the theater. Although she was skeptical towards the opportunities open to individuals in our society, Charlotte nonetheless decided to become a freelance artist.
She was now living with Paul Posenenske in Isenburg Castle and set up a small studio in the attic. Did this man, who was ten years her senior, offer her protection? Was she looking for protection? Did she need protection? The loss of her father, which, even when she had been living with me for some time, made her see former Nazis in many people—and so often she was not mistaken—could be an explanation for the crippling defenselessness she experienced from time to time because she had decided to see the good in people after all. I can remember us once sitting at a table in a cider pub in the Oberrad district of Frankfurt together with a man who was keen to strike up conversation with us. When we came to mention what we did for a living, the man said he was an engineer and specialized in large ovens. He then quite openly told us that the company he had worked for had made the ovens for the Buchenwald concentration camp. And he gave us all the technical details. Charlotte was so petrified she could not move. After that we no longer went to the kind of pub where guests are forced to sit at the same table as others. One of the reasons she may have had for entering into a relationship with me, the first man who was younger than she was, may well have been the certainty that I could not have been a Nazi. She was consequently very shocked when she found out that in my family too— which as far as my mother and father were concerned had nothing to do with the Nazis—there were also some black sheep among my distant relatives. Although she had made such enormous efforts to treat people without prejudice, Charlotte became distrustful again. Ultimately, she saw insinuations and secret symbols everywhere.
Since Paul Posenenske used to take the train to Kassel, Charlotte had use of the car. She would drive to the nearby Taunus hills and sketch landscapes. She particularly liked quarries, where she could spend hours on end making sketches. None of these early works feature organic, round shapes with structures, rather the textures have a crystalline, hovering character and also often suggest speed. Charlotte’s turning to geometry seems to have been initiated there. (Incidentally, she was never particularly interested in so-called Concrete Art, presumably because the premises were too limited for her.) Even her early work creating the illusion of space in a surface without the help of perspective plays a part. It is important to note this because between her early and later work, Charlotte saw not so much a link as a break, which grieved her. In a quarry surrounded by thicket, Charlotte told me, she had once been disturbed by rabbit hunters and on another occasion by a shepherd, who was curious to know what it was she was up to there. Charlotte will no doubt have attempted in all seriousness to explain it to him: leaning slightly forward, her head slightly at an angle, one side of her glasses between her lips. This was her way of saying she was prepared to politely listen to what others had to say.
Once or twice a week, Frau Schwarz came to clean in the castle. She was an extremely self-willed, rural woman with firm views about what was right and wrong. She would explain her principles without being asked. She was so imperious that she was soon saying how Charlotte’s household was to be run and giving instructions such as: “And then we ought to clean the windows, and after that we have to do the kitchen.” She still used to threaten her introverted son, who was thirty at the time, with a good clip around the ears. Nonetheless, the two women developed a delicate friendship. Frau Schwarz, who was old enough to be Charlotte’s mother, told readily and with great dignity of her working-class life, in which Charlotte was very much interested, because apart from what her mother had told her about her grandfather in Biebrich, she knew very little for real about the milieu in which Frau Schwarz lived. And she was very interested in how people that work in factories and clean for others actually live. And why was she interested? Perhaps because she herself half came from this background, and considered her own existence in the castle very privileged and isolated. She just wanted to know how “normal people” lived. This attitude was one reason for her giving up her life as an artist and studying sociology in order to work for the trade unions. It is quite possible that in doing so she, like many others back then, succumbed to an idealization of the working class, but only to a certain extent, because the experience she had made, that simple people had kept a Jew hidden for the entire length of the war, or that fact that she owed her life to the lowly station officer, who had had her file disappear, were absolutely personal and as such much more far-reaching than those that students make working on building sites in the holidays.
I later got to know Frau Schwarz and also her husband, whom she referred to as a “good husband.” He was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a glass of red wine from the Palatinate, which he had sent now and again. This was the only luxury the former welder allowed himself. He was a quiet man with big, dark, gentle eyes, which were perhaps what had made Frau Schwarz fall in love back then. He had trouble with his lungs and died soon after. Frau Schwarz visited his grave every day and spoke to him. She told him they had had a good time together and that he had been a good husband. Whenever we visited her in her small apartment, she told us her entire daily routine, which apart from slight variations was basically always the same. She also told us what she had made herself to eat, and how she had prepared it. Charlotte had an understanding of uniformity and its finer aspects. I think she believed that there was a basic uniformity to a decent lifestyle. She found the way in which many people try to dramatize their life quite amusing. Later on we sometimes invited
Frau Schwarz to come with us on a trip in the car. We would go to the top of the Feldberg in the Taunus hills, for example, or to other places we wanted to show her, as she scarcely got an opportunity to go there herself. She was never particularly impressed though. She was not interested in nice views and the countryside. She seemed to perceive her surroundings in terms of large categories: the forest was green, the sky was blue, the cornfields yellow. She either did not perceive, did not consider important, or was incapable of expressing in words the numerous nuances the trained human eye can pick out.
(Now, in 2008, I remember a colored-pencil work that Museum Ludwig in Cologne bought: it looks just like how we imagined Frau Schwarz would see a landscape [ill. p. 125]). Charlotte was impressed by the fact that she was so different. She had a great respect for so-called simple people. Whereas one can often observe people making attempts with children, strangers, and workers to adopt a tone that is quite clearly put on and serves to emphasize social distances, Charlotte always spoke to everybody the same way. One always got the impression that she was really interested in what others said and how they lived. She was free from any form of conceit—in other words from the pattern of behavior of people who unconsciously and compulsively at all times need to register who is of a higher or lower social status than they themselves are, and express it in a ridiculous way. She had a strong respect for people like Frau Schwarz and once told me it was very stupid to underestimate “simple” people, because they had immense experience with things one was not aware of oneself, and even if they were unable to express this, they nonetheless had these experiences, which we do (can) not have.
7 The Freelance Artist
In 1959, in other words four years after she left the theater, Charlotte took part in the Vibration group exhibition at Galerie Weiss in Kassel. It was her first ever exhibition. The small abstract pictures she displayed were done using a palette knife. She never used a paintbrush, a painter’s standard tool. They are predominantly white, with gentle ocher-colored and blue traces. The splintery way the paint is applied is reminiscent of Cézanne, who, in addition to Mondrian, laid the foundations, in the true sense of the word, for Charlotte’s artistic approach. Because he was after all the first to become emancipated from perspective, hinting at space in a purely painterly manner by the application of paint. Charlotte held her first solo exhibition in 1961 at Dorothea Loehr’s newly opened gallery in Schumannstrasse 25 in Frankfurt’s Westend district. Here, too, she displayed her palette-knife works. Her early work, which, though not informal, could, in broad terms be considered Art Informel (the movement that was still dominant at the time), was only ever exhibited on these two occasions. It was not until 1999/2000 that Konstantin Adamopoulos, who helped me organize the exhibitions and was to advise me on questions concerning the estate, presented the early work together with the later objects at the Frankfurt Galerie ak in a single context. The general public from throughout the entire Rhine/Main region would soon be attending the events organized by Dorothea Loehr, who, while still in Friedberger Strasse 30, first appeared on the gallery scene with a presentation of works by Max Beckmann. As of 1964, having moved once again, this time to an old farmstead at Alt Niederursel 41 on the city’s northwest outskirts, Galerie Loehr became Germany’s most famous cowshed and an institution not only for Concrete and Constructive Art. In an interview I once did with her for the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, Frau Loehr told me that her favorite colors were still black and white.
In 1967—I am excluding six years of experimentation here—the legendary Dies alles, Herzchen, wird einmal dir gehören (All this, dear, will belong to you one day) event took place at Galerie Loehr, which Paul Maenz organized together with Peter Roehr. Jan Dibbets, Barry Flanagan, Bernhard Höke, John Johnson, Richard Long, Konrad Lueg, and Charlotte Posenenske were all invited. Announcing the exhibition, Maenz wrote that the artists will “simultaneously, but independently of each other, stage transitory situations for a whole evening.” And in a letter to the artists: “Ultimately, what this is about is ‘art’ that cannot be bought, in other words things that resist being included in the existing art trade machinery.” Fast forwarding, I will already talk at this point about Charlotte’s later works before coming back shortly to the earlier oeuvre. At the event, Charlotte had her corrugated cardboard Vierkantrohre continually remodeled by young men wearing white overalls borrowed from Lufthansa. She wanted to demonstrate how the system was variable. And she had the giant pipes run out of, and into, the gallery. For the first and only time, she made “inside and outside” the theme, thereby creating a clear relationship with architecture. In the September 12, 1967 edition of the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, Hans-Peter Riese wrote of Charlotte: “Charlotte Posenenske (Germany), otherwise known for colored sheet metal, displayed cardboard architecture. Square tubes were combined with corresponding plastic screws, from which it was possible to conjure up all manner of amusing structures. To the delight of the camera people a small boy, for whom the structures were more the right size, then investigated them to see how inhabitable they were.”
A year later, in 1968, Charlotte exhibited one large and one small Drehflügel there. Frau Loehr, an extremely slender, elegant woman, opened the exhibition by stepping out of the Drehflügel object, which until then had been closed, dressed in white. Couples later used the object for kissing undisturbed, and children for playing hide-andseek. The public immediately took the vanes to be doors—so here again there was a link to architecture (Kasper König later acquired the object for Museum Ludwig in Cologne).
Art at a time when youth culture was confidently blazing its way to prominence had to be “amusing.” It marked the beginning of the unending amusement that has since captured young people in the form of a network of events. In the public consciousness, Pop Art, Minimal Art, and performance were all still treated as an undifferentiated whole, and as such everything was staged together—a loud, colorful festival. Nowadays it is hard to imagine that Peter Roehr and Charlotte Posenenske’s provocative concepts could have been seen as humorous. Yet back then, provocative acts had to be amusing—we only need to think of the cheeky quips rebellious students came out with in court. Pop Art in particular was aimed at anybody and everybody, anything elitist was scorned as being bourgeois. Even though Charlotte slaved away in the great tradition of art, she had nothing against her art being presented as if at a funfair, because like many good artists she hoped to interest anybody who had eyes in their head and enjoyed deliberating. This claim to appeal to everybody (think of Jean Dubuffet) has always differentiated major art from that around which, since Mannerism, a cult of the initiated has formed, who soon come to see themselves as disciples. Charlotte’s taking part in the Herzchen event is proof of her sympathy for the “temporary” and “transient” in art, a topic that features on several occasions in her work: both the variable nature of her sculptures that have to be continuously remodeled, as well as the povere material that soon decomposes are to be interpreted in light of her conviction that art, like any form of consumer goods, is only up to date for a short period of time. As opposed to other Minimal artists, by rebuilding her square tubes she has a close affinity to performance art.
Through her husband, that year Charlotte got to know Ferdinand Kramer, the Frankfurt university architect, and his wife Lore, who made ceramics and later held the chair in Design History at the Offenbach Design Academy. With regard to architecture and design, Kramer adhered to the modernist tradition and, despite having lived in the USA, where he had followed his Jewish (first) wife, who had to emigrate, had social-democratic leanings. And he was a very good architect with a distinct sense of discerning modesty, which, because it fitted in with her own basic viewpoint, very much impressed Charlotte. She valued simplicity. She wanted the results of highly complex artistic and academic work to be simple: simple to grasp, in other words transparent, manageable, and if possible generally accessible.
This displays a specific understanding of democracy. The objects that are the outcome of her artistic work (as well as her academic articles) exude clarity, but in no way such that her art could have been simply reduced to words, thereby losing its multifaceted nature. Her oeuvre was perhaps beautiful by virtue of its simplicity. Cardboard and sheet metal, from which the Vierkantrohre were made, were “needy” materials, which on the other hand were capable of having a repelling effect. And indeed, the public often did reject the everyday materials—as it did Richard Serra’s rusty steel plates. In neither language, art, nor her own life did Charlotte have any time for additions, embellishment that is added on from outside, for décor and other frills. She had a strong sense of what was appropriate. (And of course she liked Adolf Loos’ notorious essay “Ornament and Crime”.) In this sense, Kramer seemed to her to be exemplary. Like her, he was decidedly anti-elitist in his work and had a social conscience to the extent that he designed objects and buildings that anybody could use and live in. As opposed to other architects, Kramer lived in an extremely unspectacular house. Charlotte admired him for this and felt encouraged in her own stance.
Kramer was familiar with Theodor Adorno from the United States. Since Adorno loved the en primeurs, the first strawberries, the first asparagus, the first cherries, Charlotte had a chance to chauffeur the two celebrities, and she was still a little more reserved than normal. When Charlotte and I later began studying together, Adorno, whom I had seen in a seminar in the fifties when I was a young student, had just died. The era of the student rebellion had just begun. Between 1961 and 1966, Charlotte completed the change in style she considered to be a hiatus: she turned her back not only on the subjectivist paradigm of Art Informel, but also soon on painting altogether. She experimented through to 1966, without ever exhibiting anything: at the group exhibition at Hessischer Rundfunk mentioned earlier, at which I met her, she displayed an object that had been sprayed in industrial paints and, in her second solo exhibition in the new Galerie Loehr, Faltungen (Folds), which mark the transition from the (painting) surface to real space. (All this was before the Vierkantrohre series, etc.) At about the same time, she was experimenting with colored adhesive tapes, i.e., readily available material, which she applied to the white picture surface in parallel lines, in some pictures slightly bending or folding it over. Disregarding the Op Art productions, Lucio Fontana highlighted the problem with a cut, Pistoletto with a mirror, and Stella with proliferations that more than filled the frame. Primary-color Reliefs followed the Faltungen. In 1965, Charlotte and Paul Posenenske traveled to the USA to look at university buildings. They stayed in an acquaintance’s enormous apartment in a New York high-rise. All I know about the trip is that Charlotte was very impressed by New York. I assume she also availed herself of the opportunity to visit galleries there. It is probable that the impressions contemporary American art left on her accelerated her change in style. With her so-called Spritzbilder (Sprayed Pictures, 1964) and the adhesive strip pictures of the same era, she was about to turn her back on the two-dimensional panel painting. We never talked about it.
Charlotte took the change in style so seriously that later on she paid no attention to her early oeuvre (1957–65), though in her house in Wiesbaden she actually did up an attic, where she kept the old works. Shortly before she died and when she knew that she only had a short time left to live, we drove to Wiesbaden and looked through the early works and those of the transition period (“Wellen” [Waves], Faltungen) together. Charlotte chose some and we compiled two folders, in which the first choice works were to be kept separately from the second choice. We threw out anything that was left over. We made these decisions relatively quickly, in a single afternoon, because Charlotte was already very weak. We destroyed a lot of the sprayed sheet aluminum and metal objects (more complicated preliminary forms of the 1967 monochrome Reliefs). For me, smashing the objects with a hammer while Charlotte sat on a chair watching was macabre work, about which I was full of scruples. The fact that she kept early works, even doing up a room to keep them in, and differentiated between first and second choices, is conclusive evidence that she was hoping that after her death it would still, or again, be possible to see these early works somewhere as well. In 1999—before the first exhibition of her early work in November—Konstantin Adamopoulos and I looked through the early works again and, though we bore in mind the division between first and second choice did not feel bound by it. With regard to what Charlotte considered the hiatus between her early and late work—for the small output of work that emerged between 1957 and 1967, in other words over a period of just ten years, these terms may well be a little exaggerated, but they can be used to differentiate—we were thus able to demonstrate that despite the clear change in style, there are sufficient characteristics to justify talking about a relationship as well.
As opposed to today, when we talk of patchwork biographies or of a hiatus in a person’s life as being interesting, and in an artistic work even see it as a sign of quality, Charlotte considered this hiatus to be a fault. It did not fit in with her philosophy of life, in which continuity and consistency were proof of endurance, strength of character, seriousness, and stringent association. She had great will when it came to changing her self, which in many respects was a way of selfdisciplining herself, because Charlotte was a passionate person who could be as explosive as her temperamental mother—of which she was then very ashamed. She once said she had for the most part brought herself up. (The fact that she gave herself a first name would fit in with that.) She was also convinced that one could shape one’s own character. As a result of the Nazis and their mad views on race, she was a determined anti-biologist. In other words, she had surrendered her artistic creativity to the hypothesis of consistency and transparency that was part and parcel of the modernist paradigm. It ought to be evident how one work of art emerges from an earlier one. She did not allow, in her own case, side paths. She was never concerned with realizing sudden notions of which, like many good artists, she certainly had many. Although she did not of course deny the relevance of irrationalities, she tended to bring everything under the rule of reason. Here again I believe that her strong need to belong played a role in this. She spoke slowly and with circumspection, always expressing herself simply and clearly in order to ensure she was understood. And she believed in the power of argument. She was convinced that there can be no such thing as democracy without argument. Because arguing always includes the possibility of the other person having a better case. The opposite is the order, which had been the linguistic medium for getting one’s way under fascism. Charlotte’s love of democracy, transparency, and rationality was most certainly nurtured by her bad experiences during the Nazi era, which even thirty years later still occasioned anxiety attacks at night. As I write this, I am once again made aware of the fact that my subjective memory, my occupation over several years with Charlotte’s oeuvre, and—related to that—everything I feel for her are scarcely suited to painting an objective picture of her. This is the reason why I am unable to call this report a “biography,” but refer instead to “memories.” I am also aware of the fact that it is I who ultimately creates the image others have of Charlotte, because she lived a very secluded life and, with just a few exceptions, those who knew her are no longer alive.
8 Friendship with Peter Roehr and Paul Maenz
In the turbulent sixties, Charlotte became friendly with Paul Maenz and Peter Roehr. It was the era when Pop Art, The Beatles, and Flower Power were conquering the world. And it was also the beginning of the student rebellion. Young people felt strong, and although Charlotte was already in her thirties, she was also swept along by the courage, impartiality, and desire with which the crusty taboos of postwar society were questioned. And the protest was staged in such a humorous way! Ulrich Enzensberger, one of the co-founders of Kommune I, described the fun and protest tactics which the youngsters had come up with in response to the orgy of beatings by the Berlin police: they dispersed and went walking. “We are ‘walking’ for the police!!! We demand the thirty-five-hour week for them so that they have more time for reading, more spare time for their brides and wives, so that they are less aggressive during love making, have more time for discussions, to explain democracy to elderly passers by. We demand ‘modern’ equipment for the police. Instead of rubber batons, white tins, full of sweets for crying children and contraceptives for teenagers who want to make love, and pornography for randy grandpas.”6 Anything seemed possible, absolutely anything. The world was an open door. A breath of freedom was sweeping through a country that had become fat and in political terms was asleep, in which “capitalism” in the version propagated by Ludwig Erhard had established itself and former Nazis sat undisturbed before the courts as judges and at family dining tables. One of the reasons for Charlotte being so interested in politics after liberation, and for her then going on to study sociology, was her conviction that the hiatus in civilization for which the Nazis were responsible did not happen just by chance. In other words, something similar could easily happen again. The social democrats had entered a major coalition government with the two conservative parties, and as such there was hardly any parliamentary opposition worth speaking of. Herr Kiesinger, a former employee of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda, was German Chancellor. It was the rebellious students of 1968 who did not beat about the bush in finally asking their parents’ generation in public the questions that had never been answered in the family. Paul Maenz, who later became a gallery owner and promoted the international avant-garde, a term in art history which still made sense in those allegedly progressive years, had in 1967 returned from the USA, where he had worked as Art Director at Young & Rubicam, the renowned advertising agency. He had graduated from the Folkwangschule in Essen and originally toyed with the idea of becoming an artist. He gave this up, however, when, in New York, he got to know personally several of the artists who are nowadays the best around. When still enrolled at the Werkkunstschule in Wiesbaden, from which he graduated as a master student in 1965, Peter Roehr had begun producing his serial rows, which only after his untimely death in 1968 were to eventually make him famous. The art scene in Frankfurt was only small. First there was the legendary Zimmergalerie Frank, where in 1952 the Art Informel followers K. O. Götz, Otto Greis, Heinz Kreutz, and Bernard Schultze joined forces and created the group called Quadriga—by the late sixties it existed only on paper. Then there were in Frankfurt at the time only Galerie Lichter, which at times worked together with Rochus Kowallek, who had previously run Galerie d. It was Kowallek who recommended Charlotte to Udo Kultermann, who had showcased some of her works in his book Neue Dimensionen der Plastik (New Dimensions in Sculpture) together with a work by Francesco Lo Savio. With Lo Savio (whom, I believe, she did not know before 1967) she certainly had things in common that are worth comparing. Galerie Loehr was, without question, the most important gallery, a meeting point not only for artists but also for literary figures, in which well-attended readings (including Paul Celan, Günther Grass, H. C. Artmann, with whom I conversed in an imaginary language a whole drunken night long, and Gabriele Wohmann and others) and performances (Wolf Vostell, Bazon Brock, et al.) took place. As such it was inevitable that Peter Roehr, Paul Maenz, and Charlotte would meet up at some point. Though Peter, whom I got to know at Frau Loehr’s, was fourteen years younger than Charlotte, they soon became close friends. The simplicity and radical nature of Peter’s artistic concept very much impressed Charlotte, despite the fact that her own work tended to be complex, because she saw herself as part of a major tradition, a lineage at which she scrupulously slaved away. Peter was extraordinarily inquisitive and found in Charlotte a cultured, highly intelligent, and well-read friend. Paul’s cosmopolitan flair and his sensitive approach to artistic concepts, his resourcefulness and practical intelligence, and the brightness of his character stood him high in Charlotte’s favor. The three of them cropped up together all over the place and had a lot of fun. Paul and Peter got Charlotte, who until then had dressed very conservatively, to try on and wear the most with-it clothes. They got Barbara Trebor, who as Lollipopowska had a trendy fashion shop, to act as advisor, and they dragged Charlotte to a hairstylist to get her a smart haircut. She even let a beauty consultant give her a makeover. Experienced as she was in the ways of the theater, she went along with everything. Using the same corrugated cardboard with which she produced her Vierkantrohre, she built the interior for the head shop that Paul and Peter opened under the name Pudding Explosion at Holzgraben 9 in Frankfurt. It was the first underground shop of its kind, where, surrounded by flickering light and rock music, you could buy joss sticks, Mao’s Little Red Book, and all sorts of off-the-wall bits and pieces, such as anti-Nazi spray. With friends that were so much younger than her, Charlotte certainly caught up on part of her childhood, as hers had tended to be serious and lonely; after all, she had had so little in common with her peers and always admired elder men, from whom she could learn something. I think that she had such a great thirst for learning because it had once been refused her. And she knew that being able to learn was something you cannot take for granted. Later on, as a student, Charlotte was so good that she often had a swarm of young people thronging around her, whom she told in very clear cut terms (but only ever after first being asked) what she thought about a difficult subject—without these encounters ever going beyond the purely factual. We were more than ten years older than the other students, but not of their parents’ generation, against whom they were rebelling. Which meant we could get on together. I remember one particular student whose paper we had liked because it was not as pretentious as the others. We invited him around once, and he asked whether he could shower at our place. Of course. Then we said he could have lunch with us. To our great astonishment he refused, saying he was unable to eat a “bourgeois schnitzel” like that. He got himself a (proletarian) curried sausage from a stand below. Several years later in Homburger Strasse close to the university, where we had lived in a one-room apartment, I noticed a tall blonde young man in a leather coat being pulled along the sidewalk by two huge dogs. It was a curious sight. What was even more curious was that it was our former fellow student, the son of a coal dealer. Back then it was part of the anti-authoritarian style for papers to have several typing errors and be so badly copied that you could hardly read them. Ours never had any mistakes, and looked as if they had been printed. Not that we made any enemies by this kowtowing to the establishment. Paul Posenenske, who as a professor was familiar with subversive young people, had a lot of time for the rebellious streak in them and often took part in discussions about art and society with the three friends—Paul, Peter, and Charlotte. Posenenske had nothing of the authoritarian style common in men of his generation, yet was at all times reflective and argumentative. That was something Charlotte cherished dearly in him. They also worked together. Charlotte, for example, was responsible for designing the outside of a school that Posenenske had built in Hainstadt in the Odenwald region. She depicted objective dimensions there: temperature, distances, the positions of the sun, moon, and earth, spectral colors, sound conductors, and other such things. In 1967, the Posenenskes took Peter Roehr with them to London. In her Citroen, Charlotte drove Paul Maenz and Peter to numerous exhibitions, even abroad, in order to learn about the new art from England and the USA. They probably also saw the Minimal Art exhibition in The Hague in spring 1968. The three friends roamed through Holland, enthusing about the endless expanses of reclaimed land, on which, Charlotte told me, they particularly enjoyed being. In a letter to Adriaan van Ravesteijn, the owner of the Amsterdam gallery she used, Charlotte wrote: “The trips to Zeeland and Flevoland were unforgettable. I like the manmade, produced, and manageable aspects there. Our films are so terribly amateurish and boring. For example: Beginning of the dam—dam—end of the dam. Or forty-seven identical trees.” After Charlotte’s death, Paul Posenenske let me have the films, saying they were part of the estate. Anybody who was young at that time tended to have a reserved relationship to nature, which back then always brought to mind the blood-and-earth ideology of the Nazis, although Sartre’s most famous book Nausea may well have played a part. There was no Green Party in those days. Charlotte very much liked the fact that instead of just coming across land in its natural state you can also make it artificially. Charlotte would dearly have liked it if at the time the Dutch had already been building those towers for keeping cattle, where each floor is an artificial meadow. She liked the rows of greenhouses glistening in the sun. In general, Charlotte had a very positive attitude to technology and tremendous sympathy for artificial things. She was not alone in this. As opposed to today, when neurological sciences claim that life is biologically determined, in the late sixties and seventies everything appeared feasible and changeable, including people—spontaneous becoming was ridiculous. It was in this forward-looking era so full of optimism that planning sciences emerged. It was the “boredom” of the polder landscape that the friends found exciting. While Paul Posenenske was driving, they took turns filming the roadside stones, trees, and telegraph poles; I think it was Charlotte who said: “Monotony is beautiful.”
The sentence not only hits the nail on the head with regard to Roehr’s montages of identical parts, it also constitutes an aesthetic stance towards the world, which, Paul Maenz told me, Peter and he shared. Charlotte had always found the mountains too dramatic; she loved the sheer endless expanse of the sea and the distant horizon (perhaps because it was a symbol of freedom?). Later on, we never used to go to the narrow valleys of the mountains. In the hills of the Black Forest, Charlotte found the small ponds next to the houses interesting. “That’s the horizontal,” she would say. It is possible that she thought hilliness arbitrary and in contrast stressed the objective side of things—as throughout her art. “Monotony is beautiful” is not just the rejection of variatio delectat, of the diversity that the whole world strives for and enjoys, so as to recover, and of the dramatization of life that appears monotonous, but also an appreciation of what is seriality and simplicity. The famous dictum “Less is more” was an integral part of Charlotte’s train of thought. In the apartment we shared together, there were only white walls. Charlotte’s statement on monotony refers to the opposite of the prevailing taste for divertimento, which blinds us to the continuous return of what is the same, which in the long run typifies “normal” working and living conditions. Her entire oeuvre references current conditions in society; she never refers to nature in the way that the young Hans Haacke and Giuseppe Penone did, nor to the anthropological dimension of humankind as did, for example, Beuys.
What interested her was wage labor, not labor per se. It is well known that influenced by Marxist theory, several of those involved in the students’ movement also became involved with the working class on a practical basis. The fact that production—being labor in which the whole of society is involved—formed the basis of society from which everything else derived (and that ultimately included art) came to them as a new and fascinating idea. Several students even became blue-collar workers in order to find out what it was like to be part of the class to which they wished to belong because for them it formed the basis, the humus of everything and everybody, as well as the force that could revolutionize society. Charlotte, who of course had once listened to the group of anarchists that used to gather in Frank’s furniture joinery, also toyed briefly with the idea of working in a factory, an idea which, much to the delight of Paul Posenenske, I was able to persuade her to abandon. I argued that one could not find out what it was really like to be a worker if one could pack it all in again at any time. It is a wage laborer’s fate that at best, the freedom to look for work elsewhere—and the permanent fear of losing his job— is part and parcel of his existence. In Charlotte’s serial works the connection with factory labor is certainly unmistakable. I think the same applies to Roehr, with whom she visited department stores in search of simple objects that were suitable for his montages.
In the Art International manifesto she published in May 1968 (cf. p. 135) she wrote the following about her objects: “The objects are intended to have the objective character of industrial products.”
“Objective” in this case means the opposite of subjective creativity: her works of art, for which she now only provided the concept, were to be factory-produced like normal goods, i.e., mass produced. It meant the item could potentially be made at the exhibition itself on the basis of a technical drawing. In her opinion it was quite possible to sell her objects in department stores. Charlotte also wrote in her manifesto that: “Future artists will have to work with a team of experts in a development laboratory.” Furthermore, her objects were destined to have a short life span. Which is why she chose, for example, cardboard and packaging materials and failed to prime her Reliefs— something that nowadays spells somewhat of a headache for restorers. She wrote: “Art is a commodity that is only temporarily contemporary.” And she really meant it. The idea that her space-consuming objects, made of untreated cardboard and straightforward sheet metal and intended more for a performance, would one day end up in a museum was quite anathema to her. While she was alive, she would most probably have objected to their being displayed in a museum. She expressed ideas like these, I think, in Gerry Schum’s film Konsumkunst—Kunstkonsum (Consumer Art—Art Consumption), which the cultural affairs desk at WDR TV station broadcast on their third channel on October 17, 1968. She shared this opinion with others who had become annoyed with the self-importance of postwar individualism, when, following years of oppression, several artists celebrated their rediscovered freedom as sovereign autonomy.
In the foreword to the catalogue for documenta IV in 1968, Günther Gerken characterized the cutting-edge contemporary art of the day by citing four general features: 1. Series production and its relationship to consumer society and mass production 2. The object and its relationship to technology and science 3. The precedence of the material over its treatment 4. The design of the surroundings (ambiance, environment) and its relationship to the architecture.
All these features hit the nail on the head with regard to Charlotte’s oeuvre; it is as if Gerken had drawn them from her work. As an artist she was absolutely leading edge when she gave everything up. Incidentally, on their trips to Holland, Charlotte and Paul Maenz would buy objects from the De Stijl era, which at the time could still be obtained very cheaply at Amsterdam flea markets. Paul compiled an entire collection, which he later sold. Hans van Manen, the famous Nederlands Dans Theater choreographer, who visited Charlotte every time the group made a guest appearance in the Jahrhunderthalle in the Höchst district of Frankfurt, bought several cardboard Vierkantrohre, which (or so he later told me in a phone conversation) his dog chewed up. That would have tickled Charlotte. For her, traces of use, even if they were insults, as are to be found on the wooden Drehflügel represented forms of participation. Back then, Charlotte also used to travel to Berlin for the large demonstrations; she was very impressed by Rudi Dutschke, and particularly liked the amusing slogan: “Bürger lasst das Gaffen sein, kommt herunter, reiht euch ein!” (Citizens, stop gawking and take your place among our ranks). She thought Paul’s idea of founding a gallery at a time of new departure and radical change to be fundamentally wrong. They spent ages discussing it from every point of view, with me present.
9 The “Caesura” with Art
Kurze Karrieren (Short Careers) was the name of a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna, for which in May 2004 I provided the small Drehflügel object, four yellow Reliefs, construction drawings, and a few pictures, including one in which Charlotte hints at the transition from the two-dimensional to the spatial by means of strips of adhesive tape that are folded slightly. This “career” lasted only a decade, from 1957, when, à la Mondrian, she progressed in individual stages of abstraction from the “normal” perception of a tree to a structured two-dimensional surface, until 1967, the year which witnessed the emergence of all the important series with which Charlotte became known: the Reliefs, the Vierkantrohre (which she often referred to as ‘channels’), the Drehflügel, and the concepts for which no decision had been taken as to whether they should be staged or not. In other words, her entire oeuvre peaked in one single year. The fact that she categorized her work phases by series indicates not only that in each case did she produce variations (in color or size) of the same, but as such a rejection of unique one-offs: by means of the additional letters A–E (Series A–Series E) she characterizes her work as a systematic context, a development, which, incidentally, she presented in a chart. There was no room for chance and side paths in her program.
In 1967, Frau Loehr arranged for Charlotte to be asked to take part in an exhibition in the foyer of Hessischer Rundfunk, to which Peter Roehr and Wolfgang Schmidt had also been invited. Charlotte described the project as follows:
However, the three of us had no intention of staging a ‘conventional’ exhibition and gave thought to other openings. For a discussion between the three of us, which took place at Schmidt’s place in Dreieichenhain, I wrote down four suggestions on a piece of paper. At the time, ways of ‘going beyond’ art interested me most. Each of us exhibits another artist (good or bad). In doing so, we point up the problematic role of the artist in our society. What remains of the product ‘art,’ which is becoming ever more identical to the environment, is the person of the artist himself. R/S/P produce not art, but an artist. They take him as they find him and use him and his work to highlight all inherent (aesthetic) problems in society. R/S/P isolate the art/artist complex and place it in a new context. In doing so, they occasion the exhibited artist automatically to the entire questionable behavioral scheme: the production and availability of commodities without there being any demand, the lack of means for (and knowledge of) advertising and marketing, lost investments in transport, insurance, etc. The discrepancy between the means of production and projects. A catalogue is a prerequisite.
Charlotte’s second suggestion: “R/S/P make use of the opportunity to make an impact on several people, thereby finding a means to express their political opinion. They stage an exhibition about Vietnam, the emergency empowerment act, Greece, South Africa etc., etc. The result of the discussion was to not stage the exhibition at all.” With this unrealized project, Charlotte had already moved one step further from the art she had produced until then—i.e., as early as late 1967. Given the prevailing conditions in politics and society, producing art seemed to her not only morally questionable, but on top of that the production of art obsolete because, with a few exceptions, even today it is not on the same technical and organizational level as the normal production of goods, and there is no demand for it. Charlotte was clearly of the opinion that even as a commodity, art no longer had a future—in which she was gravely mistaken. After all, it was precisely in the late sixties that the art market became a differentiated economic subsystem regulated by galleries, art markets, biennials, curators, trade journals, and museums. It was only then that professional artists who work continually for the market were becoming fully established. Whether or not art can be sold naturally enough affected its contents. The project at the Frankfurt broadcasting station was an attempt to reflect on one’s own stance in public.
The fact that Charlotte decided not to stage the exhibition was presumably based on the fact that for her, the art world no longer seemed to be the right domain with which to achieve a political impact. At the time, she also tried to convince others that the production of art was passé; to that end she once spent an entire evening trying to deter Jan Dibbets from art, in vain. A postcard bears witness to the fact that he resolutely disagreed.
A later project, which was related directly to Charlotte’s other works, was the painting of the Bürgerhaus in the Frankfurt district of Sindlingen. On January 26, 1968, Frankfurt-based architect Günter Bock, who was also a professor at the Städel Art Academy, had suggested to the Urban Planning and Building Preservation Committee (the City of Frankfurt’s architects’ advisory board) that the Bürgerhaus, which had been built in 1961 and whose fair-face concrete façade concertinaed like a harmonica, be painted. When his suggestion was rejected by the developer, Saalbau GmbH in Frankfurt, on February 2, 1968, he wrote a letter to the editors of the key construction industry journal Bauwelt: For the painting work I have engaged the services of Pop artist Charlotte Posenenske, who has produced what I think are several enchanting and inspired proposals. Proposal 1: Pop Art painting, which by means of enormous distortion of the dimensions gives the building a color sensation in red, signalizing viscosity, and one in blue, with associations of clouds and wind. Proposal 2: A comic-style landscape reproduction of what conceals the building. (Marvelous, but expensive!) Proposal 3: A grid of dots, which involves red dots, 1.50 meters in diameter, being mercilessly painted on a blue background all over the house, as if a pair of pajamas had been put on the bare concrete.” The letter continued: “My fellow architects are in despair because the painting does not do justice to the building, which will be a disturbance. It is a question of whether this disturbance does not in fact enhance the building . . . . The assertion that the sculptural expression of a carcass or a building is necessarily lost if a grid is placed on top is quite simply not watertight. Precisely because the grid’s relentlessness cannot avoid anything, it descends into any indentation, climbs every elevation, and in addition makes them more dramatic. Does a circular dot, which wraps round a corner, conquer the corner? Does it make it void? Well, in a certain light and at a particular angle that may well be the case, but the very next moment it’s the other way around, and the corner is just highlighted. This playful concealing and highlighting, however, is considerably more dramatic, more electrifying than a standard form of painting and gives a whole new dimension to the building’s appearance. Bock was happy to break taboos and recommended that the editor, whose first name was Ulrich, come up with as ironic an editorial as possible. “And if there’s a response I’ll join the fray, and blood will flow again.” Charlotte’s third proposal, which Bock favored, transposes her old theme, which she had dealt with in the Plastische Bilder (Sculptural Paintings)—the first Faltungen and Reliefs, how the application of color flattens or deepens the outer surface—onto the architecture. On November 29, 1966, she had outlined her concept as follows: The sculptural images are folded from sheet metal, arched, and in part cut out. They are soldered together or reinforced on the rear by means of aluminum profile riveting. I make them myself. Ridges, crossings, pyramids, arches, steps, corners, beams, folds, funnels are the result. To this background I apply the color—high-gloss or matt paint—with the spray gun. To begin with, but later on only as an exception, Charlotte wore a protective mask for such work. We both thought that this was one cause of her cancer. The problem I highlight is the tension produced between the genuine sculptural form of the grounding and the illusionary sculptural effect of the color. The color increases the spatial effect of the shape, or it suspends it. Objects evaporate in the surroundings and these solidify into objects. The images address the problem of space in painting in a completely new manner. They are reminiscent of impressions of our technical environment: Light effects, fast travel, streets that narrow and curve this way and that—and space . . . . Bock interprets this interplay between body and color as a match between architecture and painting, an obvious thought inasmuch as Charlotte’s proposal not only alienated his architecture but also in visual terms destroyed it. One can see how strict she was with herself in tackling the brief. Charlotte considered herself to be part of a long tradition of an art form that addresses human perception. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Florentines stood thunderstruck in front of Masaccio’s painted barrel vault in Santa Maria Novella: What they saw was a space, but they knew that in reality it was the church wall. The invention/discovery of a central vanishing point and thus perspective in the early Renaissance (Masaccio, Donatello, Brunelleschi) created the opportunity to produce a perfect illusion of space on a two-dimensional surface. By means of their trompe l’oeil effect the Dutch still-life painters pursued their visual deception so far that the observer sometimes believes he can see objects leaving the paintings. As becomes clear from the above, Charlotte was interested in precisely these problems of perception. The sheet metal Vierkantrohre, for example, seem to lose their real dimensions under certain lighting conditions and look completely flat—a phenomenon that I discovered first of all taking photographs and that Charlotte had no doubt intended. Incidentally, it is an aspect of Minimal Art, which Charlotte’s late works are often considered to be, that something which is objectively the same (for example a color or a stereometric body) appears subjectively different depending on the light, angle, and manner in which the observer moves. Charlotte found false perspectives such as in the Villa Farnesina in Rome and other cases of optical illusions interesting—such as the one in the grand hall of the Würzburg Castle, where the ceiling fresco depicts a painted upper thigh transforming into a fully sculptured, painted lower thigh that hangs over the edge. She pointed it out whenever we were there. This transition from the two- to the three-dimensional (or from painting to sculpture) can of course also be observed in nature— the other way round—when a body casts a shadow.
The problem of something appearing to be different from what it actually is also interested Charlotte as a sociologist. It is well known that Marx’s Das Kapital is considered to be not only political, economic, and revolutionary theory, but also a critique of ideology. Marx was of the opinion that conditions in society necessarily appear to be different from what they actually are: the economic power relationship on which it is based—the supremacy of dead capital over living labor—seems to the wage laborer to be freedom inasmuch as he has the opportunity (as opposed to serfdom) to sell his labor as a commodity as the person who owns it and thus enjoys the equal property rights to it. If a wage laborer has sold his labor and it is now part of the production process, it is not him, but capital itself that appears to be productive. In this context, additional, even more complex inversions of the real conditions develop in our mind: they are reified.
According to Marx, ideologies are not (as common parlance would have it) legitimatizing thought systems, but inverted ideas that inevitably arise from the capitalist mode of production. He described the narrow-mindedness of those responsible for capital, one that is conditioned by society by using the metaphor of a “character mask.” Even if at the end of the day an analogy between this creation of a “second skin” or illusion and art is only superficial, it is certain that Charlotte was determinately interested in ideology critique and that art provided her with some of the prerequisites for understanding it. We only need to think of the fact that we know what a cube actually looks like, but that we can never perceive it as such, in other words in its entirety. Certain aspects are only ever available to perception. However we ought not to place too much importance on that here. I mention it only in anticipation of the question of whether Charlotte’s artistic and sociological work had anything in common.
The following year, 1968, she gave it all up. Together we picked up the objects in a van: from the Plus Kern gallery in Ghent on the return journey from a trip to England, but not until April 1973 from the art & project gallery in Amsterdam, after the gallerist had requested that we do so. Together we lowered the objects that were in her studio attic at Isenburg Castle down on ropes. By now Charlotte had long since put art behind her and was totally focused on her studies. Adriaan van Ravensteijn and his partner Geert van Beijeren were visibly disappointed, because they had featured her Vierkantrohre in the opening of their gallery and had great hopes for her work. The two were coolly polite, and when they saw her accompanied not by her husband but by me, they formed an idea of the situation that Paul Posenenske also favored: Charlotte had fallen for a younger man who had drawn her away from art.
This interpretation of the situation, however, misconstrues Charlotte’s reasons entirely. First, she had issued the following statement in the above-mentioned manifesto in Art International in May 1968 (Volume XII/5): “I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that art can contribute nothing to the solution of pressing social problems.” A few sentences beforehand she stated that art’s function in society had withered away and that as a commodity, art was only temporarily contemporary, i.e., is consumed at ever greater speeds. She also expressed this opinion in the above-mentioned description of the project she was planning to stage together with Peter Roehr and Wolfgang Schmidt at Hessischer Rundfunk. Charlotte believed therefore that ultimately art, which she took seriously, had reached the end of the road. For this reason she no longer answered letters asking her to take part in exhibitions. On May 3, 1969, for example, Klaus Staeck asked her to participate in the intermedia 69, which he was organizing. He wanted objects that could be erected outside and, to be on the safe side, had noted down Charlotte in name. (His letter is signed with a knuckleduster.) Charlotte did not even reply to the documents the German Association of Artists sent her in connection with the 1969 exhibition in Hannover, nor to the invitation to an exhibition staged by former students of Baumeister.
We can only really understand sentences like the one in her statement in the context of social conditions at the time: we were on the threshold of a new era and knew it. The rigid cage of quasi-bourgeois structures that had had been restored after the war was finally crumbling. Not only was the power relationship between capital and labor and between the state and its citizens being questioned, but also that between the sexes, the institution of marriage, the relationship between parents and children. Young people not only theorized, they immediately put their ideas into practice. They experimented, lived together, separated. Entirely new relationships were possible. The “sexual revolution” permitted any form of promiscuity and freed sexuality from the need for love: sex was—and has been ever since—engaged in as a form of sport, whatever one might think of that. One had to experience new things. People tried group sex. Many wondered if they were not gay after all, or at least bisexual. One did things on the spur of the moment, made snap decisions, the flower children traveled to India, the political kids to China. The “dropping out” era was beginning. Even those with a career gave everything up and began a different life. Middle-class intellectual marriages broke up. Wives ran off with young lovers. Children moved out. The scent of freedom wafted everywhere.
Feminism emerged but did not particularly interest Charlotte. She came face to face with it more as a sociology student. When asked about it once she replied briefly that she felt herself to be less a woman and more a human being. One could certainly object to a lot in that. That was her way of solving the problem. Partly as a result of her financial independence, Charlotte had escaped oppression and having her mind made up by men. The partners she had chosen— and without a shadow of a doubt she was the one who chose her men—were definitely not the macho type. If not actually the main reason, one reason was that her experience of being persecuted by the Nazis, which affected both men and women to the same extent, had had such a far-reaching impact on her life that for her the problem of male oppression was comparatively insignificant. I do, however, remember her once saying that she would rather go to Denmark during the holidays than to Italy. And why? She then described to me the little obscene gestures she found herself exposed to, of which I— as a man—had not even the faintest inkling. In Denmark, we saw a white-haired old lady sitting in a rocking chair smoking a pipe. Charlotte liked the way she did it, as if it were completely natural. There were doubtless other problems that were more important to her than the position of women. During the time we lived together, she was not the slightest bit interested in women’s fashion, despite having been a costume designer. She always wore trousers, a pullover, and flat heels, a windbreaker, or an old Burberry. So as to enlighten me about the position of women, she once suggested I spend a whole day wearing high heels. That alone would make me aware of a great deal. She regarded uncomfortable modern shoes as a shackle, like the practice of binding women’s “lily”-feet in ancient China. She had more or less freed herself entirely from the traditional role of women. As a woman, Charlotte was sensitive and passionate. There was, however, nothing about her art that one could refer to as specifically feminine. For her artists were either good or bad; whether they were male or female was not an issue for her. She would no doubt have felt the expression “women’s art” to be discrimination.
It was at that time Charlotte decided to leave her husband and live with me. The decision was favored by the fact that it was she who had decided to give up art—and not the other way round. Given the statement quoted previously, people concluded that Charlotte had given up art for political reasons. This, however, cannot be directly deduced from the statement, because nowhere does it mention her wanting to solve “pressing social problems.” The assertion only becomes plausible if one then considers Charlotte’s decision to study sociology, a subject which is not per se political. One has to be aware of the fact that at documenta IV, Charlotte took part in activities that were against the event. She was not the only one to be of the opinion that with its various institutions the art market was just like any other organized trading in commodities and that because of its being held in high esteem art, as a commodity, was ideally suited to obscuring “the pressing problems.”
The following is an extract from a flyer that was distributed at the documenta, and which Charlotte kept:
Visitors to the documenta!
As you observe this exhibition, bear in mind that it serves to
blind us to social misery and the deplorable state of affairs
in society. All forms of art, even the most modern, have the
anyone who sits back contentedly to listen to a Bach cantata
in the evening,
who uses bright paintings to make his comfortable lounge
who quietly enjoys well-set poems,
who takes delight in Pop Art or other amusing happenings,
who proudly shows his guests the latest addition to his art
who uses a visit to the theater to combine pleasure with
be less inclined to think about a remedy for the existing deplorable
state of affairs. To him the whole world appears nobler,
more harmonious, and more beautiful than the society
in which he lives in reality is. He will certainly give less
wars in Asia and Africa,
the poverty affecting a large section of humanity
and the suppression and exploitation,
the outdated legal system in this country,
the outdated school system in this country,
the social injustices in society,
the lack of education opportunities for working-class children,
the violence that people in both the West and East are subjected
Works of art are not capable of doing away with misery and
inadequacies, or even portraying things a they really are.
As you stand in front of the works exhibited here think
deeply about the fact that at the very same moment, people
are being murdered, children burned, women abused. Then
the madness and inhumanity of an exhibition like this will
become apparent. . . .
Seven young artists signed another, less principled flyer dated June 25, 1968, which Charlotte also kept. They presented their own cause “To everybody”:
All the American objects being exhibited (the importance of which cannot be denied) were selected by a Cologne gallery owner who finds himself in the unique position, as an official documenta adviser, of being allowed to encourage people to participate and at the same time to make acquisitions for his gallery. As a sideline he also organizes the Cologne Art Market, a trust for the so-called progressive dealers and exhibitions such as ars multiplicata (if possible featuring his own stock.) For investment purposes he also organizes a bit of young German art. Having signed socially repressive exclusive contracts, several artists have to wait and see if and when Stünke “makes” them. “Stünke” is a prime example, one that can be expanded on at will in terms of quantity and quality, of the conditions under which young artists are being systematically exploited. “Stünke” is an example of a concentration of power and monopolization in the art trade that must be fought. Protect yourselves against professional exploiters. Found your own CO-OP!
Several artists became politically aware at the time and began producing political art. Charlotte rejected this. She believed that art does not change anything in society by attempting to be political, either. Because in order to have a specific political impact, in other words at the end of the day to be of any relevance in the proceedings, in her opinion art had to make clear-cut statements that anybody can understand. Good art, however, is ambivalent, and understanding it depends on prior knowledge. Political art, on the other hand, is inclined to be unambiguousness through and through, in other words it restricts freedom of interpretation and in doing so loses its artistic character. Charlotte was, of course, aware that among other things art can also have a political dimension, for example if an artist expresses the fact that he is concerned about and suffering from conditions in society. It depends here on just how broadly one applies the term “political.” Charlotte’s own works revealed at least an advanced appreciation of democracy, most clearly evident in the participation of others. In fact her entire artistic path, from panels to architecture, is “political” inasmuch as it leads away from the mere observation of imaginary worlds, into the real world in which we live and operate and structure our everyday life. She refused, however, to put art at the service of political messages. As someone who placed great importance on common sense, she found art that aims to overwhelm by means of shock bad.
To make things easier to understand, I must mention something that Charlotte told me was particularly important when we were once out walking. Willi Baumeister, she said, had once told her that he was incapable of providing a better explanation of a picture he had painted than someone making an effort to interpret it. One implication of this statement is that it is not the task of art interpreters to come up with the meaning of a piece of work through recourse to intentions, motives, and even statements by the artist—as former production theories postulated. The structure of meaning, on the other hand, occurs for the most part through interpretation. Umberto Eco founded reception theory in the late sixties, but it was not until the seventies that we learned about it through literary theory, when we were occupied with so-called spaces. Baumeister seemingly championed this view avant la lettre. Charlotte therefore was incapable of finding good a form of art that restricted possibilities of interpretation through a tendency toward distinction.
With regard to myself, I also adhere to reception theory: much of what I say about Charlotte’s art is my own interpretation, not one that is based on explicit statements by the artist, and yet is more than a mere opinion, because I can prove it in detail from the object itself. I say “much” (not “everything”), because as a result of the many discussions we had when working closely together and the long period of time we lived together, I believe I know what Charlotte’s opinion was and also—quite conventionally—draw conclusions from the context, i.e., from what Charlotte thought at all about art and society. I never asked Charlotte about her own art because I knew she would have been unwilling to talk about it. At the time, we were mainly preoccupied with our future.
A third flyer is an invitation to “An exhibition of progressive, nonaffirmative art” (June 26–September 12, 1968). The following was available: “Instead of affirmation expansion of the conscience, criticism, information.” There was a quotation by Bert Brecht on the back of the flyer: “I see that you have removed the motifs from your pictures. There are no longer any recognizable objects in them. You are portraying the curvature of a chair, not the chair, the red sky, not the burning house. If you were the willing hands of those in power, you would do well to fulfill your client’s wish according to imprecise, general, less obligating representations,” and so on.
Charlotte of course did not share Brecht’s rejection of Abstract Art. As students we addressed the socialist theory of image and found it to be implausible in terms of perception theory alone.
In her estate, the following handwritten remark appears on the following page, the fourth: “Flyer, handed out at the opening of documenta 1968.” So Charlotte distributed the flyer to visitors at the entrance:
You culture vultures, so here you are all gathered together again to chat and lie and talk crap so as to gain the upper hand. Everyone considers himself and his stuff to be beguiling, without even noticing how manipulated he is.
When will you begin to realize that you are superfluous! As superfluous as the art that you produce, sell, consume, and criticize—in short: your entire set of upward and downward revaluation of conceited values you have had rammed into you, and which you pretend to believe in.
Artists—minor names, major names—fiddle around without noticing that reality has long since overtaken them, and not just in aesthetic terms. They acknowledge the “art problem,” convince themselves of something to do with their formal “revolutions.” They thirst for some capitalist to cough up. “Always letting them have it by day, that’s what life’s about,” and in the evening you demonstrate to yourself and others that you are not like that at all, but cultured. That you can afford to have the four Castellis perform and a well-packed paradise by Christo.
It is ridiculous for American artists to distance themselves from the Vietnam War simply in order to ensure that no one demonstrates against them in Kassel. You cannot condemn the capitalist war in Vietnam and let the same social system shore you up as a cultural alibi. And the oh so committed, who intend to produce reality, burn it to comfortable aesthetics. The assholes, the insulted, sit in the front stalls and applaud. There is no longer any reason for producing art. There is no longer any reason for the documenta.
It is an instrument. It is available to a system that serves itself. The documenta represents everything that the system needs to feign progressiveness.
When will you realize: a cube is a cube. Anybody who calls it an artistic cube is suspicious.
As much as these flyers were written by rebellious young people with strange formulations that Charlotte herself would never have chosen, she nonetheless certainly considered some of the statements to be correct. Otherwise she would not have handed out this last flyer.
She, too, was convinced that art served as an alibi for the apparent progressiveness of a reactionary society. She, too, had also noticed the toothless nature of art that can insult a public, which, nonetheless, or perhaps for that very reason, applauds. She, too, was of the opinion that there was no longer any reason to produce art. Given these conditions. With regard to the problem, Jörg Immendorff summed it all up more wittily than anyone else: He produced his famous work with the heading “Stop painting.” The revolutionary message is contained, however, in a picture.
10 Between Art and Sociology (I)
So if Charlotte really did want to be involved in finding a solution for “pressing social problems,” she would have to follow a different path. She therefore began studying sociology, because she believed that individualism had narrowed our horizons, and she expected sociology to systematically present society as an entity. And so, like many others at the time, we began studying Karl Marx, whose second volume of Das Kapital addressed the question of commodity cycles that connect the various spheres of society which are thus mediated by commodities and money. Whereas an individual, as a result of his subjective needs and objective interests (themselves the result of his social position and functions), only perceives sections of society without from a narrow perspective without seeing the connections, Marxist theory promises a view of the whole. Charlotte loved visualizing connections, and so from our gray steel bookshelves, the same ones as in the university, hung large drawings, made of several sheets of A 4 paper that had been stuck together, on which long, short, thick, thin, black, and red arrows demonstrated just how one sphere of society impacts on another.
I have often said that, with respect, there was one major motif in Charlotte’s life that emerged from the awful experience of having been excluded: the need to belong. She hoped to be such a good sociologist that at some point she would be able to work together with the trade unions. “The best for the people!” Karl Marx once said, and since Charlotte, who loved this remark, could not consider herself part of the working class by virtue of her background, she had to have, in her opinion, something exceedingly good and useful to offer the “people.” She felt herself to be undeservedly privileged and was also of the opinion that one should always takes one’s cue from the best if, as she did, one had the opportunity to do so. She once told me: “If you know who, or what, the best is, everything else becomes easy. Because you have a yardstick.” She knew that being privileged was the result of unjust distribution and she was conscious of the fact that anyone who is given opportunities simply by virtue of his or her coincidental position in society owes something to those who are excluded from these favors that he must work off. As such she was very moral.
And so we immersed ourselves in an area that really did not interest established sociologists and the sociology students of the day: questions of time and motion. And Charlotte got top grades for all the papers she submitted for her degree. Our joint Master’s project was entitled “Time Allocation and the Value of Labor, A Critique of Method Construction: Performance Estimates, Time Allocation Systems, Analytical Labor Valuation.” It seems relevant to me that Charlotte tackled in detail those methods that are used to standardize wage labor. Just as she had been interested in the methods behind artistic work, she now devoted her attention to factory processes. In other words: she wanted to know everything, she wanted to get as close as possible to the subject being investigated. The theories about wage labor and exploitation that abounded at the time were not enough for her. What did Marx really mean when he spoke of the vampirism of capital? Vampirism is accurately described in the REFA7 time-andmotion methods we investigated.
On the white headrest on our bed we wrote in pencil sentences that seemed important to us. These included one by Goethe, the gist of which was: “And time and again they raised theory to the level of practice.” Raised! So for Goethe, practice came first. Which is what we also believed. Together we visited several large factories, where we claimed to be academics, which at the time we were not yet. Later on, people became distrustful of sociologists. Then one day we dared to present our Master’s thesis to the IG Metall metal workers trade union. We approached the IG Metall librarian, who had been recommended to us by a member of the union, and presented him with our work. Dr. Bippig was very friendly and glanced over the first page. He then put the text to one side, commenting that on the first page alone there were ten words that were not in German. Trade unionists did not like foreign words, however, so for them it was illegible. We were dismayed, but Charlotte quickly pulled herself together.
Still on the staircase she said to me: “We’ll just rewrite the whole thing.” Which is what we did. It took six months. We had made the mistake of writing the work with university conventions in mind, whereby for reasons of academic economy and intersubjectivity specialist terms and footnotes are standard and necessary, as well as in the hope that we would be providing the unions with a work they could make use of. The fact that Charlotte immediately decided to revise the thesis reveals just how serious she was in her hopes to be able to work together with the unions. The thesis thus revised was published in 1979 by Campus Verlag.
In order to give a more detailed explanation of how Charlotte’s artistic beginnings were continued in her sociological work, I am inserting at this point a short article I wrote in May 2004 for the Kurze Karrieren exhibition at the MUMOK in Vienna. I apologize for repeating sections you are already familiar with.
A break with art. And then? Charlotte Posenenske (1930–1985) broke with art in 1968 and began studying sociology, a subject in which she then graduated. Nowadays people ask if there are any indications of an interest in sociology in her artistic work. In other words: do her activities before and after the break have anything in common? I believe they do. The former artist immersed herself in time and motion studies, i.e., in that area of industrial sociology whose core term is human labor—not labor in general, but factory labor. Industrial labor is technical, organized such that it involves cooperation and sharing work, and is performed by people whose very existence is dependent on the pay. It is generally standardized in terms of content and time down to the very last detail, and in an ideal situation leaves the worker no room for initiative. Factory workers are an integral part of a so-called man-machine system. The work is determined by others.
With her Vierkantrohre, Posenenske created a sort of module: four or six different elements that can be combined to form very different figurations. The tubes are manufactured in a factory, standardized, in series, unsigned, and from a material that is destined for quick consumption (sheet metal or cardboard). They were conceived as a cheap commodity, which, in the artist’s opinion could have been sold in a department store. In her Manifesto published in May 1968 in Art International (cf. p. 135) Posenenske wrote: “The objects are intended to have the objective character of industrial products.” The artist’s originality is to be found in the concept alone. On the one hand, therefore there is a set of industrially produced building parts, which, on the other, are to be assembled by the purchasers or those staging exhibitions as they see fit. At the heart of the artistic concept there is a dual interpretation of labor, in which standardized factory labor lies in between the creative work of the artistic concept on the one hand and interpreting improvisation on the other, i.e., paid labor determined by others is confronted on both sides with free labor. There totally organized factory labor, here spur of the moment cooperative improvisation, i.e., a joint creative game with the products of labor performed in society. Posenenske placed great importance on collaborating in building things. She planned to produce items so big they could only be handled using cranes and people working together. (It is worth mentioning at this point that the artist paid a visit to the Hannover Industrial Trade Fair where she took photographs of building plants and large boilers, just as she had a very positive attitude to technology in general—as an expression of the progressing societalization of labor.) By leaving to others the way the elements were combined, the artist relinquished part of her creative skill— with the risk of them using completely different criteria for the installation from the ones she would have used. The person staging the exhibition or the purchaser and his or her helpers become practical interpreters who, when putting the object together, have to decide whether to follow the authoritarian directive of the person staging the exhibition or make a general agreement among themselves the basis of their work. The result—the exhibited art objects—are the outcome of overall cooperation between the artist, the factory workers, and the exhibitors, who, as mentioned previously, are more director-like interpreters. This collaboration provides a realistic metaphor for freedom: as opposed to the naïve idea of boundless individual “self-realization,” freedom exists in the possibility of dealing playfully in a cooperative manner with society’s norms (represented by the kit). The codetermination involved in completing the work is reminiscent of company codetermination in Germany.
In fact, Posenenske’s sociological commitment was practically geared to breaking asunder the rigid standardization of factory labor in favor of extended codetermination. She wrote her degree thesis together with me and had it published by the renowned Campus Verlag (Frankfurt and New York) entitled Vorgabezeit und Arbeitswert (Time Allocation and the Value of Labor). The work is a critique of standard business methods by which working hours are measured, standardized, and determined as well the value of labor evaluated. These processes are allegedly academic, objective methods based on Taylorism, which are, however, all geared to further limiting the options and negotiating leeway of the workers with the management. A different—or an additional—reason for Charlotte giving up art was less personal and stems from art itself. Within a short space of time, she herself once again covered the whole spectrum of modern painting starting out with a problem with Cézanne, who was the first to break with perspective, and on occasion in his paintings left bare canvas such that the reality of the two-dimensional counteracts the illusion of what has been painted: the relationship between the twodimensional, illusion, and space is fundamental to Charlotte’s oeuvre.
And beginning with Mondrian, who arrived at his strictly horizontal/ vertical structured form of painting via abstract works based on his observations of nature and as a protagonist of the Dutch De Stijl movement, which was an attempt to completely structure life, progressed from painting to interior design: Charlotte had also progressed from panels via folds, bucklings, and kinks to freestanding sculptures and even architecture. And her last works were only concepts. She had completed her program. Or: her program was exhausted— just like Roehr’s, who not only produced montages of identical pieces, but also ultimately completely identical pictures as well. I think it is wrong to talk of failure, however, because it implies that being an artist is a life-long vocation, which has not been the case for a long time now. In pursuing criteria such as consistency and stringency,
Charlotte would never have searched for new alternatives in order to carry on. She was suspicious of hiatuses; it ought to be clear how one work followed on from its predecessor. For her there was much that was serious about this. As a concept, the continuous and programmatic change of style of, for example, Jiri Dokoupil, or the change in the first person narrative in literature, as in the case of Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese author, would have interested her, but she would never have accepted it for her own work. In the end, the materials she used were compressed plywood and cardboard, materials that decompose with time. Whereas at the beginning her works were multicolored, later on they were monochrome (primary colors, industrial colors), then light gray and the colors of materials. An additional aspect of this reductive program is simplification: for example, while the first series of sheet metal Vierkantrohre consisted of six elements, the cardboard version has just four. The Vierkantrohre were quite seriously often mistaken for sheet-metal ventilation pipes, with the corrugated cardboard version most certainly triggering an association. This confusion meant that the objects were no longer clearly artistic in character, and in visual terms had become fully integrated in the everyday world. The idea of disappearing, which later on was once more to become highly contemporary in art, is behind this. (Incidentally, Charlotte once said of Ferdinand Kramer that his designs were so outstanding because they were subtle, i.e., unobtrusive.) She was also of the opinion that a person was well-dressed if, later on, one only remembered that he was welldressed, but could not say what he had actually been wearing. I just slipped that in to illustrate that her idea of something disappearing was most certainly not unheard of. In the reductive process, the concepts that were never realized round out this dematerialization process. It was Peter Weibel who happened to remark in an article that Charlotte’s hiatus with art could be treated as an artistic act itself; as such it would have been the very last step in the gradual process of eliminating subjects and materials.
The tendency of the Vierkantrohre to disappear in everyday life (by virtue of their being mistaken for ventilation pipes) corresponds to the artist herself becoming immersed in everyone’s life. To put it dramatically: it was artistic suicide. Becoming personal again here, this is backed up by the fact that Charlotte turned her back on the art scene, no longer visited galleries, and to a large extent ignored the artistic trends of the time. We sometimes drove to Cologne to see a Paul Maenz exhibition, and in July 1977 even went to a Giulio Paolini exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Mannheim. Yet this was the exception to the rule. Charlotte really had finished with art and began a new life. In the numerous European museums we visited together, she showed interest only in classical art and classical modernism. I can imagine that doing without art must have been very difficult for her. The art of the time would probably have forced her to constantly reconsider her decision. In other words, the wound would never have healed. She gave her creativity new direction: she now worked as painstakingly with words as she had done previously with artistic means. Yet she always attempted to make visual illustrations of theoretical contexts by means of the large sketches mentioned previously.
Ultimately there was one more reason, alluded to above, for her stopping, and one that I think quite possibly provides an explanation. It could be that Charlotte had long since given up the idea doing one job her entire life and thought in terms of projects. There was the theater project, the art project, and the sociology project. The trade union project would perhaps have been another. She might well also have considered our living together, which had something of collaboration about it and no fixed division of labor, as a project, in which case she would have found good a way of living that nowadays has almost become second nature to us in the form of patchwork biographies. There are links between the various projects, because they have several fundamental elements in common. That is pure conjecture. We never once talked about the topic. I personally never asked Charlotte why she had stopped, but as a result of the posthumous exhibitions I organized, always had to be the first to try and come up with an answer.
11 Posthumous Exhibitions
Fitting out an attic in which to keep her works of art, the ones she selected, and the fact that many of them were neatly arranged in folders all demonstrate that Charlotte assumed that at some time, somewhere, her works would be exhibited again. When Paul Maenz visited her for the last time, her illness was already clearly evident. He offered to stage an exhibition for her in his renowned avant-garde gallery in Bismarckstrasse in Cologne. Charlotte was very pleased about that. We have no idea whether Charlotte would have considered the posthumous retrospective, which Paul and I organized together in 1986/87, to be the final one, or the first of more exhibitions to come. She was hardly able to speak any longer. That she agreed to an exhibition at all at any rate shows that at least following her death, she no longer wished her hiatus with art to be maintained.
What is certain is that without the Paul Maenz exhibition it would have been impossible for her works to become as well known as they now are. Paul would not have made his gallery available out of pure friendship—he told me so openly. As such I now had a high-profile starting point for my future efforts with Charlotte’s works. When I asked Paul if he did not see a way of displaying Charlotte’s oeuvre in Frankfurt as well, he called Bärbel Grässlin, who immediately gave him a date. Imi Knoebel, who at the time had just arranged an exhibition at Galerie Grässlin, generously allocated a whole week for Charlotte, whose works he knew from earlier and which he obviously valued highly. I then began displaying the corrugated cardboard Vierkantrohre, which, however, I had had to have remade in a cardboard packaging factory from a sample of a few remaining, half-rotten bits of cardboard. All the Vierkantrohre that I have since exhibited are reproductions.
Initially, most came out against staging once again exhibitions of an artist that had spectacularly broken with art, and in particular against the reproduction of “originals,” which is what the 1967 cardboard objects were considered to be. People wanted to see Charlotte Posenenske’s work as completed, as historic—in particular gallery owners. However, what the critics did not know, and perhaps were not yet in a position to know, was that the possibility of reproducing the Vierkantrohre ad infinitum and putting them together according to other people’s criteria was an important element in Charlotte’s concept. There were no originals of the Reliefs either, even if nowadays those works that Charlotte had had manufactured herself are treated as originals on the market. The Daimler concern would presumably not have bought a reproduction. The module principle and art being an anonymous commodity (even though as a brand article) are the prerequisites for it fundamentally being possible to manufacture this series of work for all eternity, and always present it in a different manner. This naturally involves criticism of art’s traditional claim to be original, which is established by means of signed one-ofa-kinds.
Since the concept for the Vierkantrohre exhibition also depends on the exhibition venue, for which, in Charlotte’s opinion, only those locations that play a relevant role in society come into question (and which I then thought I had found in the market, airport, station, bank and trade fair), the problem arises of the context itself having a major impression on the exhibition—which calls into question the autonomous status of art. The Dependent Objects exhibition at Harvard University’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, which Kirsten Weiss curated, takes the issue of dependency as its central theme, illustrating it not only with Charlotte’s Vierkantrohre, but also with works by Gerhard Richter, Hans-Ehrhardt Walther, Hans Haacke, and Thomas Schütte. Once I had realized that the concept involved the context being included, I was tempted to position the Vierkantrohre in surroundings that provoked a comparison. I came up with the idea of positioning them in the middle of the countryside, or even in water. To give you an example, in the Deutsche Bank building I placed a pillar-shaped Vierkantrohre next to a work by Rückriem which Charlotte liked. Or I intended confronting Vierkantrohre figures with photos of them in other situations.
Since I had the memorable and unique opportunity to perform my mourning activities in a very practical manner, I very nearly went one step too far in my enthusiasm. Paul Maenz opened my eyes to the danger I was about to put myself in with a brief question: “Are you planning on becoming an artist?” No, of course I was not. By means of her modular system Charlotte may well have encouraged others to get involved, but certainly not with the intention of making them into artists at a time she herself was withdrawing form the art scene. Apart from myself, to date the only person to conceive a posthumous installation has been Werner Esser. In 1989, he assembled the sheetmetal Vierkantrohre in the rotunda of the Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. (In 2007 Mehdi Chouakri also created extremely interesting installations in his Berlin gallery that Charlotte herself would not have.) That nowadays Charlotte’s work is pretty well accepted, and that I am aware of just what the concept allows, and what not, I owe primarily to Paul Maenz, who is both decisive and discreet: the exhibition at one of the best European galleries gave me a great reputation from the outset, and Paul’s brief remark pointed me in the right direction.
I always organized the financial support of the exhibitions myself: Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Bahn, and Lufthansa each paid for a slim catalogue. Jean-Christophe Ammann and Rolf Lauter, then head curator at the MMK and later director of the Kunsthalle in Mannheim, provided institutional backing. Lauter’s doctoral thesis addressed variability in works of art and it was he who wrote the first article about Charlotte after her death. This resulted in works by Charlotte being displayed three times at the MMK and once, with the generous support of Galerie Meyer-Ellinger, at the Jahrhunderthalle in the Höchst district of Frankfurt.
To begin with, my exhibitions encountered some doubt as to their faithfulness to the original—who could possibly have known that Charlotte had also written that one could suspend the Vierkantrohre from the ceiling? Who needed to know that the assembled elements of the Vierkantrohre can be interpreted not just as complete figurations but also as individual parts. Many of the combinations come across as perfectly finished classical sculptures, despite the fact that the openings at both ends of the hollow carcass and the exposed screw holes indicate that in principle it can be continued, and thus indicate an unfinished status. This, however, calls into question the traditional interpretation of sculpture, by which we understand a completed form. In other words: the simple combinations of elements are most certainly ambivalent. The fact that the individual objects could possibly be continued, that they can be part of a chain, goes hand in hand with the fact that the elements can also be reproduced ad infinitum. Charlotte had exhibited both completed figurations as well as uncompleted installations. I stuck with that. I had the good fortune to have the trust and the support of Paul Maenz, Kasper König, and Jean-Christophe Ammann, who was not only the first person to buy a module of the Vierkantrohre, but also showcased Charlotte Posenenske in the first of the MMK catalogues. (Though he did make corrections to an installation I had intended for the Jahrhunderthalle. Rightly so: I had arranged the same elements in series, but individually, which contradicts the overall concept.) Without the backing of expert, influential people, but also without, in the late eighties, the curiosity of artists and art lovers about a disappeared work from a “heroic” era, one with which in many cases one is not acquainted, it would have been impossible to make Charlotte’s work known again. I will be eternally grateful to all these people.
12 Between Art and Sociology (II)
There is a curious interface between Charlotte’s career as an artist and sociologist, which still involves art and, just about, sociology. Together with four others, Charlotte had been invited to take part in a competition in the town of Bielefeld. The contact had been set up by a gentleman from the Bielefeld construction industry, who in several letters had expressed great interest in her work. He went as far as to visiting Charlotte in the Isenburg Castle in Offenbach. On April 23, 1968, he wrote the following to her:
A Bielefeld-based entrepreneur, who is planning to realize a large apartment construction project with a shopping mall here in Bielefeld, intends to hold a limited competition for the design of a well-partitioned interior courtyard between the shopping mall and the residential accommodation and above an underground garage. I have suggested asking you to submit an entry.
Charlotte agreed, and duly received the competition documents. The Bielefeld entrepreneur concerned was a company called Wohn- und Industriebau E. Möhrke KG. The site in question for the project was surrounded by three- to eight-story buildings containing small apartments. The jury was due to make a decision on May 12, 1969, a date by which Charlotte had long since given up art. Her decision must therefore have been made just after she agreed to take part. On a journey through England that Charlotte and I made in 1968, we sat on the bed in her VW bus, which we had equipped in a makeshift manner, and wrote on the portable typewriter a flyer that Charlotte intended distributing to the Bielefeld housing area she had inspected shortly before.
DM 38,000 is the amount the company E. Möhrke KG is throwing out the window to ‘embellish’ the new Stieghorst business center with a piece of sculpture or a fountain. Five artists are invited to submit entries. Each of them is to receive DM 1,000. For those entries that are accepted, an additional DM 1,000 will be paid. I am one of those artists. I refuse, however, to have anything to do with the project. Because given the circumstances, in this case it is wrong to spend DM 38,000 on art. An attractive fountain is meant to fool you that all the essentials in the building of this development have already been taken care of. As a company, Möhrke builds houses in order to take rent off you. For this reason, the buildings are only as good as is necessary to be able to take this profitable, and by no means as good as they ought to have been had you been asked what your requirements were. You are just presented with the apartments. You can select for yourself the bit that Möhrke thinks is right for you. You were not asked about y o u r requirements. Make a list of all the things that are lacking and present it to Möhrke! 38,000 will scarcely be sufficient.
Ch. Posenenske Get in direct contact with Möhrke in Bielefeld
It is evident what Charlotte was concerned about. It was nothing in particular, because in those days questions were always asked as to the “true” needs of the so-called concerned, whatever the project— and in principle that is always the right thing to do. This involved the demand to be involved, a political aspect which, with regard to art,
Charlotte had made the theme back in 1967 with her modular system, which envisaged the public taking an active part. Determined to study sociology and with the great enthusiasm and immense naïveté of greenhorns, we compiled our first questionnaire during that rain-plagued trip to England. At the time we did not know the inglorious history of questionnaires, for example with regard to investigations into so-called job satisfaction, which was the subject of much research work in the late fifties. Nowadays we know how cunningly those workers questioned managed to fool the market researchers, despite the latter having included crafty trick questions, because, quite rightly, they viewed the appearance of interviewers in the factory as an event organized by the management. Still wet behind the ears, we believed that the inhabitants of the development would reveal their “true” requirements to us. And we really did journey to Bielefeld and rang on about twenty doorbells. The following is a selection of the twenty-three questions we asked at the front door:
Question 2: Do you know many of the other inhabitants in the development?
Question 3: Is there a pre-school?
Question 9: Where do you meet your friends?
Question 18: Were you ever asked about your needs?
Question 23: Could the DM 38,000 be employed to provide something useful in the development?
One of the assumptions behind the questionnaire was that the people living in the development led a pretty lonely existence. Then Charlotte wrote a letter that was printed in Adam Seide’s publication Egoist (no. 1 ) entitled “Charlotte Posenenske to a Building Entrepreneur.”
Thank you for the invitation to participate in the competition for the Stieghorst business and residential center in Bielefeld. The Stieghorst development provides a variety of residential accommodation. This range is intended to create the impression that tenants were able to select something that met their actual needs. This disguises the pressure on them to accept whatever they are offered. The actual needs were met only to the extent that this did not endanger profitability. Every investment that goes beyond minimum satisfaction of actual needs serves only to fool people into believing that these had been met without exception. This is why DM 38,000 is being invested in a fountain or a piece of sculpture in Stieghorst. What is allegedly no longer just useful—art—is worthwhile for the developer. It is meant to demonstrate that these rabbit hutches already meet all needs and that there is now money available for something attractive. Art is meant to advertise the slums of the future. The organizers themselves must be well aware of their project’s shortcomings if they think that the square needs to be “enhanced” by means of artistic design. In this case art takes on the function of an alibi. Under these circumstances I refuse to participate and am herewith returning the documents.
Alongside the previously mentioned Manifesto that was published in Art International (cf. p. 135), this is the second piece that justifies her rejection of art. Moreover, in this case it becomes clear that she attempted to evade the integration of art into the economic system, which in principle she held responsible both for fascism and the war in Vietnam. If one understood that by means of the commoditiesmoney cycles, everything is linked to everything else, as a producer of art one was at all times to a greater of lesser degree involved in “the system.” It was like the original sin. One was always guilty, whether one produced, consumed, or attempted to get out. It was not easy to live with this opinion. If one wanted a clear conscience being against “the system”—given one had a conscience, at all, that is—was the one alternative. There was privilege involved in this stance too, because for as long as he wanted to feed his family, a father dependent on his pay was “part of the system.”
Charlotte shared the opinion of those who used flyers to accuse art of concealing the poor conditions in society—concealing being a word that one encountered time and time again until it became ossified in the expression “concealment context.” Herbert Marcuse’s 1937 essay “The Affirmative Character of Culture” was an enormous influence. Despite the thirty-year time span, Marcuse’s ideas about “affirmative culture” still seemed to be right up to date: It is in its essential features idealistic. It responds to the wants of the isolated individual with general humanity, to physical misery with the beauty of the soul, to external servitude with internal freedom, to brutal egoism with the virtue of duty. . . . Culture indicates not so much a better as a more noble world. . . . Culture ought to permeate the existing with something ennobling, not replace it by something new. In doing so it elevates an individual, without liberating him from his actual degradation.. . . The beauty of art—in contrast to the truth of theory—is compatible with poor present conditions: it is a source of happiness in them. True theory recognizes misery and the misfortune of what exists. These are key sentences, with which, since 1968, anyone who had been seriously involved with art was well acquainted. Including Charlotte. In her case what was important and indeed perhaps definitive was in the quotation the “truth of theory,” which inasmuch as it is a radical criticism of the system does not consider to be part of it. Note well, however, that even the most radical critic is still involved if he lives like everybody else. Art, though, has long since ceased to be “beautiful,” as Herbert Marcuse wrote back in 1937. Many saw a way out of the dilemma in “unattractive,” critical, or political art, which, similar to “true theory,” was considered unfit for consumption. As explained previously, Charlotte rejected this path.
Charlotte died on October 3, 1985, in the hospital in the Höchst district of Frankfurt. Annelie Traud, the Catholic nun who had cared for her, and I were both with her when she passed away. The senior consultant there had been recommended to us in the renowned hospital in Eppendorf in Hamburg, one that was particularly advanced in the treatment of cancer. There were we told that Charlotte did not have long to live. Back home again we selected the spot in Westhausen Cemetery in Frankfurt where she was to be buried. We then also chose a gravestone. She chose Westhausen Cemetery on the western periphery of the city because she thought it unsuitable to be buried in the central cemetery. She had only ever lived on the periphery, never at the center of things.
 Remembering the Artist was originally published in 2005 by the Revolver Verlag, Frankfurt am Main. 1 Cf. p. 133.
 Burkhard Brunn et al., Charlotte Posenenske (Schriften zur Sammlung des Museums für Moderne Kunst, ed. Museum für Moderne Kunst (Frankfurt am Main, 1990).
 The object was part of the “sculptural pictures” group. See Brunn et al. 1990 (see note 2), p. 8, on the left. Ill. p.51.
 Prof. Dr. Wolfgang-Hagen Hein, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Pharmazie 6 (1980), pp. 44–47.
 Cf. my text in Charlotte Posenenske—Malerei 1959–1965, ed. Burkhard Brunn and Konstantin Adamopoulos, exh. cat. Galeria ak (Frankfurt am Main, 1999).
 Die Jahre der Kommune I: Berlin 1967–1969 (Cologne, 2004).
 REFA = Reichsausschuss für Arbeitszeitermittlung (1924, Reich Committee for the Determination of Working Hourss), Reichsausschuss für Arbeitsstudien (1936, Reich Committee for Labor Studies), today the - Verband für Arbeitsgestaltung, Betriebsorganisation und Unternehmensentwicklung (Association for Labor Organization, Business Organization, and Corporate Development).