They wrote each other letters “In old solidarity”, said the “very devoted” Carlfriedrich Claus to Gerhard Altenburg. Conversely, Altenbourg wrote to “dear, honored Mr. Claus” and was delighted “with your work, and that there is someone walking on a path, a dismaying path without safety, it is in a time of …

They wrote each other letters “In old solidarity”, said the “very devoted” Carlfriedrich Claus to Gerhard Altenburg. Conversely, Altenbourg wrote to “dear, honored Mr. Claus” and was delighted “with your work, and that there is someone walking on a path, a dismaying path without safety, it is a joyful glimpse into a time of barrenness. ”But were they really so connected?

“Proximity and distance: Carlfriedrich Claus and Gerhard Altenbourg in dialogue” – this is the name of the exhibition of the Chemnitz Art Collections, which opened on Saturday and presents two lonely artistic personalities who are often evoked in the same breath, sometimes with the older Hermann Glöckner regarding non-conforming art in the GDR – but mostly all over Germany – after WWII. This first synopsis of the two works was a “sincere wish,” said Brigitta Milde, director of the Carlfriedrich Claus archives, who organized the exhibition with Inge Grimm, research assistant at the Gerhard Altenbourg Foundation and Marie Winter.

Gerhard Altenburg (1926 – 1989), born Gerhard Ströch near Gotha, was drafted into the Nazi armed forces at the age of 17, killed an enemy soldier in close combat – an experience that never let go. life and which he also tried to treat artistically. These sheets from the early years are the strongest: “Ecce Homo: Dying Warrior” from 1949 – through children’s drawings, an emaciated, almost decomposed body, a man who, dying, kisses his heart – a nervous but determined search , Life and death experience in one. Even this large-format sheet from Altenburg is worth a visit to the exhibition. With the early works he is closest to Claus, as can be seen in the chronologically consecutive works. Carlfriedrich Claus (1930-1998), four years younger than Altenburg, grew up in an anti-fascist family, began to write experimental texts in 1951, followed by an “automatic journal” in which thoughts, feelings and affects were suddenly transferred to paper. . A little later he draws on both sides of the tracing paper – these sheets are presented in art collections in such a way that they can be seen from both sides and make tangible the artist’s intentions to give the paper a spatiality in which the different layers of drawings overlap, which in turn return to the layers of consciousness.

Claus steadfastly pursues his linguistic experiments and his research on consciousness, while in the later works of Gerhard Altenbourg, the initially painful, urgent existential is lost and gives way to an equally seductive aestheticism, which is oriented in such a way. abstract and poetic on the figure and the landscape – and many delighted collectors. The different paths the two soloists have taken are not reflected only in their works. Here the esthete dandy Altenbourg, who was also interested in the “beautiful” image, who subsequently exposed less layers of consciousness than superimposed images and made his house a total work of art – there the researcher Claus, who has long been in cramped conditions, in poor conditions, who exposes himself to his own linguistic experiments and lets their results flow on paper. Claus articulated these differences, which are only insufficiently reflected in the term “distance”. In a letter to Gerhard Wolf in 1973, he wrote about Altenburg: “There is something disgusting and curious about his impressive demeanor … the ‘Content’. Hardly any of his characters have a backbone. Nothing resistant works in them. “But he adds:” On the other hand, I am of course aware that my attitude towards literature and art is not ‘objective’.

The exhibition does not pit the two artists against each other. It’s a duo, not a duel between two loners. Everyone can decide for themselves which art is closest to them. The works of Carlfriedrich Claus demand more and more attention, “reading” them is a work as Claus himself understood it. But the scholarly, sometimes elitist aestheticism of Gerhard Altenbourg is also opposed in art, including the cultural policy of the GDR which, if it has opened up somewhat in its last decade, has nevertheless always preferred an art easily decipherable, gripping and serving the mighty. But both refused to do so.

The exhibition “Proximity and distance: Carlfriedrich Claus and Gerhard Altenburg in dialogue” is on view in the Chemnitz art collections until 14 November. A conference on “Art and the World in Transition: Visions and Skepticism in the Year of the Construction of the Wall in 1961” will take place on September 8 and 9.