On See Now: Charlotte Salomon’s ‘Life? or Theater?’

Yoshiko Yap
Charlotte Salomon’s ‘Life? or Theater?,’ at the Städtische Galerie in Lenbachhaus. © 2023 Charlotte Salomon Foundation. Photo: Ernst Jank

In spite of creating 1 of the most remarkable bodies of perform of the twentieth century—a Gesamtkunstwerk (or ‘total artwork’) that owes as considerably to audio, cinema and theater as it does to painting—Charlotte Salomon (1917–1943) is not commonly acknowledged. When she is spoken about, Griselda Pollock notes in a chat on her 2018 book on Salomon, it is typically in the exact breath as Anne Frank, in an endeavor to forged her as “a tragic victim of the holocaust … [who], in defiance of the forces all around her, established this good function to comfort us.”

Certainly, it can be challenging to disentangle Salomon’s life’s get the job done from the tragedy and violence that formed her everyday living. As you solution the Lenbachhaus—currently internet hosting an exhibition of Salomon’s “Singespiel” that she called Everyday living? or Theater?—you cross Königsplatz, a former Nazi parade floor and, in 1933, the web site of a significant ebook-burning. People coming to Salomon’s artwork for the first time normally know minor about her other than the point that at 26, she was murdered in Auschwitz. But this touring exhibition of a assortment of gouaches and clear webpages curated by Irene Faber of the Jewish Historic Museum in Amsterdam succeeds in undertaking justice to its hybridity and emphasizing, fairly than the tragic life and periods of its creator, the big scope and ambition of the function alone.

Signs outside a building.
A view of Lenbachhaus. © 2023 Charlotte Salomon Basis. Picture: Ernst Jank

The totality of Lifetime? or Theater? is made up of 769 paintings finished within two decades just after Salomon fled Berlin to the south of France in 1939. Even though Salomon’s life’s do the job absolutely lends itself to the description ‘monumental’, the descriptor doesn’t capture its intimacy and playful irony. But even the abridged edition introduced in this exhibition is huge. The most important segment by itself contains 469 paintings, of which 124 are exhibited all around the perimeter of the Lenbachhaus’s massive underground Kunstbau house.

Every single webpage-sized gouache is numbered and divided into a few ‘acts’ by Salomon to develop one thing like a storyboard for an unrealized opera or film. If it resembles any one up to date variety, it is the graphic novel. Characters modeled on serious figures in Salomon’s daily life are provided pseudonyms, from the singing instructor Amadeus Daberlohn (an alias for Salomon’s lover, Alfred Wolfsohn) to the singer Paulinka Bimbam (a stand-in for Salomon’s stepmother, Paula Salomon-Lindberg) or Salomon’s own avatar, Charlotte Kann. Texts written by Salomon for each piece are printed in a booklet so site visitors can read through alongside. Individual displays deliver historical depth and lose light on the content course of action at the rear of the work’s creation, this sort of as how some texts were being written on semi-transparent overlays or how Salomon coated the eyes of figures in rejected gouaches with tape. At some junctures, visitors can hear to new music referenced in the text. While these shows help to illustrate the a lot of-layered texture of the work, it was sensible not to incorporate also significantly more substance. It took me a few several hours to make my way all-around, and I located myself hurrying via the Epilogue in advance of closing time.

A person viewing the installation.
An installation shot of ‘Charlotte Salomon. Lifetime? or Theater?’ © 2023 Charlotte Salomon Basis. Picture: Ernst Jank

Life? or Theater? is profoundly concerned with remembrance, but not in a memorializing or elegiac way. Salomon is significantly from sentimental when recalling the urbanity of her center-class lifestyle in Berlin—a cruel social critic, she is eager-eyed, often even cruel, when depicting what she describes as “the theater of civilized, cultured people.” She is also cynical about official artistic areas and the folks in them—for example, the opera enthusiasts who would convey to her stepmother that she had been “wonderful, as always” to the Nazis she depicts amongst the students in her art university. In contrast, Salomon elevates the act of making artwork by itself. In a number of items, the outdoors environment blurs as Charlotte Kann is effective joyously on a portray. In one particular, the brilliance of what she is doing work on radiates off the site in a wave of golden yellow.

While she rejects conference in favor of her own idiosyncratic expressivity, a Salomon coloration-code does arise: yellows appear to symbolize joy, tunes, the warmth of the solar, or the touch of pores and skin upon skin reds stand for tragedy, a little something done in anger, or, in the manner of comic-publications or manga, shame blues tend to be quieter, and counsel a coming into oneself. Afterwards in the progression, Charlotte describes the great importance of solitude for her function to Daberlohn: “I noticed absolutely nothing else. Only colors paintbrush you and this.” Using their cue from Salomon, the curation group has accomplished an fantastic task in prioritizing an analogous come across among visitors and the paintings, without having fuss or heavy-handed framing.

One particular interpretation of Salomon’s problem Existence? or Theater? is that it captures her endeavor to different the real truth from the lies she has been told about her loved ones. Even though there are paintings that deal with anti-semitic persecution, the recollections Salomon would seem most fascinated in are deeply own. The get the job done is bookended by two suicides – very first her mother’s, when Charlotte was a lady, and then her grandmother’s. Her mother’s suicide looks to bleed out into the gouaches just before and following the event—the red bedspread as her mom tells her bedtime stories and the “lonely crimson quilt” on which her partner sits in the wake of her loss of life. But inspite of her uncanny eye for depth in depicting her mother’s human body (just one leg pointing straight up in the air, the entire body covered with a white sheet), the portray is a wrong memory. As a youngster, she hardly ever observed the human body or even realized that her mom experienced committed suicide. As a substitute, the impression matches descriptions of Salomon’s afterwards account of acquiring her grandmother’s system. She would not find out right up until she was in France that other associates of her loved ones experienced also killed by themselves, which includes her terrific-grandmother, her fantastic-uncle and her mother’s sister.

A portrait of the artist.
Charlotte Salomon, Zelfportret (Self portrait), 1940, gouache on cardboard, 53.9 x 39 cm, Selection Joods Historisch Museum. Stichting Charlotte Salomon

At periods, Salomon’s get the job done does have a confessional, even diary-like quality, primarily the paintings which depict Charlotte Kann’s romance with Daberlohn. In excess of 20 a long time older than her, he cuts an ambiguous figure. Although he is one of the handful of outspoken admirers of her paintings, he in some cases strikes her as a monologuing bore. Yet, his theories about conquering trauma permeate the function. The paintings of Daberlohn seize the compulsive motivation to reproduce the encounter of another person we have fallen in adore with, no matter whether in a operate of artwork or in the again of an exercise book. But here the artist also realizes that even beloved persons can seem odd or even hideous. Daberlohn appears, at times, Buddha-like, a flowing, blue-green stream as he describes his “great idea” at other occasions, he’s puffed-up and bothersome. Salomon also captures the younger Charlotte’s fret about how the pair will be perceived. Her depictions of their encounters in Berlin bars (witnessed as if we are seated at the upcoming table) make looking at their trysts come to feel indecent. Still, in one unforgettable gouache, Charlotte sits across from Daberlohn, now carrying pink lipstick, her facial area additional angular and more mature-wanting than when they initial fulfilled. Eye-to-eye, their palms touching, she claims: “One day people today will be searching at us two.” Even so intimate these moments are, Salomon seems to remind the viewer (and possibly her previous lover) that the operate wasn’t just composed for Daberlohn but also for the public.

The exhibition also includes a total copy of a letter, painted in watercolor, included to the function in 1943 and tackled to ‘Daberlohn’ before she entrusted the entirety of Everyday living? or Theater? to her doctor. Her stepmother had previously eliminated the letter from the get the job done (it was only recovered in 2011), probable due to the fact it is made up of the “confession” that Charlotte killed her grandfather with an omelet laced with poison. It isn’t totally crystal clear no matter if Charlotte Kann’s actions mirror Charlotte Salomon’s have or no matter whether the identical abuse was frequented on Salomon as she heavily indicates was frequented upon her protagonist, both equally in the letter (“everything I did for my grandfather drove blood to my face”) and in the do the job (a person painting depicts him in his nightgown pleading “what’s completely wrong with sharing a bed with me?”). The exhibition text is a lot more circumspect about their “strained relationship” than some will truly feel is warranted by the letter, despite the melodrama with which the poisoning is informed. Some caution, though, does feel appropriate, particularly as the extremely problem Life? or Theater? hangs about the veracity of the confession. What much more operatic way to stop the perform than with a murder?

Neither the narrative of ‘artist as victim’ nor ‘artist as murderer’ captures Salomon’s multiplicity. The point out of victimhood may well have been one particular which Salomon, at instances in her everyday living, felt she inhabited. But like Daberlohn in her depictions of him—his brain relocating from plan to idea—Salomon appears to have viewed this point out of victimhood as just one which she could use her art to move through, and to prevail over.

CHARLOTTE SALOMON: Daily life? or Theater? is on check out at the Lenbachhaus in Munich until eventually September 10. A digital variation of the artist’s entire entire body of perform is also offered on line at https://charlotte.jck.nl.

More Than ‘Holocaust Art,’ Charlotte Salomon’s Paintings are the Work of a Lifetime

Next Post

Port Clinton Arts and Craft Present delivers hundreds to Waterworks Park

PORT CLINTON – Due to the fact Jeff and Jean Kromer just can’t be at the Lake Erie seaside every working day, they bring the beach into their dwelling. The Kromers own Strollin’ the Seashore, a Vermillion company that characteristics their handmade useful and ornamental art created from Lake Erie […]