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GENET: Homage on the occasion of his 100 birthday

6. December 2010 – 12. March 2011

On 19th December Jean Genet would have been 100 years old. Schwules Museum honours the ingenious, scandal-embroiled author with a great biographic exhibition. At the same time the homage is the prelude for the festivities on the occasion of the 25th birthday of Schwules Museum, which has now dedicated itself to the investigation of gay and increasingly lesbian-queer history(s) for already a quarter of a century.

Jean Genet (*19th December 1910 – †15th April 1986) cultivates the evil. The pederast, as Sartre kept calling him in order to stress the scandal of homosexuality in his disparaging form, seems to appear oddly curious as a term today. Genet’s autobiographic novels deal with theft, murder, betrayal and homosexuality. Cocteau was shocked and enthusiastic, however he didn’t think they were publishable. At the beginning, they circulated among enthusiasts. At the same time, they were proscribed and desired because of their pornographic directness. They are the basis for Genet’s myth. Genet, who was the unloved child, handed over into public care, the problem youngster, the thief and the hustler, who liberated himself from the predetermined cycle of offences and punishment by literature. His novel Querelle was the anticipated climax of possible gay literature. It was especially loved by the gays. For a long time, despite the literary qualities, Querelle served as an inspiration for masturbation – yet there was hardly anything else. The novel which was published by Rowohlt in 1955, was prohibited by the German Department of Public Prosecution. Only in 1960 did Andreas J. Meyer, the German publisher of Genet, enforce the release of Notre-Dame-des Fleurs.

Saint Genet, Sartre’s monumental introduction, published as volume one of Genet’s collected works at Gallimand in 1952, dominates the first room of our exhibition. 168 quotations describe Sartre’s attempt as a Marxist Psychoanalysis, which finally led to Genet’s end as a novel author. The last word for a long time, demanding respect, decried by gay authors, Sarte solidified the myth of Genet, also for Genet himself.

Set in contrast to that, there are excerpts from Querelle, supported by quotations of Genet, by artists, politicians, authors and members of the gay movement. Here we present the voluminous first editions. There are drawings of Cocteau applied on walls. Here you meet the myths of his inconsolable childhood and his criminal carrier. Small detours show Genet’s lovers and his friendship with Alberto Giacometti, completed with book illustrations of the Merlin publishing house. In the 1950s theatre works were created, which made Genet one of the most played authors on West German stages. His plays were considered scandalous. Often there were misunderstandings, if directors lent too much realism to poetic metaphors. Genet’s objections and refusals are legendary.

The central point of the second room of our homage are mainly the Berlin productions of Genet’s plays, in addition to his political engagement for the Black-Panther-Movement and his unfortunate mission for the RAF. An installation of the interview with the magazine Die Zeit by Hubert Fichte, with excerpts from Fichte’s diaries and photographs of Leonore Mau decorates the front side of the room. We present ten collages by Douglas James Johnson dealing with Genet’s disputed work Pompes Funèbres. Sartre praises Genet’s strange fascination for German fascism as successful proof of love for Genet’s friend and member of the resistance Jean Decarnin, the absolutely evil and at the same time banal, glorifying the Führer as gay, sexualising the German occupants: the German hereditary enemy humiliating the hated France and revenging the unloved solicitude pupil Genet.

The last part of the exhibition shows Fassbinder’s filmic realisation of Genet’s Querelle, created in 1982. We show both Werner Schroeter’s film script and Fassbinder’s version, in addition to posters, photographs, costumes and documents. The works of Anno Wilms deal with Genet’s rope dancer text. We show more theatre performances, photographs and films, realised during Jean Genet’s last period of life. A big wall is dedicated to his engagement for the Palestinians.

The exhibition could be only realised by the generous support of many private loaners from Berlin and Paris as well as the Merlin publishing house in Gifkendorf, the foundation Stadtmuseum and the German Cinematheque.

Curator: Wolfgang Theis