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Paradise – Treasures from the Sternweiler Collection

2. June 2006 – 18. September 2006

Throughout the ages human beings have conjured up all manners of unique, ideal worlds where they feel they originated and to where they long to return. These dream worlds were assigned names such as Paradise, Elysium, Mount Olympus, Heaven or the lost Arcadia. It was a process whereby blissful happiness, human feelings and yearnings were transported to another plane and for the most part to a remote past.

The form this paradise would take was influenced by two opposing conceptions: by the wide variety of mythical creations in Antiquity and by the Judao-Christian depiction of the Garden of Eden. The lost paradise of Adam and Eve predicated the Christian concept of a world divided into Good and Evil, into Heaven and Hell. Since its downfall Antiquity had provided the perfect screen for the projection of the most differing views, ideas and desires. The crucial difference lay in the attitude taken towards sexuality, hetero – as well as homosexuality. In Christianity it was demonized and given as the reason for the banishment from Paradise. In Antiquity it had a positive place in the world of the gods, in its myths and mysteries, in its philosophy and in life itself.

In the Middle Ages the rediscovery of the classical texts and artworks – and even more so during the Renaissance – would lead to the adoption of depictions of life similar to the way it was viewed in Antiquity. This allowed for an increasingly freer attitude towards homosexuality. At the same time contemporary locations associated with love and uninhibited behavior such as bath houses and bathing areas – even prostitution in the cities – could be stylized into places of classical freedom. Consequently in the 18th. century we have the French islands of love and their temples of love. Italy was heralded as a new paradise. All these flights into exile would also offer to homosexuals the chance to set out in search of their own Arcadia.

Visions of paradise were crucial emotional supports in being able to tolerate an unsatisfactory reality. They had a political dimension. Imagining positive, alternative worlds could become a weapon against suppression and persecution, manifestos of self assertion. Such images of self depiction could be used to overcome feelings of alienation and rejection.

The exhibition offers a tour through the centuries from 1500 to 1960. Artistic works from the Sternweiler Collection have been collected into ten categories. Parallel to the development of the Gay Museum over the past 20 years the Sternweiler Collection has been built up by the art historian Dr. Andreas Sternweiler and his parents Anneliese and Dieter B. Sternweiler. The collection consists of items that surfaced in sales of antiquarian books, art and at various auctions and which were purchased as safeguards by the Sternweiler family because budget restrictions prevented their acquisition by the Schwules Museum. These items would otherwise have been scattered to the four winds. The collector, who for health reasons has to modify his living arrangements, would now like to pass the collection on to the safe haven for which it has been intended. With the support of the Culture Foundation of the German States and other sponsors the Schwules Museum is endeavoring to acquire the Sternweiler Collection.

Curator: Andreas Sternweiler