Jürgen Wittdorf (1932 – 2018)
The painter, designer, and ceramicist Jürgen Wittdorf died on December 2nd just last year. The Schwules Museum feels deeply connected with Wittdorf. Born in Karlsruhe Wittdorf began a study program in 1952 at the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst in Leipzig. Afterwards he taught as a freelance artist at the Volkshochschule and Karl Marx Universität. In 1970 he came to Berlin as a master student of Lea Grundig at the Academy of Arts. After the fall of the wall, he lost his position at the Haus des Lehrers in 1991. He then had to live from social assistance, like so many had to do after life in the GDR. A ceramic wall at Sportforum Hohenschönhausen was the victim of the vandalism of the post-revolutionary years. At the Schwules Museum in 2004, the first exhibition about Wittdorf’s work took place. Further exhibitions will surely follow.
Wittdorf’s periodicals For the Young (1960/61) and Youth and Sport (1963/64), of which some works are in the archive of the Schwules Museum, were created in Leipzig in the sixties. Wittdorf became known in the GDR for his depictions of the youth and his work was not uncontroversial at first, but soon Wittdorf broke free from conventions and presented the young beyond a mythical exaggeration in their desire for change – for a life beyond the German post-war profiteering. He hit a nerve in GDR society. Andreas Sternweiler writes about this in 2004 in an exhibition brochure for the Schwules Museum:
“Ultimately, it is about the connection to liberties and life models of the Weimar period, which had just been lived and propagated by socialists and communists at the time .. Such a free lifestyle included, among other things, a free sex education, a liberation of the body within nude and free body culture groups, the Kameradschaftsehe and modern forms of education. […] The overcoming of an obsolete prudery, new models of life and especially an emancipatory equal treatment of women in the 60s, inspired by the needs of the new generation, should prevail more easily in East German society than in the FRG.”
A sign of these changes can be considered that the FDJ awarded Wittdorf their art prize in 1963 and a graphic book was printed in an edition of 10,000 copies. The first exhibition on Wittdorf in the Schwules Museum had the title – like Sternweilers above cited brochure – “Men Only Touch Each Other in Battle”. In 2012 the Schwules Museum dedicated a second exhibition to Jürgen Wittdorf for his 80th birthday, which showed him as a “chronicler of everyday life in the GDR.” He was also represented in the old permanent exhibition on Mehringdamm. It will certainly not be the last time that Wittdorf’s work is on display in the Schwules Museum.