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Culture

German Painter Shows off his African Fetish

Although German artist Georg Baselitz is best known for his paintings, his extensive collection of African art is worth a show of its own.

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Georg Baselitz' collection of African art is on show this summer

Like most artists, Georg Baselitz is best known for his own art, not the art he collects. But for over 30 years the 65-year-old painter, who is renowned for his colorful and energetic works, has been collecting African fetish objects. Now his collection -- which fills his house near Hildesheim in north-central Germany -- is on show for the first time.

"Baselitz: The African Collection" which opened this month at Düsseldorf’s K20 am Grabbeplatz gallery features more than 130 objects collected by Baselitz over the past 30 years.

The collection, which ranges from nail and mirror fetishes from the lower Congo region to soothsayer bowels, rag dolls and ancestral wood carved figures from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was gathered at leisure and with no specific agenda by Baselitz (photo), who says he only collected pieces which interested him.

Georg Baselitz

Georg Baselitz

Not sinister

"Bateke is a large tribe in the Republic of Congo. They have an ancient culture and make their fetish figures themselves. I started my collection with them and I’m still going with them," Baselitz told Deutsche Welle.

The artist says he finds the figures – made or carved as part of ancient social rituals in Africa – interesting because of the many people who work on each individual figure.

"One person carves it, then there are the medicine men or priests who turn the sculpture into a fetish figure. All the people who work on it leave their mark and that makes it even mysterious," he told Deutsche Welle.

Afrika Sammlung von Georg Baselitz in Düsseldorf

"Seated Figure," wood and iron, from Republic of Benin in west Africa

Much of Baselitz’ collection hails from east and central Africa and includes fetish figures punctured with rusty nails intended to ward off evil, rag dolls representing the deceased, and larger statutes filled with animal jaw bones. But the artist denies that they are sinister.

"How is this sinister?", Baselitz asks, pointing out some of his collection. "That is a prisoner – he has a noose around his neck. That is a pair of lovers, almost abstract. These three, I don’t know about -- apparently a family or a man with two women. That’s a phallus, and that’s a thinker," Baselitz continues.

Baselitz, who is regarded as something of a pioneer collector of African art in Germany, says he doesn’t sense any deeper meaning in the statures and figures.

"In terms of having some kind of magic or fetish meaning, absolutely not. I can’t fathom it. For me, they are simply sculptures," says Baselitz.

The exhibition which also includes evening talks by experts on African art runs until August 24, 2003.

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