Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943) has created a unique piece with her series of paintings titled Life? Or Theater?. On 1,325 sheets she documented her life and that of her family. Salomon called it a "Singespiel" or lyrical drama, a dramaturgical combination of painting and text intended to be set to music. Charlotte Salomon. Life? Or Theater?, the travelling exhibition put together by the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam and to be shown at the Galerie im Taxispalais, comprises a selection of some 280 gouaches with accompanying text panels.
Charlotte Salomon created her oevre within a period of two years, between 1940 and 1942, in exile in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France. She, a Jewess, had fled from Berlin, following her grandparents to this town. In 1943, shortly after she had married Alexander Nagler, an Austrian Jewish refugee, she was betrayed and arrested by the Germans. That same year she was killed in Auschwitz, and soon after her husband succumbed to the same fate.
Her oeuvre was hidden in France. Albert and Paula Salomon, her father and her stepmother, had survived the Shoah in the Netherlands and travelled to France in 1947. Ottilie Moore, the American, who had provided Charlotte and her grandparents refuge, handed them the works. In 1971 Paula and Albert Salomon donated the entire oeuvre to the Amsterdam Joods Historisch Museum.
Charlotte Salomon lets her story begin before her birth and tells about her life in Berlin where she grew up in a well-to-do family with strong interest in the arts. She describes her mother who committed suicide while she was still a child, and her father, a professor for medicine who later married the well-known singer Paula Lindberg. From 1935 to 1937 Charlotte Salomon studied art. She tells about the young girl's passions, which were overshadowed by the tragic events in her family. She also gives an account of the political events that influenced here life: The Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the increasing anti-Semitic repression - her father was detained for some time at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp - and finally her flight to her grandparents in Southern France.
Salomon gave Life? Or Theater? the subtitle "Tricolor Singespiel", because it contains both spoken dialogues as well as music and because the color mixes and shades are painted in only three colors - red, blue and yellow. Life? Or Theater? consists of a prelude, a main part and an afterword. In her narrative, Salomon makes use of filmic means such as flashback and montage, seriality, change of perspective and close up. Similar to a comic, she adds texts to the scenes either as text panels placed below the image or she integrates text in the image.
Life? Or Theater? is a fictionalized autobiography featuring more than twenty characters with invented names. "They are protagonists of a dramatized life in which reality and invention are deliberately merged. Charlotte Salomon has withdrawn to the role of the 'author'. An author who functions as a narrator, sometimes with detached descriptions, and often with ironic comments." (Astrid Schmetterling)
The selection of musical pieces can also be structurally compared with film. Salomon alternates between serious music such as songs and opera arias and popular music such as traditional songs and hits that accompany or complement a given scene.
Friday, March 16, 2007, 2 - 6 p.m.
Prof. Dr. Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, art historian, University of Applied Arts Vienna
Prof. Dr. Ernst van Alphen, literary scholar, University of Leiden
Pre- and Post-Holocaust Perspectives on Charlotte Salomon's Life? Or Theater? (English)
Dr. Annegret Friedrich, art historian, University of Gießen
Cinema, Comic, Caricature: On the modernity of Charlotte Salomon (German)
Hannes Sulzenbacher, curator, Jewish Museum Hohenems
Perspectives of Jewish Museums in the Present. On the Perception and Narration of Jewish History (German)
Drs. Edward van Voolen, curator, Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam
Departure for Exile: Charlotte Salomon. Introductory Remarks (German)
In collaboration with the Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam, Amsterdam.
Curator: Edward van Voolen
Charlotte Salomon. Leben? Oder Theater?
Prestel Verlag, Munich 2004, 432 pp., 835 color ill., € 29.90
Brigitte Reinhardt, Ulmer Museum, Ulm
Federal Foreign Office, Germany
Royal Netherlands Embassy, Vienna