Emil Schumacher — Retrospective

EXHIBITION 08.05 – 12.07.98

The paintings of Emil Schumacher (1912–1999) are considered a high point in German postwar art. A new, young, and international concept of art in the 1950s and 1960s rejected naturalism in favor of abstraction with a focus on color, materials, and gesture. A retrospective of Schumacher's life work shows that it has lost none of its power and freshness to this day. 

Schumacher was born in 1912 in Hagen, Germany. He began his independent artistic career in the 1930s, but the Second World War interrupted his creative process and forced him to make a new start in 1945. His early representational work, "Küchenherd" [Kitchen Stove, 1950], already shows his interest in the free interplay of painted areas of color with black line structures. His first entirely nonrepresentational painting, "Räumliche Trennung" [Spatial Separation, 1955], features the brilliant ultramarine blue so typical of Schumacher, whose aura of mystery gave him the reputation of being the romantic among the German Art Informel artists. His encounter with the French Tachists, with the gestural works of Fautrier, Wols, and Dubuffet, led the German artist to experiment with consistency and texture of colors, resulting, in the late 1950s, in material paintings like "Hephatos" (1959). The earlier linear elements gave way to fissures in the painted surface that allowed a look to the deeper layers of color below. Schumacher's focus was on the actual painting process, the layering of color and the corollary opening of temporal and spatial dimensions. At the same time – remembering his wartime experiences – he was concerned with the topic of maltreated landscapes and physical wounds, which he expressed with heavy-handed paint application and fragmented, ripped open surfaces. 

The two paintings that Schumacher created for the Documenta III in Kassel in 1964 represent a break in the artist's oeuvre. With his choice of monumental dimensions, he broke from the Informels and sought existential confirmation of reality in painting. Untroubled by the opposing trends of Minimalism and Conceptual Art, Schumacher saw painting in the 1970s an "engagement" and bodily expression of his concern with the question of freedom and threats to it. The introduction of the arched motif in "B-30" (1971) as a holding gesture draws the eye back to the painting's center and responds to the tendency toward limitlessness of Abstract Expressionism by again emphasizing the human scale. In the 1980s, filled with a new desire for experimentation and an openness that went beyond all artistic ideologies, Schumacher developed new expressive qualities and in his final creative years even returned to representational art borrowing from archaic motifs in the process ("Ukhaidir", 1997). 

Emil Schumacher, Edina IV, 1983, private collection
Emil Schumacher, Edina IV, 1983, private collection
Emil Schumacher, Pentecost, 1979, Municipal Savings Bank Essen
Emil Schumacher, Pentecost, 1979, Municipal Savings Bank Essen
Emil Schumacher, Documenta III, 1964, Westphalian State Museum for Art and Cultural History Münster © Ralf Cohen
Emil Schumacher, Documenta III, 1964, Westphalian State Museum for Art and Cultural History Münster © Ralf Cohen
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi
Emil Schumacher – Retrospective, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 1998, photo Wilfried Petzi

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