How a group of Basel artists met the spirit of the times in 1918.
Exactly one hundred years ago, a group of artists long forgotten today emerged in Basel. Who was behind “The New Life”?
It’s spring 1918, and Fritz Baumann wants to step on the gas. An absurd undertaking if you look at the circumstances: The World War spreads its last horrors in Europe, the Spanish flu kills tens of thousands and is about to break out in Switzerland as well.
The people are dissatisfied, poverty prevails and demonstrations keep coming up. In this atmosphere, it seems downright absurd to expect full force in advance. Baumann does not allow himself to be infected by the rampant discontent.
The Basel artist knows that art thrives in hard times. In times of social upheaval, it can be a driving force, it has to question established structures. This can be seen quite clearly in Zurich, where Hugo Ball and the Dadaists have been doing their anarchic mischief for two years now. In Basel, on the other hand, nothing of the sort is happening yet.
There is no such thing as a courageous consciousness.
Although many artists travel in other Swiss artist groups, there is no association of Basel artists. And there is no courageous awareness of what art should actually be. “Shouldn’t we once again remember that museums and exhibitions are merely poor emergency shelters for art that can no longer find its rightful place in life itself,” Baumann writes in his manifesto as a reaction to this. “It is now a tragicomedy to see how art longs for life and life longs for art.
Baumann purposefully calls his writing “The new life. For the new movement in art.” An eight-page plea for an art that consists not only of dusty oil paintings: Baumann also regarded jewellery, embroidery and ceramics as artistically valuable.
But a manifesto does not make a group. In April Baumann and his artist colleagues Otto Morach, Niklaus Stoecklin and Alexander Zschokke founded the association “Das neue Leben”.
Only a few days before the general strike the works are shown.
In the same month they submit an application to the Basler Kunstverein: The four artists want to organize an exhibition in the Kunsthalle that is oriented to the demands of the manifesto. In other words: fewer landscapes, more handicrafts.
The application is granted, the artists get friends on board: Hans Arp and his future wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Alice Bailly, Francis Picabia.
In the end, they collected 250 works by 22 artists, which they showed in the Kunsthalle on November 7, 1918 – just a few days before the general strike. Embroidery hangs next to painting, jewellery next to sculptures.
Baumann had kept his word
Upheaval gestures that are disturbing, but appeal. The “National-Zeitung” writes: “It is a beautiful coincidence that becomes of the revolutionary movement in art in the same time of the public hour in which political life is also undergoing fundamental transformations.
Deregulated, this means that Basel is about to experience a new life, and this group of artists is both its expression and its driving force. Even though the association was dissolved almost two years later, “Das neue Leben” was characteristic of that turbulent period in Basel. Bringing art into life and bringing life into art – Baumann had kept his word.
Autumn Market: The Hidden Artists Show Themselves
120 hobby artists show their works at the autumn market in the Heiligen-Geist-Hospital until Sunday – whether wool socks, Advent wreaths or watercolours.
In summer, Gabi Scheffler (68) was too hot in her living rooms to make Santa Clauses and gnomes, to wind fir greenery and to make Christmas decorations out of acorns, fir cones, twigs, anything she could get her hands on. “I did it in the basement, where it was cool,” she says. Because the work had to be done when Gabi Scheffler wanted to have something to offer at the autumn market of hobby artists in the Heiligen Geist Hospital, which lasts until Sunday.
120 exhibitors, mainly female exhibitors, offer their products there in the hall and in the cabins. They are pensioners and severely disabled people from Lübeck, and everything sold here is homemade. Like the “chatterbox dolls” by Marion Kimm (50). This is her name for the crocheted ventriloquist dolls she sells at her stand. How much working time is in it? She waves: “I don’t want to know.”
If you want to make a profit, you’re in the wrong place. The point is to present what many people produce in secret – modestly and persistently. For example, the Fröbel stars that Jutta Hagen (66) folds year in, year out from thin plastic or paper. There are thousands, each an example of perfect handiwork. “I always do that by the way,” she says, “then the hands are always busy.” The smallest, the size of a fingernail, she sells for one euro per seven pieces.
The autumn market is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is free.
Artists explore the “spirit of the place.”
CLOPPENBURG The artists Gabi Keil (Dresden) and Sibylle Prange (Berlin) have many points of contact not only in their biographies. The relationships between the artistic positions are also close, said Kunstkreis Chairman Dr. Martin Feltes on Sunday in the Kunsthalle in front of 80 visitors.
What the works in the exhibition have in common can be summed up as “Genius loci”. “The spirit of the place”, so the translation, means the special, invisible atmosphere, aura and energy of an architectural or scenic place. “The works of Gabi Keil and Sibylle Prange breathe such an atmosphere of the mysterious, the enigmatic and the invisible, although both artists depict scenic or architectural motifs with a high degree of probability,” says Feltes.
In their career, Gabi Keil and Sibylle Prange were influenced by Professor Max Uhlig. The 42-year-old Keil now works in Dresden and the 43-year-old Prange in Berlin. The leitmotif in Keil’s works is cities and their places. According to Feltes, she contrasts the distant view of the city panoramas with the accentuated close-up view of floral architectural elements.
In Prange’s work, it is primarily beach and shore situations in which relics of human civilization are depicted in the foreground: Beach goods, rotten jetties or fragile observation towers.
The exhibition, organised by Kunstkreis Cloppenburg and sponsored by Kulturform Cloppenburg, can be seen in the Kunsthalle until 5 August.