Image and Counter-Image
Revising the Collection

Novem­ber 2, 2019 – March 1, 2020

Ot­to Mueller’s Zwei Zige­unerin­nen*mit Katze (Two Gyp­sy** Girls with a Cat, 1926/27) is one of the best-known paint­ings in the col­lec­tion of the Mu­se­um Lud­wig. It takes a per­spec­tive that has been cus­to­mary in West­ern so­ci­eties for cen­turies: the view of Sin­ti and Ro­ma wo­m­en as the ul­ti­mate other, ex­ot­i­cal­ly femi­nine, an­i­mal­is­ti­cal­ly tan­tal­iz­ing, con­trast­ing with civ­i­l­iza­tion and as ig­no­rant of its achieve­ments as of its con­s­traints. This per­spec­tive—and that of mod­ern-day view­ers of the paint­ing—has been able to re­tain a cer­tain in­no­cence in part be­cause Mueller’s art was banned by the Nazis and the Ger­man geno­cide of the Sin­ti and Ro­ma peo­ple made Mueller’s well-mean­ing ex­oti­ciza­tion seem com­par­a­tive­ly harm­less.

With a new pre­sen­ta­tion in the per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion, the Mu­se­um Lud­wig will now in­ter­vene in this view and re­lieve it of its sup­posed in­no­cence. From Novem­ber 2, 2019 to March 1, 2020, the doc­u­men­tary Att vara zi­genare (Be­ing Gyp­sy**, Swe­den, 1970, 47 min.) by Peter and Zsó­ka Nestler will be in­s­talled op­po­site to Mueller’s paint­ing. Like many of Peter Nestler’s films, this one deals with vi­su­al art, in­clud­ing works by Ot­to Pankok, a con­tem­po­rary of Ot­to Mueller, who cap­tured the hard life of the Sin­ti and Ro­ma in count­less char­coal draw­ings. The Nestlers take this as a start­ing point for their film. In long takes they fea­ture ac­counts by sur­vivors of the geno­cide and their fam­i­lies and trace their cur­rent mis­ery to the 600-year his­to­ry of per­se­cu­tion and so­cial iso­la­tion, which cul­mi­nat­ed in the ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps. The film is an equal­ly sober and ap­palling as­sess­ment of the si­t­u­a­tion of the Sin­ti and Ro­ma in post-Nazi Eu­rope.

The jux­ta­po­si­tion of paint­ing and film tests how our view of art can be ex­pand­ed to in­clude his­tor­i­cal, so­cial, and po­lit­i­cal as­pects with­out re­sort­ing ex­clu­sive­ly to art-his­tor­i­cal pat­terns of ex­pla­na­tion or bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails on the artist. The aim is to start with the de­pic­tion, the pic­tures, their ef­fect and use. The con­fron­ta­tion of im­age and coun­ter-im­age opens up a space in which ques­tions about rep­re­sen­ta­tion, ex­pe­ri­ence, the pow­er of def­i­ni­tion, and re­spon­si­bil­i­ty can arise.

About Peter Nestler

Peter Nestler, born in 1937 in Freiburg, is one of the most in­flu­en­tial doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ers of our time. His work is high­ly re­gard­ed in­ter­na­tio­n­al­ly (the di­rec­tor Jean-Marie Straub called Nestler the most im­por­tant film­mak­er in post-war Ger­many). It re­mains lit­tle known in Ger­many. This is due in part to the fact that Nestler emi­grat­ed to Swe­den in 1966: af­ter his film Von Griechen­land, which pre­saged the path to mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship two years be­fore it was estab­lished, he no longer re­ceived work from West Ger­man tele­vi­sion. He then went on to work for Swedish tele­vi­sion. Many of his films have been made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with his wife Zsó­ka.

 

** This ra­cist word has con­veyed neg­a­tive and ex­oti­ciz­ing stereo­types for cen­turies. It is in­ex­tri­ca­b­ly linked to the ex­clu­sion, ex­pul­sion, per­se­cu­tion, and mur­der of the Sin­ti and Ro­ma and per­pe­t­u­ates a dis­crim­i­na­to­ry view of peo­ple. Nev­er­the­less, we are leav­ing it in the ti­tle of the work. As a mu­se­um, we can­not change work­s—nei­ther ra­cist de­pic­tions nor ra­cist ti­tles. We can point to the so­cial vi­o­lence and op­pres­sion that art­works re­flect or them­selves in­flict and make this vis­i­ble in the ex­hi­bi­tion. Peter and Zsó­ka Nestler con­s­cious­ly used the term in 1970 to ex­pose the vi­o­lence that it en­tails. Their film be­gins with the words: “Those whom we call ‘gyp­sies’ call them­selves ‘Ro­ma,’ which means ‘peo­ple.’ Many of them feel afraid when they hear the word ‘gyp­sy.’ They fear it could all hap­pen again."