Michael Werner Gallery is pleased to announce the first major exhibition in the United States of works by Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern, From Barefoot Prophet to Avant-Garde Artist. The exhibition includes over 30 works by the late German artist, many of which will be exhibited for the first time anywhere, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring a text by Dr. Pamela Kort.
Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern's path to artistic recognition was not an easy one. Born in 1892 in Kaukehmen, East Prussia, he was an insolent and unruly youth whose early years were marked by inexplicable illnesses and a general disinclination to work. Incorrectly diagnosed as schizophrenic, he vagabonded in Germany for several years, essentially dropping out of existence until reappearing in 1919 as Professor Dr. Eliot Gnass von Sonnenstern, a quack practitioner of palmistry and natural health remedies. "Gnass" hoodwinked a broad section of the public but, instead of pocketing his proceeds, he gave his money to the poor. The next several years found "Gnass" in recurring trouble with German authorities suspicious of his holistic practices. He regularly landed himself in jail, lunatic asylums and penal camps before escaping in 1944 to Berlin, where he survived by selling firewood scavenged from the city's post-war ruins.
In 1949, aged 57 and lacking any formal visual arts training, Schröder-Sonnenstern began to draw. An intense repertory of images rapidly poured forth from the artist's hand. Combining fragments from biblical, mythological, and literary sources, Schröder-Sonnenstern's roguish entities are at once farcical, demonical and highly erotic. His fantastical drawings are without iconographic precedent. Executed in colored pencil on paper and board, his otherworldly forms and scenes are often combined with texts penciled directly onto the surfaces of the drawings. The works attack bourgeois sensibilities at every level with a message that is both deeply dystopian and oddly euphoric.
By the late 1950s Schröder-Sonnenstern seemed destined for international stardom. Hans Bellmer was singing his praises to the Surrealists in Paris, proclaiming Schröder-Sonnenstern "the only genuine painter that I have encountered in Berlin". In America, Schröder-Sonnenstern was heralded as "A Prophet in Berlin" by Edouard Roditi in the popular Arts magazine in 1957. Jean Dubuffet enthusiastically courted the artist, eager to promote his work as Art Brut. In 1959 several works by Schröder-Sonnenstern were included in l'Exposition inteRnatiOnale du Surrealism, organized by Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp at Galerie Daniel Cordier, Paris. The following year Breton and Duchamp included Schröder-Sonnenstern in another international Surrealist exhibition, The Surrealist Intrusion in the Enchanters' Domain at the D'Arcy Galleries in New York City. Breton's Mostra Internazionale del Surrealismo, which he organized for Galleria Schwarz in Milan in 1961, introduced Schröder-Sonnenstern to Italian audiences. Schröder-Sonnenstern was the first German artist of the post-war period to be recognized internationally, opening the way for artists such as his near-contemporary, Joseph Beuys. Budding artists Georg Baselitz and Eugen Schönebeck saw Schröder-Sonnenstern as the living embodiment of the figures they admired most, chiefly Vincent Van Gogh and Antonin Artaud. The aspiring painters even approached Schröder-Sonnestern to contribute to their now legendary First Pandemonium Manifesto.
Yet for all his appeal to serious artists and intellectuals of the time, Schröder-Sonnenstern was virtually ignored by the gallery establishment in Berlin. Despite an increasing demand for his works among collectors and fellow artists, he was not granted a solo exhibition until 1961 at Galerie Brockstedt in Hamburg. Following the death in 1964 of his longtime companion, Martha Möller, Schröder-Sonnenstern's production deteriorated and by the end of that decade his reputation had waned. Schröder-Sonnenstern died in Berlin in 1982.
Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern: From Barefoot Prophet to Avant-Garde Artist is the first major exhibition in the United States devoted to Schröder-Sonnenstern's work. Dr. Pamela Kort's revelatory catalogue text charts the artist's troubled life and eventual rise to modest fame and provides an in-depth analysis of the works exhibited. The exhibition is on view from 16 March through 30 April. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM. For more information please contact the gallery.