Franz Marc grants TMCA an exclusive interview and reveals surprising insights in the secret of his lost masterpiece and his attitude to the art of the present.
Franz Marc, we haven’t heard from you since the First World War. Why do you get in touch just now, after having kept silent for such a long time?
Well, commemoration days, this is a bit tricky. Actually this is not the actual reason to get in touch, it was simply about time now to make some basic points clear. There is so much writing about Franz Marc and the Blauer Reiter and Expressionism. But partly this is absolute nonsense, I’m so sick of hearing about it.
Your works look back on a chequered history. At first art of the avant-garde, then ”degenerate art”, now classical modern art. Franz Marc as a mirror of the century, how do you deal with this role?
As an artist you live for the creative moment, for the break with outdated conventions. It may sound paradoxical, but in the very moment when you try to create the future, you don’t think of it. It just comes and takes you along, but only, if you are willing to, painting is arriving at a different place. The colleagues of the New Artists’ Association Munich weren’t willing to, therefore they have to live with the verdict of history. You don’t become Franz Marc by thinking of the future of painting, but by questioning yourself every day, how the inner need looks, to smear paint on a canvas in order to put chaos in order.
Many of your pictures had to survive chaotic times, after they had been stigmatized as degenerate by the National Socialists. What happened to your magnum opus, the Tower of Blue Horses? The masterpiece by Franz Marc is missing since the Second World War, it’s assumed to have been destroyed.
This is the official version, the name Franz Marc was a very popular target at the Reichskulturkammer. But true is that the Tower of Blue Horses had been secured after the degenerate art exhibition. A whistle-blower of the German Offiziersbund who was a good friend of mine from the time at Verdun has made it replaced by a copy at the interim storage Niederschoenhausen Castle, including the inventory number 14126 and the stamp of the Reichskammer of fine arts.
This means that Hermann Goering has paid 20.000 Reichsmark for a fake Franz Marc?
Well, is was all over town that Goering was rather greedy and let himself be blinded by great names. Later he fell flat on his face once again with the fake Vermeer by van Meegeren. He was all tinsel and glitter, running to fat. When he got wise to that he had fallen for a fake, he made the fake blue horses set up at his property of Carinhall as target for warm-up shooting for his hunting parties. Officially, it was just degenerate art, anyway.
Franz Marc, what happened then to your original picture?
The Tower of Blue Horses was taken off the stretcher and brought to Kochel am See at first, and from there across the green border to Switzerland. But not, as originally planned by the Reichskammer, to sell it off for foreign exchange, but to secure it with the widow of Hugo Ball, Emmy.
What was Hugo Ball actually like? Franz Marc, you a war volunteer and he a dadaist, could this go well?
We had some political differences, but with regard to artistic matters we mostly agreed upon. What he has established later on with the Cabaret Voltaire, Chapeau! Okay, my opinion on the political situation in Europe has changed a little bit in the years at the front. But then, when all this shit broke loose, simply everyone was on that trip! Some things you have to experience the hard way to be able to form an opinion of your own.
You made posterity belief that Franz Marc has fallen at Verdun, why did you go into hiding so shortly before your release?
There were a couple of things that didn’t go too well. I had reached a point, where I wanted to start all over again. The war, the parochial mindset at Benediktbeuern, the Blauer Reiter. The name Franz Marc became a burden for me more and more. The schoolmasterly manner of Kandinsky rather got on our nerves, in retrospect I felt like a guinea pig for his subsequent Bauhaus professorship. August got aware of this before me already and drew the consequences from it. And the way Kandinsky treated Gabriele (Gabriele Muenter, editor’s note) I found absolutely inacceptable. Time to start over.
How did you organize your disappearance?
I exchanged the dog tags will a fallen comrade, his bore the name Franz Marc afterwards. With the help of Jean Arp I struggled through Alsace and Hugo (Hugo Ball, editor’s note) got me a room at Spiegelgasse 14 in Zurich above the Restaurant zum Jakobsbrunnen. In the courtyard there was a sausage factory, during the day the stench was unbearable. My neighbour at the second floor was a writer who had escaped from the tsarist henchmen in Russia. As he wanted to stay incognito, he transmitted secret messages disguised as Dada poems. Sometimes he also attended the conspirative meetings at the Cabaret Voltaire, all the dadaistic antifascism movement in tow. They found his encrypted messages so cool that they elevated them to an art form of its own. I can remember one of them, it was called Karawane and it started with something like ”Jolifanto bambla o falli bambla”. Hugo included it in his programme immediately and published it. Later I’ve learned that it was actually intended to be a signal for the Bolsheviki to start the November revolution.
Franz Marc, let’s do a little side trip into your youth. Your schoolmate Albert Einstein, what was he like?
Luitpold High School, well, a great time except for the teachers. Well, Albert, what is being written about him, that he wasn’t the most clever one in maths and so on, this is really bullshit. He wasn’t into foreign languages, but maths and natural sciences he did blindfolded. His problem simply was that he was a pretty non-conformistic cool guy who didn’t do more than necessary for school. Always looking for a quarrel with the teachers. Well, he was a late bloomer with relatively infantile features. His nickname ”Dorky” accompanied him up to the final examinations, where he failed, as is generally known.
What was the triggering moment for you to become a painter?
The decision took shape shortly before the turn of the century. Before I had absorbed the books by Nietzsche, but instead of giving birth to dancing stars, I learned horseback riding at first. Since then I feel an affinity with horses and the urge to express this feeling in an artistic way. Already very early I felt man to be ugly; the animal looked more beautiful and pure to me. But even there I’ve discovered so much troublesome ugliness that my illustrations became instinctively, from an inner need, more and more schematic and abstract. My studies at the Academy of Arts in Munich were nothing less than a disaster, these mental midgets there didn’t have any clue of what artistic revolution was just taking place in Paris. After I had been able to experience it first hand during a study trip in 1903, it was clear to me that it was pointless to carry on at the Munich Academy of Art. In search of my own way I kind of struggled through life, until I got in contact with Kandinsky through the New Artists’ Association Munich. The rest is history.
Who do you see as legitimate heir of Franz Marc and the Blauer Reiter with regard to colors and expressivity?
Most likely I see the representatives of the American Color Field painting here, above all Mark Rothko. Our goal also was to combine the findings of Cubism with an expressive colorfulness. Therefore the Blauer Reiter always had a strongly constructivist tendency. That’s why I don’t see the representatives of Abstract Expressionism following the tradition of the Blauer Reiter, for them all was about the grand gesture, colors were just a minor point there. Rothko has further developed our artistic goals consequently by means of his reduced Color Fields.
And which influence did the programmatic blue of the Blauer Reiter have, that also characterizes many important works by Franz Marc?
In Nice I met Yves Klein, as he was in search of a particular blue. The ultramarine, he knew from the panel paintings of the Renaissance artists, he simply couldn’t make work with oil paint. Of course he couldn’t, as in the early Renaissance tempera, a lean binding medium, was used, which gives the blue of lapis lazuli its velvet-like brilliant purity. Glue-bound paint has a similar effect as well. That’s why I recommended to Yves to use a paint based on polyvinyl acetate, which he finally had patented as the famous Yves-Klein-Blue.
Franz Marc is regarded as an artist of expressive colorfulness, how did you feel about Yves Klein’s step towards concept art, which does without painting completely, like in the legendary exhibition Le Vide, when there was nothing else to see anymore than bare, white walls?
I’ve always seen this as an double-edged sword. Duchamp and Malevich had gone down the same route before him already. But finally it leads to a dead end. Marcel’s genius is not having invented the Ready-Made, but that he had realized very soon that is it pointless to pursue this theoretical construct. That’s why he played nothing else than chess afterwards. A white wall will remain a white wall, and an urinal an urinal, in this regard also Zen Buddhist philosophies about the void won’t help. Of course, it was an enormous achievement of knowledge to declare an everyday object a work of art, but, well, it works just once. Any repetition of this principle means boredom.
But Post War Modernism would be unthinkable without Marcel Duchamp and concept art.
Duchamp has clearly recognized that not every thought needs to be realized. It’s enough to draft an idea and to leave it as an unspoken construct of thinking. This is true concept art. Many concept artists who referred to Duchamp didn’t have his intellectual level. They preferred to create museum-like products for the art market.
Franz Marc, this is a bold hypothesis. Transferred to the situation in divided Germany of the sixties, from your point of view also the Fluxus movement would need to be revalued?
The whole Fluxus movement never would have got this attention without the post-war situation in Germany. Through the Third Reich period Germany was a blank spot of the avant-garde of the 20th century. In Paris all this had been played through already 40 years earlier. When the name Franz Marc was ostraziced in Berlin and my Tower of Blue Horses was taken down, André Breton had published his Second Manifesto of Surrealism long ago and Dadaism was history as well. With regard to concept art Germany had a great need to catch up with, and Fluxus could easily help itself from the pool of conceptional schools.
But hasn’t art been confronted with the task to involve society in a debate about the political past and coming to terms with it just at that time?
The missionary zeal, the old radicals of 1968 struggled with against the bourgeois views of their fathers, only demonstrates, how narrow-minded and petty-bourgeois they were themselves. One kind of extremism just got replaced by a new one. The tendency of the leftists, to throw themselves at self-proclaimed gurus, I always was suspicious of. And the art of self-chastisement without any sense of humour is a typically German trait that especially the leftist intellectuals have brought to perfection. Because the old leftists preferred to eat muesli instead of smoking Havana cigars, they never had the chance to rise to icons of pop culture and are forgotten today, deservedly so.
Franz Marc, would you agree that divided Germany nevertheless has played an important role in the development of international contemporary art?
After the war Germany had to start from scratch and to build up a completely new identity, as national pathos was forbidden since then. In doing so, Germany could get rid of some cultural burdens that other nations have to lug around up to the present day. The ”Grande Nation” had rested on the laurels of the avant-garde and was falling behind internationally. In Great Britain it hadn’t arrived yet. And New York owes its rise the exiled artists who had come from Europe.
And how do you explain, that especially artists from East Germany could play such an important role in the West German art market?
Artists who had been declared persona non grata in the GDR and had made it to the West had a political bonus right from the beginning. If someone regarded as dissident had got artistic talent or not, wasn’t important in the West. As long as he was good for serving as a tool in the class struggle, in order to demonstrate how intellectually limited the comrades at the other side were. To have a GDR period of life mentioned in the resume was the best that could happen to an artist in the West.
And how did the situation of contemporary art look in the GDR?
In the GDR the mendacity and cultural philistinism of the cadres was even more obvious than in the West. Not before the seventies they have incorporated the avant-garde of Expressionism into their crude Marxist world view, after they hadn’t accomplished anything else than workers’ and peasants’ art for decades. Supposedly we had opposed against the ”late bourgeois conditions”, without, however, having overcome our own ”bourgeois narrow-mindedness completely.” In addition we were said to indulge in decadence. I can live with this reproach, if Franz Marc was said to have been decadent, then at least properly! When the municipal gallery of Dresden attempted to repurchase a Heckel from the West, Schalck-Golodkowski offered the deal, to sell other museum-worthy works in turn for procuring foreign exchange. The end of the story: the KoKo has sold off the works of art offered by Dresden in the West, but the Heckel was off the market long ago. And Honecker brought his young comrade Wehner a carving from the Erzgebirge as present, which he had stolen from a museum. So much for decadence and bourgeois narrow-mindedness.
Such state carrying presents may go wrong quite a bit sometimes, if you remember the box of Havana cigars that Schroeder brought Clinton. But to get back to the Tower of Blue Horses and Franz Marc: when the Queen was presented a painting with a blue horse on by the Federal President during her visit to Germany last year, what did you think of it?
The Office of the President had published an open call on painting horses. Due to the portability a not too large-scale painting was asked for in any case. I’ve sent something to Berlin of course, but I failed in the preselection already. Maybe it was better that way, as the picture that had won the race the Queen wasn’t amused of. Probably she didn’t recognize her horse, as hers isn’t blue.
The Tower of Blue Horses hung in Berlin. How do you see the cultural role of Berlin since the reunification of Germany?
Berlin with its innumerable galleries and project spaces is playing again in the premier league of international cities of art, no question. However, the Berlin hype is over since a couple of years, which gallery would come up with the idea of opening a subsidiary in Berlin still today, there simply doesn’t exist any collectors culture as in Cologne. Berlin used to be a huge industrial wasteland that attracted artists, a land of unlimited possibilities, where the lack in resources could be made up for by creativity. This necessity to create something from nothing is on the one hand a blessing for the creative potential of the city, but on the other hand a curse as well. A curse for that very reason that one gets kind of stuck in the shabbiness that is so special about Berlin. A work of art that is presented in a shabby environment doesn’t need to stand its ground. It has an easy time of standing its ground in an improvised environment, and to make the viewer belief how cool this work is. So to speak, a fucked-up off-space is a reversed White Cube, which works in the same way in principle. In the White Cube there is nothing the work of art has to respond to. But to stand its ground in an environment that is designed with a high degree of sophistication, where other aesthetic objects struggle for the attention of the viewer, this is great art. In this case much-hyped art market art is unmasked quickly.
What’s your attitude to the gallery scene of today, compared with Thannhauser and Walden back then, who collected works by Franz Marc early on?
Back then the social and political circumstances were incomparably more difficult to run a gallery of modern art in a national conservative environment. No matter, if the exhibited artists were called Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky or Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Compared to then, I’m sick of hearing about the moaning and groaning in the gallery scene. Honestly speaking, there are simply too many galleries that cannibalize each other. And too many artists as well. Every human being an artist? For fifteen minutes maybe, in this regard Andy was damn right. But if everyone who is able to post a selfie considers himself as a social media artist, where should all this end up? And then, all the hip scene gallerists with their adolescence hype, who belief to have found a niche for their curators’ careers. Who is supposed to buy all that stuff and hang it above his couch? You don’t need to shed any tears over these guys, if they don’t make it. A colleague of mine has found a wonderful expression for this: self-administered justice by mispurchase. The Darwin Award for the gallerist with the most freaky programme, driving directly into bankruptcy would be worth a performance, wouldn’t it?
Franz Marc, you as an expressionist painter, how important is the participatory approach taken by many contemporary artists nowadays in your opinion?
This sort of interactive getting-involved-in-art is part of a superficial event culture. You may press colorful buttons, have fun on stylish adventure playgrounds for adults, and boost your ego in video projections. Art has to happen in your head, through inner reflection, but not through outer interaction. In doing so, the viewer doesn’t gain any new knowledge. The meaning of art is to recognize the essential. Every day I throw more to the pile of irrelevance, the nice thing about it is that the essential doesn’t get less or more narrow, but more powerful and magnificent indeed.
Is this just your point of view, Franz Marc, or is there a silent majority of art-minded people who are equally unsatisfied with contemporary art? Does art criticism actually still exist in a classical sense?
No. For years I’ve been waiting for a hefty slating of some biennial. Art, commerce and capital have become synonyms. Enforced conformity undermines art criticism. Who dares to speak up and bring up openly, how much high price crap is circulating in the art market, simply won’t be invited to the party anymore, or will get to feel the power of money. Unfortunately, I don’t see any Marcel Reich-Ranicky of the art world who could give the top fifty of the world art ranking and their network a piece of his mind.
Should contemporary art take more political responsibility or is it just an expression of today’s world to produce polished art for oligarchs?
Oligarchs’ art has always been existing. The Medici haven’t been different either, taking this into account, also the Birth of Venus by Botticelli is art for oligarchs. The list of examples could be extended endlessly up to the Bouguereaus of the 19th century. Oligarchs have always been playing an important role in art history, and, if you will, also Bernhard Koehler was an oligarch, without him Franz Marc, as you know him, never would have existed. The decisive question for an artist is, if he works from an inner need, or if he just produces oligarchs’ art exclusively for the art market. There are always the same unmistakable features: unpolitical, without depth and representative, that is large-sized and space filling. The little difference today is, that the oligarchs of the 21st century are characterized by a distinctive educational alienation, this applies especially to hedge funds managers by the way. They are satisfied with colorful balloons for their posh designer lofts, my collectors back then belonged to the educated class and they were gentlemen in contrast. And as regards political responsibility, of course there are politically committed artists, but to want to safe the world through art is something for social romantics from the day before yesterday. Art is and will remain a luxury good which ranks last within the human pyramid of needs.
Taking this into account also Franz Marc could be considered as a romantic, your preferred subjects were animals and not the cocottes in the streets of Berlin.
I know what you are alluding to. This Romanticism thing I’m okay with, Caspar David Friedrich as well has been painting just German oaks, thus committing to the national liberation movement. I think it’s a legitimate world view to see animals as the better human beings, especially because it’s not inspired by current affairs, but timelessly universal. It’s about time to be worried about earth: the diagnosis is mankind. And the cocottes I preferred to leave to the colleagues of the Bruecke. In Bavaria it was difficult anyway to study this kind of environment, we had beautiful mountain pastures instead.
Franz Marc, the Blauer Reiter was in contact with the artist community Bruecke as well. Of what kind of nature was this?
The guys of the Bruecke…..of course we swapped ideas on artistic projects. When we met the first time, some of them had moved to Berlin already, but at that time there already started to be tensions in the group. Berlin was a hot spot, a welcome change to the Bavarian tranquillity. I cooperated with Erich Heckel above all preparing the Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was a show-off and a control freak, I couldn’t bear to spend a single hour together with in the same room. When he was on turkey, he was especially unbearable. Heckel told me that he has predated his pictures in fact, to make a name for himself as trailblazer of the Bruecke. Later I’ve met Kirchner in Davos once again by chance, at that time he was still dreaming of a professorship in Germany. When I made the mistake to mention his pictures in connection with expressionism, he downright exploded. Later I’ve learned that he had got addicted to morphine again, that was the beginning of the end.
The magnum opus by Franz Marc is inextricably linked to the history of the Nationalgalerie Berlin. Will the Tower of Blue Horses return to Berlin?
Well, there is something planned, but I don’t want to give away too much yet. A friend of mine is working on a project that puts the Tower of Blue Horses into a broader contemporary context. He is specialized in preserving animals in formaldehyde. The current problem we still face, is to find an exhibition room which is high enough. We are presently conducting negotiations with the Foerderverein to use the Schlueterhof as exhibition room, when it’s finished.
To conclude the topic expressionism, does the expressionist painter Franz Marc stay true to himself, or should we be prepared for a new chapter of your work?
I have turned my back on the official art business. It doesn’t stand for the values anymore, the Blauer Reiter has struggled for. That’s why I have replaced oil paints by spray cans and am in the street art business now. But the topic of horses still captivates me. In the amusement park project I realized in England last year, I wanted to include a horse carousel by all means, with man in his deathly role for the destruction of nature playing the horse butcher. But as for the return of the Tower of Blue Horses, whenever you will see blue horses emblazoned on the façade of Bellevue Palace, be prepared for a doozy event. But before my buddies and myself have to find out, when the Queen will come to Berlin again, in order to avoid creating another scandal as last year surrounding the present.
Please allow us one last question. What state is art currently in?
That the will to form is our definition of art, is, I think, hardly needed to say. Art is never something else than the will to form. But something else is more important to say: art as will to form is there on rare occasions only; only when a new time comes to get formed, to become form.
Franz Marc, thank you for this interview.