Otto Freundlich (1878–1943) knew everyone and everything. Hardly another artist of the first half of the 20th century had engaged with such passion and intelligence with all the different movements of art. He was personally acquainted, and often friends, with nearly all the leading artists of all the movements of the avant garde – Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Orphism, Dadism, De Stijl, Bauhaus, the Cologne Progressives, and finally abstraction. There was no lack of mutual influence. And yet in his paintings and sculptures, his mosaics and stained glass, Freundlich followed a path entirely of his own making.
The exhibition Otto Freundlich – Cosmic Communism aims to span the entirety of Otto Freundlich's life and work and explore the development of his artistic and philosophical thought. It focusses attention on the work of an artist on whom the Nazis had declared war: they destroyed a significant portion of his work, and ultimately murdered him in a death camp. To this day, his best-known work remains the sculpture Large Head (1912). It appeared on the cover of the catalog to the Nazi exhibition Degenerate Art. The retrospective demonstrates that the Nazis falsified not just the title of the work (they gave it the title The New Man, by which it is still known today), but even the sculp-ture itself: on at least one stop of the Degenerate Art exhibition tour, a crude copy was presented in place of the original.
As politically active and determined as Freundlich was, he was not drawn to the struggles of the day but rather to utopian conceptions. His oeuvre is guided by an all-encompassing universalism, which he called "cosmic communism". Freundlich's persecution in Germany led to the loss of the greater part of his significant early works. Fourteen works were confiscated just in the Degenerate Art action alone. The work that remained in France was preserved by some supporters after his death and finally housed at a foundation in the Pontoise Museum near Paris.
The exhibition – conceived by the Museum Ludwig in Cologne and now shown at the Kunstmuseum Basel – gathers some 50 works, including 20 paintings, five sculptures, 25 works on paper, and two applied works as well as photos of lost work. This retrospective of Freundlich's work will shed light on the artist's development from 1909 until 1940 with fascinating new scholarly insights.