Fritz Cremer


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German sculptor, born in Arnsberg. During the Nazi era Cremer's work was sufficiently conservative in style to be acceptable to the system. However, he had strong Communist convictions and had been a party member between 1929 and 1934. A relief of 1936, Mourning Women, was privately dedicated to Käthe Kollwitz, officially rejected because of her political beliefs. The prize he won for this took him to London, where he was able to meet exiles such as Bertolt Brecht. Between 1946 and 1950 he was Professor of Sculpture in Vienna, but in 1950 he returned to East Germany to become the leading monumental sculptor, adept at using a moderately Expressionist manner to serve the propaganda requirements of the regime. His most celebrated work has also proved to be his most controversial, the figures for the memorial to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Although this was liberated by the Americans, a day before they arrived the inmates themselves had managed to escape under Communist leadership, providing, as Sergiusz Michalski points out, ‘a handy myth which featured in propaganda about ant-Fascist resistance’. The memorial is, therefore, not to the victims and their suffering, but to the liberation, and figures appear like workers at a rally rather than as people who have suffered the extremes of privation. Furthermore the monument was deliberately sited, at Brecht's suggestion, so that the group would face the lands to the south, then part of West Germany, supposedly to liberate them from the clutches of what the East German government claimed as the ‘neo-fascism’ of the Adenauer regime.

It was as a loyal Communist that in 1961 Cremer offered his support to ‘difficult young artists’. He gave them an exhibition which triggered a storm of indignation, and he had to resign the post of secretary to the Deutsche Akademie der Künste.

From A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Art.

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