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Anna Rühl

Fritz Winter — From Bauhaus to documenta

In 1955, the year of the first documenta, Fritz Winter was appointed professor of painting at the Werkakademie Kassel and thus became a colleague of Arnold Bode. They worked closely together not only there, but also on the first three documenta exhibitions.

As a former Bauhaus student, Winter stood for a direct connection between Kassel and the Bauhaus. He was not only present at documenta with spectacularly staged, larger work complexes, but was also integrated into their organizational structure.

In 1955, the year of the first documenta, Fritz Winter was appointed professor of painting at the Werkakademie Kassel. Arnold Bode, cofounder of the academy after the war, later recalled

»
that we were all delighted that Fritz Winter came to Kassel for a newly created position [...]. 
«
Source

Arnold Bode, »Interview mit Karl Oskar Blase und Volker Rattemeyer,« in Kritische Festschrift zur 200-Jahrfeier der Kasseler Kunsthochschule, Gesamthochschule Kassel 1977, pp. 13—15, reprinted in Heiner Georgsdorf (Ed.), Arnold Bode. Writings and Conversations, Berlin 2007, pp. 284-292, here p. 288

In the following years, the two worked closely together, both as colleagues and friends and in relation to the first three documenta exhibitions, at which Winter was present with larger work complexes and in whose organizational structure he was increasingly integrated.


At the time of his appointment, Winter already enjoyed an excellent reputation as an abstract painter. From 1927 to 1930 he had studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau with such teachers as Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and above all Paul Klee. Defamed as degenerate by the National Socialists, he quickly came into contact with the development of Western art after the war. He was held in high esteem by renowned art historians including Ludwig Grote, Will Grohmann, and not least Werner Haftmann due to the fact that he was one of the few important painters who had emerged directly from Bauhaus doctrine.


Winter’s appearance at the first documenta was spectacularly staged. In addition to six smaller oil paintings, his six-meter wide painting »Composition of Blue and Yellow« dominated the large painting hall of the Fridericianum). The large-format work was positioned opposite Picasso’s »Girl Before a Mirror« from the Museum of Modern Art New York, thus confidently postulating the claim to validity of West German postwar abstraction2/9.

Fritz Winter: «Komposition 56» (1956)
© documenta archiv / Photo: Günther Becker / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

In preparation for documenta 2, Winter became a member of the exhibition advisory board and the hanging commission and, alongside the city of Kassel, acted as the sole private partner in the newly founded documenta GmbH. In 1959, he was represented in three sections and presented seven paintings, nine serigraphs), as well as the large-format tapestry »Wirkteppich (alternative title: Composition 56)« in the rotunda of the Fridericianum4/9.

For documenta 3 in 1964, Winter had become a member of the newly founded documenta Council. He staged a cabinet consisting of eight paintings with dark grounds from 1933 that had never been shown before — a

»
shocking documentation of hidden art
«
Source

Heinz Ohff, »A Minotaur Around Every Corner,«
in Der Tagesspiegel, June 30, 1964

Winter left the documenta Council in 1967, the last practicing artist to do so. At the first three documenta exhibitions, he was represented with a total of 32 works and showed he could work in diverse media, including painting, silk-screen printing, and knitting, which distinguished him as a Bauhaus student.

Arnold Bode with German President Heinrich Lübke (1st from left) and entourage in front of the cabinet of Fritz Winter at documenta 3, 1964. On the left the painting "Linear Composition" (1933).
© documenta archiv / Photographer unknown / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Arnold Bode with German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard (3rd from left) and entourage in front of the cabinet of Fritz Winter at documenta 3, 1964. On the left the paintings "Composition" (1933) and "Linear Composition" (1933).
© documenta archiv / Photographer unknown / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

The cabinet of Fritz Winter at documenta 3, 1964, with the paintings (from left to right) "Ineinander" (1933), "Construction IV" (1933) and "Composition" (1933).
© documenta archiv / Photographer unknown / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

View into the cabinet of Fritz Winter (left) at documenta 3, 1964, with the painting "Linear Composition" (1933), front right a painting by Robert Motherwell.
© documenta archiv / Photo: Horst Munzig / Dedalus Foundation Inc. / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019


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