Michael Schmidt, Untitled, from U-NI-TY, 1989-94
Private view: Friday 8 December 2023, 6-9 p.m.
Eleni Koroneou Gallery is pleased to present a tribute to the German artist Michael Schmidt (1945–2014), one of Germany’s most important post-war photographers.
The current exhibition at the gallery brings together selected series of works, among them, the original book prints of the historical photographic work U-NI-TY (EIN-HEIT). The photographic series U-NI-TY reflects six decades of German separation and consists of 163 black and white photographs, in a combination of both Schmidt’s own photographs and found documents and archival material, which he re-photographed, and sometimes enlarged. It shows portraits (from notorious politicians, and everyday people), mass demonstrations, land- and city- scapes, historical photo-reproductions, interiors (drawn 50's curtains, shots of empty desks, walls with some fittings or neon lights, doors of which images have been ripped off, sections of inscriptions etc.) and monuments. The earliest photographs originate from the Nazi period and the latest of the beginning of the 1990s. The images when placed together enter a dialog about history and the possibilities of photography as an art form.
History, politics and 20th century's ideas exist in Schmidt's work not in ideological contexts but as traces exposed to the light of camera. U-NI-TY, in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall and to the subsequent reunification of East and West Germany, explores the difficulty of historical memory in contemporary Germany. The intention of this work was to give history a place in the present and hopefully in the future and avoid being defined as a model of the past. In his plain black and white landscapes and his understated portraits, Schmidt attempted a breakdown from the subjective photography and the ideologies that shaped Germany's difficult history of the 20th century.
Michael Schmidt was born in Berlin in 1945. His family moved to the West part of the city before the Wall and the country's division. Michael Schmidt never studied photography or fine arts. On the contrary, he followed his family's wish and was trained as policeman in Berlin. Since the early 60's Michael Schmidt began to train himself in photography and in 1976, he opened the Werkstatt für Fotografie at VHS-Belrin-Kreuzberg, which became a major forum for international discussions on photography.
Michael Schmidt died in 2014 and major retrospectives of his oeuvre took place at Albertina Museum, Wien (2022), Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2021) and Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2020). His work has been exhibited in many museums and art centres, including the MOMA, the Ludwig Museum of Cologne, Tate Modern and the Pinakothek der Moderne of Munich. In 2006 the series U-NI-TY was part of the 4th Berlin Biennale ‘’Mice and Men’’.