Ruth Baumgarte. Africa: Visions of Light and Color

With the German painter Ruth Baumgarte, ALBERTINA Vienna presents an outstanding female artist of the 20th century. The focus of the show in the Pfeilerhalle is Baumgarte's comprehensive body of work, which is based on the artist's travels to African countries such as Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. The more than 40 oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings unfold an almost magical quality when viewed. The contemporary reassessment takes place on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the artist, who had a lifelong feminist orientation.

From the 1950s until her old age, the artist traveled to Africa more than forty times, where she observed the people attentively and empathized with them. She was interested in the foreign cultures of a continent that at that time was still undiscovered by European artists. Central to the understanding of Ruth Baumgartes art is the relationship between man and nature, the fusion of figure and landscape.

Throughout her life as an artist, Ruth Baumgarte made it her task to explore her own perception and questioned the colonial gaze for the appropriation of the other. She always approached an unknown culture sensitively in order to understand it intuitively. Not only cognitively rational, but with the means of art: brush and paint became her allies in the exploration of other ways of life and precarious living conditions. The humanist-influenced oeuvre is characterized by great artistic empathy.

Curators interview with Angela Stief: "Harter Alltag, leuchtende Farben: African Vision by Ruth Baumgarte in Vienna", Deutschlandfunk, 06 December 2022

Voices about the exhibition

Angela Stief, Chief Curator of Contemporary Art at the ALBERTINA and Director of the ALBERTINA modern in an interview by Thomas Mießgang in the exhibition catalog:

"Ruth Baumgarte's permanent (self-)reflection, her ongoing engagement with an understanding of the world and herself, her uncompromising art-making were not only extraordinary, but in many ways made her a pioneer of the emancipatory movement, of self-empowerment, and of women's liberation in the 20th century."

"Personally, I find it rather remarkable that she developed this great interest in this continent in a completely autochthonous way - and at a time when nobody was interested in Africa except for a few left-wing political activists. But she didn't exoticize and romanticize the motifs and themes; on the contrary, she dealt intensively with discrimination, with apartheid, with the social injustices, the tensions - but completely without judgment within her images."

Nina Schedlmayer, feminist art critic and publicist, in the exhibition catalog:

"Baumgartes Africa works are not offensively political-social critical. But above all behind the drawings and sketches is an attitude in which political realities very much play a role." Baumgarte counters the superficial tourist view of the glowing plains and mountain landscapes in intense colors so readily invoked in travel catalogs with a landscape that is a backdrop, but also an expression of threat and oppression."

Dr. Renée Gadsden, co-founder of the Institute for Language Arts at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, in the exhibition catalog:

"Dark-skinned people often view Ruth Baumgartes works with a pleasure that might be denied to a white audience. In a sense, one could call the painter a 'black woman honoris causa.'"

"She was able to perceive so many different facets of the lives of those women and men she encountered because they apparently felt respected and valued her company. For the "white gaze," on the other hand, which is accustomed to perceiving Africans only as the "oppressed," the abundance of subtle dramas and fleeting emotions that Baumgarte reveals in her images of Africa is often unrecognizable or difficult to discern. (...)

Although Ruth Baumgarte might not have dreamed it, her work may one day be appreciated for its intimate beauty and masterful psychological rendering of the "soul of black people" (W.E.B. Du Bois), primarily by people who resemble those depicted. Perhaps those who resemble the figures in her sketches and paintings will make up a significant portion of the viewers and connoisseurs of her works in the future. (...)

Baumgarte's "reward" for keeping her family together in Germany and giving it stability was apparently the spiritual freedom, the mental and emotional detachment she experienced on her African travels. Baumgarte is also a role model for us in this respect. To visit the places and people that make us happy without abandoning those who depend on us, and to use our talents, our life energy, to bring joy to ourselves and others - what more could life ask of us? Ruth Baumgarte fulfilled this until her death in 2013."

2022 | Ruth Baumgartes Africa Cycle at the Albertina in Vienna

ARD ttt - titel, thesen, temperamente, 18.12.2022