Ruth Baumgarte and the German Wirtschaftswunder. A Rush of Colour at the Boiler

Ruth Baumgarte is one of the few women in art history who artistically confronted topics such as technology and factory work. The artist, who grew up in Berlin, came into close contact with the steel industry at the beginning of the 1950s due to her second husband Hans Baumgarte, a Bielefeld-born manufacturer and then-owner of a prospering company specialised in boiler and apparatus construction. From then onwards, she created portraits of people working in industrial production and produced her works on-site at the warehouses.

Fascinated by the people working at the factory and the factory’s massive dimensions, from 1952 until 1969, she created a work cycle including approximately 70 art works, especially watercolours and mixed media. The Arbeitswelten (working worlds) depict the workers’ immense performances, illustrating their significant involvement in the reconstruction of the country’s war-destroyed industry, as well as the rapidly increasing quality of life as a direct result of the growing economy. Ruth Baumgarte created a sensitive and graceful artistic monument for the workers and documented the reconstruction of the heavy industry as part of the West German economic miracle.

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In contrast to simultaneous tendencies in the art world, which increasingly turned towards abstraction after the traumatising events of World War II, Ruth Baumgarte produced primarily representational art works. In this sense, the artist found a personal and unique way of bringing together and harmonically connecting representational and abstract, colourfully vibrant image layers in her dynamic, expressive art works. The exhibition incorporated Ruth Baumgarte’s series of works, focussed on industry and workers images, in its historical context, which is the material and political reconstruction of the Federal Republic of Germany. Her works were vividly complemented and scientifically supported by historical facts and figures.

The show includes approximately 60 of the artist’s individual works – watercolours, drawings, and paintings – from the 1940s until the 1970s, centred around themes of factory work and industry. The majority of works were created between 1951 and 1969.

The exhibition at the Hoesch-Museum was designed by the Cologne and Darmstadt-based architectural office KatzKaiser. It was curated by the economic historian Prof. Hanno Sowade (Haus der Geschichte, Bonn) and the Weimar art historian Dr. Sandra Mühlenberend. Accompanying the exhibition, a 168-pages publication was published by Wienand Verlag Köln.


At the exhibition opening on 11th March 2018, 11:00 am, the well-known actress Hannelore Hoger read selected texts on industrial labour by Martin Walser and Egon Erwin Kisch.

Hannelore Hoger received multiple awards for her work as stage and film actress, including the Adolf-Grimme-Preis, among others. She became well known to a wider audience due to her role as inspector Bella Block. The artist Ruth Baumgarte and Hannelore Hoger knew each other personally.

After a greeting by Jörg Stüdemann, head of the cultural department of the city of Dortmund, the curator Prof. Hanno Sowade as well as Prof. Beate Reifenscheid, director of the Ludwig Museum in Koblenz and Ruth Baumgarte connoisseur, and the artist's son Alexander Baumgarte gave a scholarly introduction to the exhibition.