Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt

Their GDR-Based International Network

von Anne Thurmann-Jajes


This essay explores the way Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt1 jointly developed an international network in the 1960s from a position of “total isolation.” By describing both their situation in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and their network, it is my intent to highlight the special relationships developed, in the scope of their network, with artists and biennials in Eastern Europe and with artists from Latin America. Rehfeldt and Wolf-Rehfeldt created a system-independent communication system for and with their art. To this end, they initiated a “graphic exchange” and produced different serial “art letters” (Kunstpostbriefe), which they also reworked based upon a collage principle for individual use.2

On the Creation of Their Network

Community and communication were the central aspects of Robert Rehfeldt’s artistic pursuits. Whenever feasible, he worked among a team of friends and took advantage of each and every opportunity for making new contacts. Once Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt likewise took up her artistic activity, the couple started collaborating through mail art letters and also exhibitions. They lived a vision of the “Community of Creative Art Workers,” – a slogan by Robert Rehfeldt – where each and every artist could freely exchange ideas without having to compete against one other in the commercial art market.

In the late 1950s, Robert Rehfeldt was already cultivating relationships with artist friends or colleagues, as well as with graphic designers with whom he was acquainted or found interesting. Tying into the tradition of sending New Year’s greetings, he sent small graphics in the mail – such as etchings or prints made using metal, embossing, or relief techniques – and received similar items in return. Even before mail art was spoken of as such, an exchange of graphic works took place. The idea of a “graphics exchange” was continually pursued by Robert Rehfeldt during his entire artistic oeuvre, becoming part of his activities within the context of mail art in the early 1970s.

Robert Rehfeldt was around 1970 the first artist in the GDR to concern himself with mail art; and among the mail artists, he was the one who had the most contacts internationally. He was in contact with all important mail artists and collectors. In the early 1970s, Rehfeldt began to receive Klaus Groh’s informational sheet “IAC-INFO” (International Artists’ Cooperation). Groh had published this sheet from 1972 to 1977, compiling contact information for mail artists from all over the world based on the mail art works he had received; Robert Rehfeldt was listed several times.

Together with his own works, Robert Rehfeldt later began dispatching the works of his wife out into the world as well. In 1974, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt started becoming involved in mail art, yet the majority of her works of mail art were created in the late 1970s and most especially during the 1980s. She predominately used English and was particularly interested in mail art projects related to the issues of environmental protection and human rights. And so it happened that Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt came to develop her own circle of mail art contacts.

For Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, mail art represented the gateway to the world, as it did for many other artists. Exchanging alternative art forms and art-related information by mail brought these artists into contact with their counterparts in Latin America, Eastern Europe, North America, Western Europe, and Asia. For the Rehfeldts, as for many other artists living under totalitarian regimes, mail art was a way to become liberated from state-imposed isolation and to establish international contacts. The Rehfeldts had more than fifty correspondence partners in the USA alone, followed by nearly as many correspondents in Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom respectively. Individual contacts also existed in Australia and Canada, and just one contact each in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Northern Ireland, and New Caledonia. Anna Banana from Canada was one of the first artists to have responded to Rehfeldt’s mail art efforts, sending her own works of art in return. Each time a new artist address was chanced upon, Rehfeldt and Wolf-Rehfeldt immediately initiated contact and sent graphic works. Countries in Eastern Europe and Latin America played a special role in this artistic exchange situation. The experience of living under comparable repression within the respective totalitarian regimes was similar for all of the artists.  

Rehfeldt’s studio was the interface and catalyst for East-West exchange that was unique to the GDR. In the 1960s, Rehfeldt was already establishing ties to all important artists in Poland. Many contacts cultivated by GDR artists to Poland or Hungary can be traced back to Robert Rehfeldt and Klaus Groh.3 The Rehfeldts were actively engaged in a lively art-related and personal exchange with, for example, György Galántai, Endre Tót, and Milan Knizak in Hungary, and Jiří Valoch in Czechoslovakia. Most of their Eastern European artist contacts were situated in Poland, like Pawel Petasz, Waclaw Ropiecki and Tomasz Schulz. However, many connections led to Yugoslavia with Andrei Tisma, Dobrica Kamparelic and Nenad Bogdamović, and only a few to the USSR. No relationships were ever established with artists from Romania or Bulgaria.

Starting in the late 1960s, the artist couple took a number of trips to Poland in order to seek international contacts and to take part either in the Biennial of Graphic Arts in Krakow or in the so-called pleinairs, excursions into nature by artist groups for collaborative working and socializing. Both experienced artists and amateurs traveled large distances to meet so that they could exchange ideas and work together artistically. At one of these pleinairs in Poland, Robert Rehfeldt for instance imprinted stamps on toilet paper during an action before spreading it over tree branches.

“For Rehfeldt as well as for many other artists from the former GDR, or from the CSSR or Hungary, the biennials played the role of an expanded public arena that was not accessible through mail art, one that could generate resonance through information by the press.”4 Yet in order to participate in the graphic arts biennials, the artists first had to submit an application to the Ministry of Culture, which in turn selected the participants and sent in all the works together at once – or which made decisions to prevent participation for certain artists.5 Though Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt did not personally participate in any of the biennials, she attended the openings when her husband’s works were on show. Rehfeldt participated in the Biennial of Graphic Arts in Ljubljana in 1965 and 1967, in the Biennial of Drawing in Rijeka in 1968, 1970, 1972, and 1978, as well as in the Biennial of Graphic Arts in Krakow in 1968, 1970, 1974, 1978, and 1980. At the 1978 Krakow event he was awarded the Medaille of the Biennial of Graphic Arts.

The international biennials in Eastern Europe were of great cultural-political importance. Due to the narrow political climate and also to limited transportation possibilities, the biennials often represented the only opportunities, apart from mail art, for these artists to participate in exhibitions abroad, to encounter artists from the West at the openings, to establish contacts, and to share information.

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Robert Rehfeldt enjoyed especially close relations in Latin America with Edgardo Antonio Vigo in Argentina and Paulo Bruscky in Brazil, as well as with Clemente Padín in Uruguay. However, they also exchanged art with many other fellow artists, such as with Graciela Gutierrez Marx in Argentina, Frank Leonard Duch in Brazil, Jorge Caraballo in Uruguay, Damaso Orgaz in Venezuela, and also with Guillermo Deisler, whom they had already known from Chile before he moved to Bulgaria and later to the GDR. They also had contacts in El Salvador and in Mexico.

In Brazil, Frank Leonard Duch came up against significant problems after having received a letter from Robert Rehfeldt, for inserted next to this letter was a small GDR flag printed on low-quality paper. Duch was required to pick up the envelope with the flag at the police station and to account for the situation.6 Since Rehfeldt had not integrated the flag into the envelope himself, someone else must have done so. In the end, it proved impossible to explain how the image came to be included in the envelope, nor was it clear whether or not it had been placed there by the Ministry of State Security, or so called "Stasi"operatives, while controlling the mail, for they were known to falsify not only envelopes with specially configured ink stamps and postage stamps from the world over, but also the letters themselves in order to specifically pit certain people against one another.7

Rehfeldt, like many others, campaigned for the release of Jorge Caraballo and Clemente Padín in Uruguay. During a 1977 performance in Paris, these artists had distributed leaflets and postcards in front of the Latin American pavilion at the 10th International Youth Biennial; the cards took issue with the inhumane and brutal repression carried out by Uruguay’s military regime. Upon their return, Caraballo and Padín were immediately arrested. The worldwide network of artists came together in solidarity and started numerous campaigns to help them, including Klaus Groh with his International Artist Cooperation and Robert Rehfeldt with a postcard that showed a self-portrait of Rembrandt behind bars with the caption “Freedom for Artist’s [sic]” next to the names of both detained artists. “In the GDR, Robert Rehfeldt and Joseph Huber activated all means at their disposal via their mailing lists.”8 Letters were sent to international art associations and to Uruguay’s embassies in various countries. The responsible parties in Uruguay received letters demanding that they free the two artists. The entire international network was mobilized.9

When Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Robert Rehfeldt received invitations to participate in mail art exhibitions, they also sent their work to nearby universities or museums, such as to the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo (Museu de Arte Contemporãnea da Universidade de São Paulo – MAC USP) in 1977. Usually, these were one-time actions. During the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964–1985), Walter Zanini, as director of the museum, provided a safe haven for suppressed alternative art currents from Brazil. Exhibitions with works of mail art and conceptual art brought together artists from Latin America and Eastern Europe, their artistic pursuits being threatened by totalitarian regimes in equal measure. While Robert Rehfeldt sent three postcards and the ARTWORKER NEWS, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt submitted four large graphic works in addition to postcards. It was, however, rare for her to mail her small-edition, enlarged typewriter works.

Each country had at least one especially dedicated artist who served as a contact person and passed along addresses, one of whom was Robert Rehfeldt. Although he lived in relative isolation in the GDR, he was nevertheless posited at the center of the mail art sphere and was thus contacted by many different artists. Over time, more and more addresses were compiled, allowing the network to inconspicuously grow larger and larger, like a snowball system. Moreover, all mail art projects involved small catalogues or information sheets containing lists of participants and addresses, which were passed along to all participating artists. These address lists played a crucial role as the engine running the system. The Rehfeldtian network already saw its beginning stages in the late 1950s and continued to gradually expand with every event and every mailed work of art.

Since public exhibitions or artistic events were only possible under very limited circumstances, Robert Rehfeldt frequently invited people into his home. The 1st Mail Art Congress was supposed to have been held in rooms at the creative drawing circle studio “Palette Nord” 10 in 1986, but after having received notice that use of the facility was being prohibited, Rehfeldt moved the event into his apartment without hesitation.11

For many years, the Rehfeldts had an art studio on Mendelstraße, near the Alexanderplatz, and this location advanced to a meeting place for the Berlin art scene. While the upper floor lent itself to drawing and painting with its effusive light, the three-room basement – sometimes called the Kriechgalerie (creeping gallery) since one could only stand with hunched posture – offered enough room for a diverse range of printing presses, exhibitions, and parties. But Rehfeldt also hosted readings, slide shows, and small concerts where art forms not condoned within the GDR and spontaneously staged actions were presented. He didn’t announce his actions in advance but rather developed them ad hoc on a whim. Rehfeldt´s exhibition openings were usually graced by something special he had thought up; he liked to play the guitar or invite other musicians to play, to fill garden hoses with whiskey, or to recite poems by Kurt Schwitters or Ernst Jandl. Visual artists, literary figures, filmmakers, and actors – including songwriter Wolf Biermann and actor Manfred Krug – frequented the Rehfeldts’ quarters. Guests from all over the world were welcomed, such as Jiří Valoch from Czechoslovakia, Dick Higgins from the USA, Shozo Shimamoto from Japan, or Clemente Padín from Uruguay, who visited the Rehfeldts in 1984. Also counting among the artist couple’s circle of friends almost from the outset, were Fluxus artists like Emmett Williams, Joseph Beuys, Robert Filliou, and Wolf Vostell, all of whom visited them at some point in the GDR.

On this note, Rehfeldt for instance combined the words CONTACT and ART to create the term CONTART, which was stamped or focally printed on his mailed artworks as a kind of trademark. This CONTART – the spontaneous initiation of contact and an openness to being in contact with anyone – can be considered their artistic concept, a kind of artistic “contact culture.” The Rehfeldts took advantage of any opportunity to make and maintain contact, for example by spontaneously sending works of art by mail to distant countries for which they had obtained addresses or had even received mail art letters themselves. Their artistic contact culture not only brought forth their international network; it also reflected an artistic intention at the very same time.

Art in Contact

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt and Robert Rehfeldt “sought their artistic orientation neither in political provisions, academically predetermined avenues, nor in geographically delimited lines of tradition; instead, they looked outside, into the wide world of commonalities evolving on an international scale, which had long been considered globally decisive and viable.”12 Yet by consistently making use of the means and opportunities available to them, they were able to tap into the cross-linked and conceptually oriented forms of expression that were emerging internationally starting in the 1960s. Despite a shared intention to contact other artists and to become involved in international art activities, Robert Rehfeldt13 and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt14 strongly differed both in their artistic approaches and in their means of establishing contact, not to mention in their way of participating in the network of mail art.

The alternative forms of expression– or the artistic form of subversively publishing information– pursued by the Rehfeldts involved exhibition brochures, photographs, films, postcards, posters, invitations, artists’ postage stamps, art letters, newsletters, graphics, and lithographs resembling photocopies. All possible traditional and experimental graphic techniques were available for dissemination, from dry-point engraving to “typewriter carbon copying.” Robert Rehfeldt employed, in addition to the stamps he carved from erasers, various stamp boxes such as the coveted children’s stamp box “Famos 527.” Photocopiers were not generally accessible, and only government authorities were permitted to generate printed matter. Artists who were members of the Verband Bildender Künstler (State Association of Artists), including Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, were authorized to print up to ninety-nine copies of a “miniature graphic” (Kleingrafik), among which postcards counted, in private silkscreen workshops or printing shops. Yet it was required that each such graphic work be signed, even if it was only in postcard size. Later, in the 1980s, members of the Künstlerverband were given leave to even print up to 250 copies without prior authorization. Artistically implemented media were used by the Rehfeldts to convey information to their artist friends throughout the entire world. The works thus created were then disseminated and mailed, thereby also supporting what was an already effective circulation of ideas spread from artist to artist in the GDR, among other things.15

Robert Rehfeldt sent hundreds of original stamped or collaged works by mail out to places all over the world. He also mailed his multiplied artworks, including his graphics, his postcards, and his artists’ postage stamps. His most well-known works in this context are without doubt the miniature graphicsor postcards asserting ambiguous slogans that grappled with different aspects of the surveillance state, like “Kunst ist wenn sie trotzdem entsteht” (Art is what you create in spite of everything).

Yet especially decisive for his artistic communication is a body of work
– Rehfeldt’s graphic letters or newsletters. These were not photocopies, as it may appear at first glance, but rather lithographs which were printed so frequently from the same stone that the work itself almost becomes unrecognizable as such. Occasionally, one and the same work even existed in different versions because Rehfeldt tended to change and add to the templates; and there could be up to four different variations on a version due to the different types of colored paper used. Before sending his art letters, the artist often integrated ink stamps or affixed small artists’ postage stamps. Such spontaneous revisions made these letters, to which Rehfeldt was known to likewise add a dedication and a signature, originals. The range of variations was thus limitless. This facet of Rehfeldt’s work can be broken down into the categories of Kunstpostbriefe or ART LETTERS, invitations, ART WORKER NEWS, and CONTART NEWS. What all these works have in common is that the templates may have been handwritten, drawn, stamped, and/or supplemented by elements from other printed material.

An early art letter was created by Rehfeldt in 1975 as a graphic work taking the format of a small poster. He was transferring his tradition of sending New Year’s greetings and his “graphic exchange” into the realm of mail art. He wrote the following next to his expression of thanks for posters received in 1974: “graphic exchange is going on. I send to you, you send to me”. The first issue of ARTWORKER NEWS was published in 1977 in poster form and was subtitled “Artists of All Countries Unite.” As part of his New Year’s greetings, Rehfeldt listed the names of artists whose works had entered his archive, meaning artists who had been sending him their work. The second issue was released in 1980 as ARTWORKER CONTART NEWS and introduced a mail art project that he was to realize during the 8th Biennial of Graphic Arts in Krakow. As of 1981, Rehfeldt started regularly sending the CONTART NEWS at the turn of the New Year, expressing his thanks for mail he had received while also encouraging the recipient to stay in touch and to keep sending mail art, that is, works of art that could fit into regular letter format. The CONTART NEWS was the first newsletter to be jointly signed by the names of “Robert and Ruth.”

For Rehfeldt, art letters were the many works that stylistically ranged between types of graphics and characteristics of a letter; his art letters were not related to the New Year’s greetings and were occasionally even directly titled as a CONTART LETTER or an ART LETTER. In the case of two graphic editions, he had a selection of these works reprinted in especially high quality. Rehfeldt expanded the terminology used to describe these works beyond the label “Kunstpostbriefe” (art letters) to includeBrieflandschaft” (letter landscape), “Briefzeichnung” (letter drawing), “visual letter work,” or “visual poem,” with the latter term emphasizing a close association with visual poetry.

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt’s work, in turn, is remarkably homogeneous, mainly comprising different variants of typewriter works, and a few collages. The diversity of these “typewritings,” which were created with tremendous precision and patience, is impossible to describe. Most of these works manifested in two guises: first, an original, which could be a single typed work or a plurality of works in a series; or second, a copy, which could take the form of carbon copies, postcards, or graphic prints ranging in size from the standards DIN A5 to DIN A2. These works by Wolf-Rehfeldt may also be localized in the contexts of conceptual art or mail art, the latter being works of up to DIN A4 in size, according to the artist, since these could be mailed in a regular envelope. She only very rarely mailed original typed artworks or larger graphics.

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt signed all of the works she was to send in the mail, sometimes adding a dedication or a short greeting. Such extensive letters as Robert Rehfeldt was known to produce were almost never written by his wife; if she added any personal lines, they were briefly penned in one to two sentences. On a postcard titled CONCRETE SHOE, to which were added an artist’s postage stamp and an ink stamp “Visuelle Kunst” (Visual Art), Wolf-Rehfeldt wrote: “Dear Guy Schraenen, greetings and best wishes to you and your Festival. Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt”. For the festival mentioned in her greetings
the Mail Art Festival organized by Guy Schraenen from 1980 to 1981 in Antwerpshe sent further works, such as for instance a stylized arrow composed of forms made of punctuation marks that almost appear to be (virtually) moving in a three-dimensional way.

In parallel to Robert Rehfeldt, she also sent some of her own New Year’s greetings, either in connection with an original graphic or as a mail art postcard. The covert humor and refinement inherent to her works elevated Wolf-Rehfeldt to one of the most popular contact persons within the international network.
After East and West Germany were reunited in 1990, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt discontinued her artistic pursuits.

In the Discordant Realm of Art and Politics

Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt made a conscious choice to stay in the GDR. With a positive approach to the fundamental precepts of socialism, they hoped that future developments would facilitate improved opportunities for evolving and working on their art. While numerous artists had left the GDR by the time the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, many ended up staying based upon their convictions, though these remaining artists, like Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, were forced into a state of inner emigration thanks to the ideologically aligned state apparatus. The only option left to these individuals was to lead a niche existence or to counter the situation with resistance.16

It was not unheard of for artists to be blackmailed by the Stasi, for instance to inhibit the mailing of postcards. Rehfeldt’s first large exhibition in the rooms of the Verkaufsgenossenschaft Bildender Künstler (Sales Cooperative of Visual Artists), from which the Galerie Arkade was to later emerge, ended up being officially cancelled in 1966. The exhibition was meant to show prints and graphics, but Rehfeldt also planned to provide a "didactic show"; in other words, he wanted to familiarize exhibition visitors with the processes involved in creating his artwork by presenting printing blocks and etched plates. However, the Stasi designated Rehfeldt’s work as "non-art" and "counter-revolutionary" and proceeded to shut down the exhibition due to “technical reasons.” He was forced to either dismantle his works or else to take personal financial responsibility for the lack of sales at the art shop integrated into the premises that was sure to result from the exhibition closure. Furthermore, Rehfeldt was denied commissions because he was not willing to stop sending postcards labeled with the phrase "sei Kunst im Getriebe" (be art in the transmission).17 In an attempt to assert himself against such state-implemented control strategies, in the coming years Rehfeldt developed a kind of "rhetorical resistance." He quoted Lenin or Marx in such a clever manner that the words could be left open to interpretation as needed for arguing state doctrine from his angle or to his benefit.18 Rehfeldt also participated in the very popular pleinairs in the GDR. Out in the open and in utter seclusion, Rehfeldt started participating in actions and experimenting with the possibilities presented by the Super 8 camera.

Rehfeldt’s intention was fundamentally, first of all, one of artistic expression. He wanted to reach out to people and to awaken interest through his art. Yet in the 1960s and early 1970s, not many people were interested in alternative artistic currents. Once the Rehfeldts learned from their artist counterparts in other countries how others were working in similar ways and having comparable experiences, their desire was strong to enter into contact with these fellow artists and to exchange information. Of interest first and foremost was sharing information about each other’s art, which was accomplished by exchanging actual artworks. This informative intention formed the basis of the network of mail art. Information about the respective political situation in which these artists were living was expressed through encoded messages. These soon took on an appellative nature, for instance when Robert Rehfeldt wrote the following on a postcard: "Künstler wehrt Euch, sonst werdet Ihr weggetreten." ("Artists fight back, or else you will be disregarded.") Moreover, such correlations also led Rehfeldt to seek a community of creative art workers. An allusion to Karl Marx along the lines of “Artists of all countries, unite!” can certainly be presumed to have been the case here. In this respect, Robert Rehfeldt’s CONTART NEWS or ARTWORKER NEWS not only served to maintain contact with fellow artists and to disseminate information, but also to keep the community intact.

The importance of the works of Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt lies not only in their special artistic quality, but also in the way these artists employed their art to take action. The works indirectly served to facilitate contact with others, to communicate political statements, to express opposition against the sociopolitical system, or to undermine censorship through a game of sorts. Exhibition prohibitions, monitoring of mail, and censorship inherently implied isolation for these two artists, a state that at first glance was not easy to overcome. By exchanging multiplied and original artworks with other artists– based on a former graphic-exchange– they succeeded in overcoming the isolation of the GDR and went on to develop a global network that was founded upon mail art. This was only possible because the mailed works were not deemed to be artwork by the government censors, and because their hidden political messages, when present, were only very rarely decoded or understood. These artists undermined the political system with their disseminated artworks, thus activating an independent avenue of alternative communication that used the regular postal system as a kind of meta-level. So long as artists avoided activity that might attract the attention of the censorship authorities, their mail made it through untouched.

Robert Rehfeldt and Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt’s spontaneous "contact art" was the engine behind their system of artistic communication. CONTART as contact art became an artistic concept – a signature feature of a functionalized art and, in facilitating contact among artists, also an artistic action. Based upon their "contact art", this artist couple engendered a whole new culture of artistic approaches.





1Robert Rehfeldt, born 1931 in the town of Stargard in the former Prussian province of Pomerania, lived and worked in East Berlin from 1945 until his death in 1993.Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, born 1932 in the town of Wurzen in the province of Saxony, has been living and working in East Berlin since 1950.

2 My thanks go to Cordelia Marten, Jürgen Weichardt, Klaus Groh, Peter-Jörg Splettstößer, and Clemente Padín for their many suggestions. And I would most especially like to thank Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt for her generous support.

3 Also see Eugen Blume, “In freier Luft: Die Künstlergruppe Clara Mosch und ihre Pleinairs,” in Feist et al., Kunstdokumentation SBZ/DDR 1945–1990, p. 739.

4 Jürgen Weichardt, “Unser Mann in Berlin,” in Robert Rehfeldt, ed. Galerie vier and Galerie Zielke, exh. cat. Ephraim Palais (Berlin: Galerie Vier and Galerie Zielke, 1991), pp. 18–24, esp. p. 23.

5 Anne Thurmann-Jajes, “From ‘Niche Art’ to Counterpublic: Alternative Art Production and Subversive Strategies within the Art System of the GDR,” in obenauf und ungebrochen: Künstlerpublikationen aus der DDR, ed. Anne Thurmann-Jajes (Bremen: Weserburg / Studienzentrum für Künstlerpublikationen, 2009), pp. 23–33, esp. p.x.

6 Many thanks to Frank Leonard Duch for an informative conversation.

7 Also see Sylvia de Pasquale and Joachim Kallinich, eds., Ein offenes Geheimnis: Post- und Telefonkontrolle in der DDR (Heidelberg: Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation, 2002).

8 Klaus Groh, “Clemente Padín,” unpublished lecture manuscript for the opening of the exhibition Clemente Padín: Word, Action and Risk, curated by Cristina Freire. The opening was held in the Research Centre for Artists’ Publications at the Weserburg on June 18, 2010. Joseph W. Huber was an artist living in the GDR.

9 Finally, after several months of degrading imprisonment, Jorge Caraballo and Clemente Padin were set free.

10 As of 1970 he was running the creative drawing circle studio “Palette Nord“. Such circles took on the function of private academies, in addition to the official state-run academies, and were particularly attended by individuals who had not been admitted to art school in particular. On this topic, see Anke Scharnhorst, “Trojanische Pferde im sozialistischen Kulturbetrieb? Die Zirkel als private ‘Akademien neben den Akademien,’” in Feist et al., Kunstdokumentation SBZ/DDR 1945–1990, Aufsätze, Berichte, Materialien. Cologne: DuMont Buchverlag, 1996, pp. 616-29, esp. pp. 625–26.

11 Scharnhorst, “Trojanische Pferde,” p. 626.

12 Siegfried Salzmann, “Zur DDR-Kunst,” in Kunstreport (Berlin: Deutscher Künstlerbund e.V., June 1991), p. 8.

13Robert Rehfeldt’s artistic approach reflected an amalgamation of stylistic strategies from the Dada movement, elements from pop art, as well as conceptual practices, all the while ignoring the rules governing Socialist Realism. His abstract-experimental art ranged from working with Super 8 film to performances, street actions, sculptures, collages, graphics, and painting.

14RuthWolf-Rehfeldt started her artistic activities in 1959 with writing poems and drawing and also making collages.

15 Also see Cordelia Marten, “Art Is What You Create in Spite of Everything,” in Thurmann-Jajes, obenauf und ungebrochen, pp. 47–55.

16 On this subject, also see Anne Thurmann-Jajes, “From ‘Niche Art’ to Counterpublic: Alternative Art Production and Subversive Strategies within the Art System of the GDR,” in obenauf und ungebrochen:Künstlerpublikationen aus der DDR, ed. Anne Thurmann-Jajes (Bremen: Weserburg / Studienzentrum für Künstlerpublikationen, 2009), pp. 23–33.

17 This variation on a common German phrase “Sand im Getriebe” lends itself to dual avenues of interpretation, whereby the function of a transmission, for instance in an automobile, is figuratively transferred to the state apparatus. For without a transmission, everything comes to a standstill; if a car lacks a transmission, it cannot drive. If sand enters the transmission, it breaks; if the transmission is lubricated with oil, it runs smoothly. Art could function like sand in the transmission of the state. This is the way Stasi operatives chose to interpret Rehfeldt’s phrasing, which is why dissemination of these postcards was prohibited. Though viewed from a different angle art could function like oil, Rehfeldt was in fact invoking his slogan as an indirect call to disrupt or subvert the state system with the aid of art. However, the government was never able to prove that these had been his intentions.

18 Many thanks to Klaus Groh for providing this information.



Robert Rehfeldt - Ein Ausnahmekünstler
Das grafische Werk
25.09.2010 - 06.02.2011
Studienzentrum für Künstlerpublikationen in der Weserburg | Museum für Moderne Kunst Bremen

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt - Das originalgrafische Werk 1972 - 1989
01.06.2010 - 02.09.2012
Studienzentrum für Künstlerpublikationen in der Weserburg | Museum für Moderne Kunst Bremen



Die Abbildungen 3 bis 7 und 11 sind Ansichten der Ausstellung Robert Rehfeldt - Ein Ausnahmekünstler des Studienzentrums für Künstlerpublikationen, 25. Sept. 2010 bis 06. Feb. 2011, Weserburg | Museum für Moderne Kunst Bremen
Fotos: Bettina Brach

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Concrete Shoe, 1980
© Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, aus der Serie Figuration, (o.J.)
© Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Kubisch, 1978
© Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Unbestimmte Summe, 1988
© Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Piece by Piece, (o.J.)
© Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Wachstum, 1978
© Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt

Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt, Signs Figuration, 1976
© Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt