Everything but existence

Karl Waldmann had it all: the talent, the drive, and the inspiration of purest Dada. What he may not have had was actual human life:

Kunsthaus Dresden, the city’s contemporary art gallery, has removed works by an artist named Karl Waldmann after the police announced it was investigating whether there ever was anyone with that name.

Waldmann, according to his biography [pdf] on the website of the virtual “Waldmann Museum,” was a German-born Dadaist who never exhibited any of his work and “disappeared” in 1958. A French journalist supposedly acquired all of his known oeuvre — more than 1,000 works — in a flea market in Berlin in 1989.

Doubts about Waldmann’s existence have flourished of late:

Late last month, the journalist Thomas Steinfeld wrote in the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Waldmann probably was an invention. No references to the artist can be found during his alleged lifetime, and none of the curators who have selected Waldmann’s works for their exhibitions have had any idea of the collages’ true provenance. Chemical analysis of the paper used in the collages has found chemicals that could only have been used since the 1940s, although the works’ style is firmly fixed in the first 30 years of the 20th century.

Steinfeld went so far as to say that the Waldmann portfolio ought to be locked up until its provenance can be determined. But it’s not like the works are causing any grief to their owners:

Indeed, this could be a victimless crime. Even if Waldmann never existed, the collages are not exactly fakes. They are anonymous creations that people buy because they like them — but more likely, because they are good conversation starters: a mysterious artist, echoes of Russian and German totalitarian pasts, Dadaism, Bauhaus.

And at €10,000 and up, they ought to be.





4 comments

  1. fillyjonk »

    5 September 2015 · 9:52 pm

    Actually, I think that’s kind of a wonderful story. Dadaist collages made by a man who never even existed! It’s kind of like Nicolas Bourbaki, in a way.

  2. CGHill »

    5 September 2015 · 10:02 pm

    At the other extreme, I suppose, there’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)” by of Montreal: “Let’s pretend we don’t exist / Let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica.”

  3. McGehee »

    6 September 2015 · 8:27 am

    It does raise the pertinent issue of what makes art valuable — its own quality, or the name of its creator?

    I should hope my phrasing indicates my view of the matter.

  4. CGHill »

    13 October 2015 · 7:44 am

    Interestingly, Pascal Polar, who seems to be the one connection to Waldmann, has apparently been looking for me.

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