Gerd Arntz / August Sander / Franz Wilhelm Seiwert
b. 1900, Remscheid, Germany; d. 1988, The Hague, Netherlands / b. 1876,
Herdorf, Germany; d. 1964, Cologne, Germany / b. 1894, Cologne, Germany;
d. 1933, Cologne, GermanyLumpenbälle
The debates among the group that Sanders had photographed as ‘Proletarian Intellectuals’ – Else Schuler, Tristan Rémy, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert and Gerd Arntz – revolved around whether the prevailing aspect of the revolutionary nature of carnival was the reversal of sexes, transvestism, the disruption of social roles or the subversion of the political order. These were the same questions that Mikhail Bakhtin explored in reference to ‘carnival’ as a form of expression and its use of transgression as a political tool.
The photographs by August Sander, designs by Franz Wilhelm Seiwert and illustrations by Gerd Arntz that are grouped here under the title Lumpenbälle (after the costume party organised at the tavern Em Dekke Tommes by the Progressive Artists group during the Cologne Carnival from 1925 to 1933) reflect the interest in the subaltern classes shown by a section of the socialist and constructivist avant-garde, as well as their desire to try out a ‘festive’ way of thinking, which was linked to the subversion of the social order that has always been implicit in carnival celebrations.
Around the same time, Roma artist Helios Gómez met Arntz in Berlin and started contributing to the magazines Besinnung und Aufbruch and A bis Z. He also participated as an extra – as a Spanish bandit – in a film made in Cologne, and appears to have been among the group portrayed in Sander’s collage on the wild years in Cologne. What interests us about this digression is the etymological sense of the term ‘lumpen’, from the German ‘Lappen’, meaning cloth or rags, those collected by the rag-and-bone man, the ‘gypsy ragpicker’, to use Walter Benjamin’s term. Not just a costume, but a bad costume cobbled together out of leftovers, scraps and waste materials, in an economy of resistance. That was also how Arntz envisaged the power and possibility of lumpen-proletariat thinking.
The lives of August Sander, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert and Gerd Arntz overlapped from approximately 1926 to 1933, as part of the festive, experimental evolution of constructivist trends in painting, photography and design. The ‘lumpen-proletarianisation’ was, in a sense, linked to this festive understanding of political activity. In many ways, the new kinds of social activism that emerged in the late 20th century returned to the possibilities of fun as a political strategy.
Gerd Arntz, woodcut prints, 1924–37 Zwölf Häuser der Zeit (Twelve Houses of the Time), 1927, series of 12 woodcuts, 26 × 16 cm each, facsimile reprints; Amerikanisches (American), 1924/79, screenprint after a woodcut from 1924, 32 × 48 cm, courtesy Galerie Valentien Stuttgart; Show, 1937, woodcut, early printing, 29.5 × 46.5 cm, courtesy Galerie Valentien Stuttgart; Der Streik (The Strike), 1936/79, wood block, colourised, 21 × 30 cm, courtesy Galerie Valentien Stuttgart
Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, letterpress postcards for Lumpenbälle, c. 1925–32
Selection of five, 14.8 × 10.5 cm each, facsimile reprints, courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York / SCALA, Florence
August Sander, Köln wie es war (Cologne as it was), 1929–31
Lumpenball series, selection of ten, and Coellen aus Rand und Band (Cologne going wild), 27.3 × 20.9 cm, each, facsimile reprints, courtesy Kölnisches Stadtmuseum, Cologne