Photographs of prohibited books by Annette Kelm

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The May 1933 autodafe was an orchestrated campaign in many cities in Germany and Austria. Books by Jewish, Marxist and pacifist writers – including Bertolt Brecht, Alfred Döblin, Heinrich Heine, Franz Kafka, Else Lasker-Schüler, Klaus and Thomas Mann, Karl Marx and Kurt Tucholsky – have been removed from bookstores and libraries and thrown away on bonfires after the Nazis had vilified them as “non-Germans”. In the gallery of the Museum Frieder Burda in Berlin, the exhibition of photographer Annette Kelm ‘Die Bücher’ (The Books) highlights the literary and intellectual loss caused by this brutal event in history. Like an archaeologist, Kelm scoured the shelves of public and private collections to find historical editions of outlawed works that survived the storm of fascist destruction.

Annette Kelm, ‘Die Bücher’, 2020, installation view, Museum Frieder Burda Salon Berlin, 2020. Courtesy: the artist and KÖNIG Berlin / London / Tokyo; photograph: Thomas Bruns

The exhibition features a selection of 50 photographs of these book covers that Kelm took in 2019 and 2020. The series includes a photo of Tucholsky Lerne lachen ohne zu weinen (Learn to laugh without crying) published in 1931, the last book he was able to officially release in Germany. The cover image shows a crying baby sitting in a tin can with the gown showing obvious signs of use. Elsewhere, the cover of Döblin’s 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, designed by Georg Salter, includes a handwritten plot summary mixed with drawings of key scenes.

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Annette Kelm, Kurt Tucholsky, Lerne lachen ohne zu weinen, 1931, Ernst Rowohlt Verlag, Berlin, Fotografie: Wellington Film Manufacture, from the series ‘Die Bücher’, 2019/2020, archival pigment print. Courtesy: The Artist and KÖNIG Berlin / London / Tokyo

The official memorial to the burning of books on Berlin’s Bebelplatz, the underground installation of empty shelves by Michael Ullman (The empty library, 1995), recalls the immediate literary loss during the Nazi regime by showing the vacancy. Kelm’s approach is different, but no less conceptual. “The Books” reflects on photography as a medium of memory and reproduction, but also features innovative book designs from the 1920s and early 1930s, for which artists were often commissioned. Kelm subtly combines the story of the Nazi fireworks with different tales, showing that not all was lost in the fire.

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Annette Kelm, ‘Die Bücher’ performs at at Frieder Bruda Museum Salon Berlin until October 24, 2020.

Main picture: Annette Kelm, Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz. Die Geschichte vom Franz Biberkopf, 1931, S. Fischer Verlag, Berlin, Einbandgestaltung Georg Salter, from the series’Die Bücher ‘, 2019/2020, archival pigment print. Courtesy: The Artist and KÖNIG Berlin / London / Tokyo


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