Dissent and Displacement: (working title) an exhibition for Gallery II (the main first floor gallery) of Leicester City Museum, New Walk, Leicester
Curator: Simon Lake
November 2018 to March 2019.
Who and where
The exhibition will be the work of artist Monica Petzal. A painter, printmaker and art historian, Monica trained at Sussex University, the Royal College of Art and Camberwell College of Art. She has had a varied career as a curator, critic and practicing artist. Full details can be found at: https://monicapetzal.com/about/
The exhibition is for Gallery 11 next to the German Expressionists Gallery with fixed dates of late November 2018 to early March 2019.
What will be in it
A diverse exhibition, it will include printmaking, drawing and painting made by the artist in 2017 and 2018 specifically for the exhibition. All the visual work will be supported by text panels and original documents and photographs from the artist’s family archive and other sources. It will also include rare film footage from the Steven Spielberg Archive and the State University Library Dresden, for which permission has already been given.
There will also be approximately 20 works by German Expressionist artist Conrad Felixmüller; prints, drawings and a watercolour, many of which will form the artist’s bequest to the Leicester German Expressionist collection. There will be a full colour catalogue to accompany the exhibition.
The exhibition will reference the artist’s exhibition ‘Indelible Marks: The Dresden Project’ shown at the Herbert Museum, Coventry in 2016, and in Dresden in 2015.
What is it about
Underlying the exhibition is thinking about ‘difference’, ‘dissent’ and the frequent consequence of ‘displacement’. It is about relaying narratives through compelling images and texts that, although specific, also act as metaphors for all our lives. Currently we are all too aware of the persecution faced by those who are different or dissent. Authoritarian individuals, regimes and organisations terrorise whole communities as well as individuals into fleeing for their lives, leading to them being permanently displaced.
The exhibition is based on two inter-twined narratives about dissent and displacement. These are developed to include more recent and contemporary subjects, which reference the earlier stories.
The primary narrative is about the artists’ maternal family who were German Jews. Her grandparents Erich and Sofie Isakowitz, and their daughter Lore, fled Eastern Prussian in 1924 to escape anti-Semitism and settled in Dresden. The exhibition considers her grandparents and their close circle, including diarist social historian Victor Klemperer and artist Conrad Felixmüller considering their fate under Nazi oppression after 1933. It references the Isakowitz’s eventual migration to England in 1936 and the obstacles to this from both the German and the British regimes.
It considers their experience as refugees and the need to both assimilate and maintain an identity. It also refers to the artist’s father’s story; the sole survivor from the Holocaust of his Berlin family, his attempts to leave Germany in 1939 and his eventual service in the British Army. In a link to the contemporary it references the artist’s own life, her close working relationship with Dresden, her role as a trustee of the Dresden Trust and her re adoption of German citizenship.
The other narrative is of the artist Conrad Felixmüller, and the little-known September 1933 exhibition of ‘degenerate art; in the Dresden City Hall, which included 40 of his works. Persecuted and humiliated, the artist and his family left Dresden. It follows this stage of the life and work of Felixmüller as he sought to escape the attention of the authorities and maintain his political commitment to Communism and his artistic integrity.
The narrative moves forward to bring Leicester into the frame. It connects the degenerate art exhibition of 1933 in Dresden with the remarkable collection (including work by Conrad Felixmüller) now held by the Leicester City Museum. This exceptional collection of German Expressionism, donated initially by the German Jewish refugee Hess family was initiated by the pioneering curator Trevor Thomas. Thomas was summarily dismissed from his post in 1946 on the grounds of a charge of homosexuality. Working from the original records and with help of his family, the exhibition considers the arrest, trial and sacking of Trevor Thomas, paradoxically a form of persecution the German artists and collectors would have been familiar with.
Now the most ethnically diverse city in the UK, Leicester is a positive bench mark for tolerance and mass immigration, a city rich in history, culture and sport. Leicestershire has a remarkable tradition of dissent and difference, starting as early at the 14th with the theologian and reformer John Wycliffe, the Quakers, with their Leicester founder George Fox, and a long history of Protestant non-conformity. Contemporary Leicester has over 55 different types of religious communities’ in almost 200 actively used centres. A traditional Labour stronghold, Leicester narrowly voted to Remain in the Brexit vote of 2016.
The exhibition will bring together the earlier stories with current experience and narratives, to give a coherent ‘completeness’. The contemporary local aspect is particularly open to research and development. The artist is opening dialogues with diverse groups in the city to understand their stories.
It will be highly accessible with images and accompanying text panels taking visitors through the narratives.
Benefit: The exhibition will be of interest and benefit to a wide number of groups beyond those with an interest in ‘art’, including schools and student groups, refugees and immigrants, those interested in German Expressionism, the Second World War etc. It offers a comprehensive source for outreach and education programmes, including subjects as diverse as the history of Leicester, gender politics, printmaking and many others. It also offers considerable scope for collaboration with other institutions such as schools and the university.
The exhibition at Coventry had an excellent reception, with high attendance at the exhibition and all outreach events. (These and the visitor comment book can be provided if wished). The exhibition was viewed by HRH the Duke of Kent on the 75th anniversary of the bombing of the city. It received both the local and specialist press and media coverage.