my father

today i didn’t work on a blog post but on the way overdue wikipedia entry for my father, the painter juergen von huendeberg.  for now it’s a draft – what do you think?  here it is, and here is one of his pieces of art – a collage.


Juergen von Huendeberg (aka Hans-Otto Maximilian von Huendeberg, HOMJ von Huendeberg, or simply “Iwan”), was born April 10, 1922 in Dresden, Germany into a family of [[Baltic Germans]].  Since early childhood, he lived in [[Munich]], Germany, where he studied architecture and philosophy at the [[Munich University]], two years at the [[Academy of Fine Arts Munich]] (1945-1947) and some time under Werner Gilles.

His very early paintings were along the lines of [[Magic Realism]], a form of [[New Objectivity]], an art movement that arose in Germany in the early 1920s as an outgrowth of, and in opposition to, [[expressionism]].  Soon, however, von Huendeberg’s work became almost exclusively abstract.  The qualifier of the “almost” is significant; there was no technique or form of expression that von Huendeberg ever excluded.

In [[1949]], he became connected with ZEN 49, a group of German artists who strove to create new forms of expression for abstract art.  The word [[Zen]] was to reflect their rejection of materiality and a focus on  meditation; 49 refers to the year they were founded, four years after [[World War II]].   Von Huendeberg was friends with and exhibited with some of their members, for example [[Rupprecht Geiger]] and Brigitte Meier-Denninghoff in the Studio for New Art (Studio fuer Neue Kunst) in Wuppertal.  Von Huendeberg never became an outright member of the group, a sign even back then of his almost renegade refusal to be anyone but himself, to be a member of any group but humanity.  Significantly, he also never became a German citizen, proud to his death of the fact that he never had any citizenship (his parents, after being displaced after [[World War I]],  held the [[Nansen passport]].  This connection to peaceful internationalism was always important to him).

Art critic [[Franz Roh]], one of whose books features a painting by von Huendeberg on the front cover, once spoke of visual art immediately after World War II as containing “the demonic, praised by [[Goethe]] as most deep [which] hints at our existential loneliness vis-a-vis the universe – or in the face of a truly inner and productive way of life.”  Von Huendeberg’s art, which often features dark, almost ominous colours pierced by small patches of deep, shining light, was sometimes interpreted as depressing; Roh’s description as “demonic”, which hints, as well, to von Huendeberg’s mystic qualities, may be more apt.

Von Huendeberg made much use of the colour gold.  Art critic [[John Anthony Thwaites]] pointed to von Huendeberg’s Russian-Baltic background and the golden background used in Russian icons.  Art historian Ivo Kranzfelder describes how in his oil paintings, von Huendeberg created a feeling of space by juxtaposing broad planes of colour in almost perspectival arrangements.  This depth was underscored by experimenting with adding structure through the use of materials such as sackcloth and sand, thickly textured paint and even incorporating paint tube caps into the painting.  Collages were a natural extension of these techniques.  Just as his paintings often have a sculpted feeling, his collages always evoke the pictorial.  A collage consisting of chains and jewels decorating Jesus on the cross points back to the iconic.

Deeply mystic in his art, von Huendeberg was, however, staunchly rational about religion, a fierce agnostic firmly rooted in the tradition of humanism and the Enlightenment.  This combination of mysticism and commitment to the rational, paired with his unbridled irreverence, a constant drive to explore new ideas, a steadfast refusal to be categorized, as well as playful irony in close companionship with serious craftsmanship, confused and irritated more than one critic.

Von Huendeberg enjoyed success for quite some years.  1956 he received a cultural scholarship from the German Industry Association, 1957 he was invited to the Premio Lissone, 1962 he won the Seerosen-Preis (Lotus Prize).  His paintings were shown in Canada, the US and New Zealand.

From the mid 60s on, von Huendeberg lost interest in exhibitions and the visual arts scene and his public life as an artist concentrated on experimental theatre, film and music.  Nevertheless, he still worked as a painter, for example when experimenting with etchings with fellow artist Otto Mirtl.  The fumes from performing this in an unventilated chamber, combined with his liberal use of alcohol, almost killed him, leaving him in a liver coma for three weeks, which he miraculously survived.  Shortly before his hospitalization, he starred in a slide/theatre play as [[Oblomov]], a Russian nobleman full of fabulous ideas but lacking the ability to make any decisions whatsoever.  This play, adapted by one of his many proteges, the then young and unknown [[Franz Xaver Kroetz]], mirrored much of who von Huendeberg was – a brilliant artist who at  times was incapable of leaving the house for years on end, haunted by depression and addiction.  For years, von Huendeberg also worked closely with avantgarde theatre artists Alexeij Sagerer and Cornelie Mueller and had friendships with film personalities such as [[Rainer Werner Fassbinder]] and [[Klaus Kinski]].

In art circles, Juergen von Huendeberg is usually discussed in connection with the avantgarde of the 50s and 60s.  But as art historian Ivo Kranzfelder states, it would be a great mistake to see him only as a historical phenomenon.  While his charcoal drawings and oil paintings from this time are important, his erotic drawings and watercolours, experimentations with markers and spray paint and hundreds of acrylic gouaches where he doggedly pursued the exploration of spherical shapes and even his landscape sketches and portraits show a never ending variety and growth in his artistic expression.  Shortly before his death, he only seemingly returned to his roots, painting in oil once again generous geometric shapes, mostly in earth tones, always illuminating his paintings with his trademark brilliant light effects.  However, this return was an evolution, on a higher level of Goethe’s spiral of growth that von Huendeberg liked to cite frequently.

Von Huendeberg died on August 21, 1996 of pancreatic cancer, meeting his death with the same conscious, curious and nonchalant eyes that saw and depicted all of his life.  He was married to Elisabeth, nee Hennighaussen, a music librarian.  They had three children, Nikolaus (1953-1954), Isabella (born 1955) and Clarissa (born 1961).


Ivo Kranzfelder ( Juergen von Huendeberg.  Ein zu wenig bekannter Muenchner Maler (Juergen von Huendeberg.  A Munich Painter, Too Little Known.)  Weltkunst ( No. 13, November 2004

Werner Gilles

ZEN 49

Premio Lissone

Cornelie Mueller

Alexeij Sagerer

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