"Life? or Theater?" is the life's work of the artist Charlotte Salomon (1917 Berlin – 1943 Auschwitz) which was completed within two years after her flight in 1939 from Berlin to southern France. This "Singespiel," as she called it, consists of 769 gouache drawings, divided into three acts, and has been revised and administered by the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam since 1971. The rich convolute of drawings, text, and scenic annotations in gouache is an outstanding artistic work of the 20th century and full of references to the art, music, film, and philosophy of Salomon’s time. Simultaneously, it provides unique insight into Salomon's eventful and self-determined life.
The narrative form of "Life? or Theater?" has remained relevant to this day. The illustrations and text come together like scene sets in a theater production or screenplay, while at the same time anticipating the hybrid nature of the text and image layers of graphic novels. The characters in the work are based on Solomon's personal environment but are carefully developed by her and thus abstracted into fictional characters in a story that is larger than life. Salomon's narrative is therefore not to be read as an autobiographical factual report, but rather brings different situations and life circumstances into a context of meaning that is both personal and universal. Thus, in her "Singespiel," Salomon gives primary significance to the interpersonal events of her life while the looming National Socialist threat runs as a background noise through it.
"Life? or Theater?" testifies to a self-confident artistic practice through innovative and powerful pictorial inventions as well as subtle ironic nuances. Outside of her art as well, Salomon emerges as a sovereign protagonist – despite family misfortunes and anti-Semitic persecution. Her life's work thus offers a unique insight into the complex and violently truncated life of a young artist.
You would like to look at all the pages of "Life? or Theater?" Here you can view the entire work consisting of 769 gouaches and 320 transparent pages. Wherever the word "Music" appears in black letters to the right of the image you can listen to the respective tunes.
Organized in cooperation with the Jewish Museum Amsterdam.
Curated by Irene Faber, Curator, Collection Jewish Museum Amsterdam. Coordinated at Lenbachhaus by Dierk Höhne and Stephanie Weber
Booklet for the exhibition
Wall Texts (PDF)