Three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that bête noire of the Stasi, A. R. Penck returned to the East, bearded and wearing a floppy hat and crumpled jeans, a striped T-shirt stretched over his mighty girth. It was his first solo exhibition in Dresden, the city where he had lived until he was stripped of his citizenship in 1980 and deported to the West.
The relationship with his native city was always complicated. They never allowed him to be an artist there, and he was forced to exhibit his paintings in secret. With his exhibition in 1992, he returned “not as the all-conquering hero, but equally not as a prodigal son”. At least, that’s what the artist wrote in the catalogue preface. The title he gave to the exhibition was ‘Analysis of a Situation’. By which he meant his own situation at that time. He deliberately chose not to exhibit the works from the 1960s and 1970s which got him into such trouble in the GDR – and which made his reputation in the West.
Instead, he showed unknown works which he had created during the previous twelve months. “Good for him,” said Werner Schmidt, who had become Director General of the Dresden State Art Collections in 1989. Because by doing so, Penck was expressing confidence in himself as an artist without the need to define himself exclusively as a dissident.
The artist, who died last year, would have turned 80 in October 2019. So it is an appropriate anniversary on which to stage the retrospective ‘Ich aber komme aus Dresden (check it out man, check it out)’ [English: I am from Dresden though (check it out man, check it out)]. It will be the first ever comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work.