Oskar Schlemmer holding a mask at the Bauhaus School

Dedicating a Lifetime:
C. Raman Schlemmer on Oskar Schlemmer and the Bauhaus School

with C. Raman Schlemmer

In Conversation with Dimitria

I first encountered C. Raman Schlemmer at the end of the summer in 2019. At that time, I was working at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in London. The gallery was deeply engrossed in a rare recreation of the iconic Bauhaus performance, originally choreographed and scored by his grandfather, Oskar Schlemmer, in Dessau back in 1926. Upon my relocation to Switzerland, serendipity led to several chance encounters with Raman at various art events and happenings, fortuitously maintaining our connection.

In our recorded discussion, Raman expressed that his life was shaped by his grandmother Tut Schlemmer, woven into the fabric of his destiny. After we finished recording, and reflecting on the conversation, Raman stated that others can take everything from him - the artworks and all valuables, but one cannot take away the memories and experiences he gained through dedicating an entire life to his grandfather Oskar Schlemmer and the legacy left behind. He only wished that he would have asked more questions when he was younger.

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The interview was recorded on 15th of February, 2024, and the transcription has been lightly edited for clarity and to provide additional context.

Dimitria: Hi, everyone. I'm here with C. Raman Schlemmer, who is the curator of the Oskar Schlemmer Theatre Estate and Archives. Hi, Raman.

C. Raman Schlemmer:
Hello, Dimitria. So wonderful to be here.

D: Such a great pleasure. I want to start this conversation about your relationship to Oskar Schlemmer. Although you didn't have the chance to meet your grandfather, he had a tremendous impact on your life. Could you please share when you first realized who your grandfather was and who the artist Oskar Schlemmer is?

CRS: Well, to fix a point where I realized it is very, very difficult because he was always omnipresent in all the tales, in the accounts and stories, through his art. But, I remember that one of the first experiences I had was a memorial exhibition in Stuttgart. I think I was about three or four years old. There was an opening at the Kunstverein in Stuttgart, the so-called Goldene Hirsch. I remember the director also, Alice Widensohler, as we were sitting in the front row. Of course, my grandmother was there. I was this very small boy, sitting there, representing the Oskar Schlemmer family. I think it was a process that I grew into; this role of representing the family legacy at a very early stage.

D: I'm also interested in understanding what he (Oskar Schlemmer) represents and how, along with your grandmother, Tut, and your mother, Jaïna, you became involved in the custodian of Oskar Schlemmer's dance and theatre works. Please, can you elaborate on your role in promoting his œuvre, sculptures and paintings internationally?

CRS: Now we jump from an early age of three, four years to an older age. There were many other exhibitions, of course, during my childhood - there was an incredible retrospective exhibition at the Academy in Berlin (Akademie der Künste), which was opened by the wonderful and visionary director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, Georg Schmidt, in 1963. These legendary post-war exhibitions accompanied my growing up. It was very much the plan of my grandmother, Tut Schlemmer, to get me involved. I represented already, when I was three, four years old, as I was the only male member of the family and this was very important to my grandmother, Tut Schlemmer. She had lost her husband in 1943. Oskar Schlemmer passed away during World War II. She lost her son (Tilman) in April 1945, really at the end of the war. These young people were recruited to the East Front and killed like flies. It was really horrible. This was an incredible pain for my grandmother, and here was this little boy, which played to that generation a very, very important role. Of course, at the age of three, four, I did not realize, but I realized later.

“She put a lot of interest in my upbringing and saw me very much as a messenger, to continue what she had started.”

She had two daughters, but the focus was really on this little boy, Raman. It was a role I gradually grew in. It was a role which I understood was expected from me. It was sort of almost dynastic. I never questioned it. Later, when I was a teenager, I sometimes thought, well, what would my attitude be towards the œuvre of my grandfather, Oskar Schlemmer, if I were not related to him? But this was never a question. It is not a question I could ask myself, really, because it was an expectation.

My mother was a stage designer, so as a child, I was already very much backstage. The whole theater and dance world was very familiar to me.

How did I know about him and his personality? That was very much through the tales of his contemporaries. My grandmother would invite, every five years to her birthday, the round birthdays to Stuttgart, - so when she was 60, 65, 75, she had this large gathering of the circle of Oskar Schlemmer friends, which were, of course, the contemporaries of the Bauhaus period. It was also the local people in Stuttgart, relatives, the artist community of Stuttgart, who had studied with him at the Academy. There were friends from the Breslau period. It was the friends of the Berlin Academy period. It was a large group of people. I remember the Bauhaus people traveling all the way from Japan and from the U.S. to these Bauhaus Schlemmer parties.

“She (Tut Schlemmer) was named the Bauhaus mother, the Bauhaus Mutter.”

Of course, she was not a mother figure at the Bauhaus. She was a mother to her children at the Bauhaus, she was a very young woman. So, she sort of grew into this role in the postwar period reuniting the Bauhäusler.

One of the great merits of my grandmother was that she put together a list of all the students and masters who had passed through the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau. You must remember at that time, there were no computers, there were no social networks. This was all done through correspondence. She had a little typewriter. I think she had an Olivetti, or maybe before another German brand. She would sit there and put these lists together. This was a task of many years because correspondence was fairly slow at the time. She put together a list of who was in Weimar and in Dessau at the Bauhaus. Who has survived? Who got killed in the war? Who got killed in concentration camps? Who survived the concentration camps? This was an enormous network. The interesting thing to me was always that this became the basis of the postwar Bauhaus Research. The institutions which then were founded, first the Bauhaus Archive, which was initially in Darmstadt. It was really based on this network which my grandmother had created. The institutions could start contacting these people, the former students. The masters (teachers) were better known than the whereabouts of the students. This information was the foundation for the new Bauhaus archives and institution to build up collections of study works by artists from their student times at the Bauhaus.

These people all came together in Stuttgart every five years and I listened to their stories, instead of playing with my contemporaries, my peers.

“I was listening to these wonderful stories of appreciation and of sympathy for my grandfather, and he sort of became alive in my mind.”

Because of these very affectionate stories which I heard. 

D: What a beautiful story, and I'm really intrigued about your professional career. You have lived quite some legendary times. Starting with working at the Hans Mayer Galerie during Art Basel. Also you've had a fantastic trip to Los Angeles where you met Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol even photographed you. Tell me more, how did the invitation start? 

CRS: When I finished school, I left Germany immediately and studied at the university in Basel. At that time, a new art fair started in Basel, the Art Basel. There was a predecessor, another fair in Cologne (Art Cologne), which a group of art dealers had launched, and which I visited as well. During my student time in Basel, it was a great opportunity for me to get jobs at the participating galleries. At that time the Paris Galerie Maeght opened a branch in Zurich. I started working occasionally, parallel to my studies, at the Galerie Maeght in Zurich, where friends of mine, Arnold Kübler and Elisabeth Kübler, were the directors. On these occasions, I would meet Aimé Maeght, the owner and founder of the gallery, and Mrs. Marguerite Maeght. They took much interest in me, and Mrs. Maeght tried many times to convince me to come to Paris and to be trained in the gallery. But I told her that I was not interested, I wanted to be a student and continue my studies at the university. Otherwise it was a great opportunity, so, when I wanted to go for the summer holiday, I first worked for two weeks at the gallery in Zurich for the inventory, and then I could afford for example to travel to Greece and go to Corfu during the summer.

Then this art fair started (Art Basel), so I also worked in the booth of the Galerie Maeght during Art Basel. Another friend, who we knew as a young art dealer at the time, was Hans Mayer. We knew his gallery in Esslingen but he had moved in the meantime to Düsseldorf. The importance of his gallery was Hans Mayer and Denise René, who was one of the great French art dealers. She had a gallery in Paris at Boulevard Saint-Germain, and the artists she exhibited were the constructivist and the South American artists like Jesús Rafael Soto, Julio Le Parc, also Victor Vasarely. I worked at these galleries in Basel during the fair.

The incredible fact was that major galleries participated from the United States, so Leo Castelli was there, Ileana Sonnabend was there, the Corcoran Gallery from Los Angeles was there, many, many others. Sidney Janis, a fantastic art dealer, André Emmerich, galleries which do not exist anymore today but which were legendary for building up the international art market and were very important.

As I knew the region of Basel very well, they would consult me on where to go to eat, what to do, and always said, come to New York or to Los Angeles and work for us. I was always very reluctant and said, “yes, thank you very much”. But then, I had this incredible chance that one day the James Corcoran Gallery called me from Los Angeles and they said, “please come to Los Angeles, we need you.” They had organised an exhibition of Joseph Cornell, which was installed by Walter Hopps, who was a great specialist of Joseph Cornell. He was a director in Houston, I think, of The Menil Collection (foundation and museum), and he had curated and installed this very beautiful, dramatic installation of Sandboxes by Joseph Cornell in a dark gallery space. And so, James and Dagny Corcoran said, the only person to handle this exhibition, to handle the artworks during the exhibition, is Raman. 

C. Raman Schlemmer with Dagny Corcoran Janss

Dagny Corcoran Janss and C. Raman Schlemmer 1978. Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer

So, they called me, and they flew me into Los Angeles. My duty or job was, when people were visiting the gallery, to take the Sandboxes in my hands and then slowly go up or down so that the sand would move, -- something you would not do anymore today because conservators are very concerned that, of course, the paint and the sand will change. But at that time, it was also an exhibition where the artworks were for sale, so it was helpful to show, of course, the works, how they move and change, because this was very beautiful and part of the artist’s intention.

I remember Los Angeles as an amazing city. I came from this very sort of traditional European scene, like Zurich. If somebody came into the Galerie Maeght in Zurich, you could tell whether this is a potential client. How the people spoke, how they behaved, what they asked, and you paid attention. It was very hierarchical, so if somebody would come into the Galerie Maeght and say, “I would like to buy a Chagall”, I would not then say, “oh, I show you a Chagall”, but I would say, “let me call somebody”. Then the next step, and when they finally realized that this person was very serious, you ended up in the director's office of the gallery. It was very hierarchical. Los Angeles is very different. You would have people come in, and I would wander the way they were dressed, in sandals or shorts. For me as a European, I thought, well, why is this street person coming into the gallery? Somebody would whisper to me, this is this actor, and this is this film director, and so on.

I would move these Sandboxes by Cornell, and I remember once they came running into the dramatically lit gallery from the frontdesk, “what is happening, Raman?” Because there was this lady who made strange noises when I moved the sand, so that they were sort of worried that something else was happening in the exhibition. I had a T-shirt, which I, of course, did not wear in the gallery, but which said, “I will shake it”. Dagny Corcoran Janss, who sadly passed away last year, had it printed for me. She was a wonderful woman, who later founded Art Catalogues, which was a major catalog distribution and collection system.

It was a great time. Los Angeles very much embraced British visitors, but also Europeans in general. Immediately, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times that I was visiting Los Angeles and about Oskar Schlemmer, of course, as well. My first artist encounter in Los Angeles, just after my arrival from Europe, was with Bob (Robert) Wilson and Lucinda Childs, dinner after the Los Angeles premiere of “I was Sitting on My Patio This Guy Appeared I Thought I Was Hallucinating”.  Dinner hosted by Dagny and James Corcoran, just the five of us. I was deeply impressed by the performance, a happy encounter, beginning of a friendship, and lasting memory. I remember Roy Lichtenstein giving a talk at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), a great art school, which had just been founded at the time. Actually, Mr. Fitzgerald, who was the director, immediately said, “please come and study here”. And so, again, I did not do that. But like this I met Roy and Doris Lichtenstein, and Leo Castelli joined. At some point the Gemini printmakers called me and they said, “oh, Raman, you're roaming all night in the discotheques and the nightlife clubs. And we have Robert Rauschenberg working at the moment at the studios, and he works all night. We are not used to staying up so late. So could you please keep him company, stay with him at night sometimes and talk to him and entertain him?”. And so, I said, “okay, there's one club which closes at 12 or 1 am, and then I go to the next club, which was the after-hour clubs, I will go later”, and these were alcohol-free clubs, the late ones. “In between, I will go and see Robert Rauschenberg.” So, I sat there and watched him work at Gemini, the studios designed by Frank Gehry on Melrose Avenue. We talked, of course and later I would continue on my nightlife tour and be ready in the morning to go to the gallery and shake the boxes, the Joseph Cornell Sandboxes.

There were, of course, many other artists living in Los Angeles, Edward and Nancy Kienholz. And we went to their home and studios, where they were working, Billy Al Bengston, Ken Price, and the novelist Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, the collectors Ed Janss and the Quinns, wonderful Nick Wilder, and many others.

C. Raman Schlemmer photographed by Andy Warhol in Berlin

Andy Warhol, C. Raman Schlemmer. In the collection of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

D: And where did you meet Warhol?

CRS: Warhol I met in New York. And I cannot really tell you when we met first, but I saw him many times over the years. We also spent time together in Europe. He would come to Milan, or I would see him - I remember he had an exhibition in Vienna. There were many occasions. There is one photograph he took of me, the one which you referred to, that was done in Berlin. There was an exhibition in Berlin, but I know he also photographed me in Piazza San Marco in Venice and other occasions. It was a very special friendship of respect. When he would come to Milan, he said, “please, take me around” or “take me out of this company here. I want to see other people”.

In New York, of course, there was also Keith Haring, who was an upcoming star at the time of graffiti. We would go up to Harlem to see graffiti, Afro-American artists, and young kids. One was called A-One (Anthony Clarke), for example, I remember. Breakdance was happening at the Lower East Front, so Francesco Clemente would say, “come along, Raman, we'll be going to watch some kids who are doing new dance forms” and these were the breakdances. The very young French artists Hervé Di Rosa and Robert Combas would visit New York, Keith Haring would introduce them to the scene and I bought some of their works. You had, of course, many other artists.

I became friends also with Horace and Holly Solomon, who Bruno Bischofberger had introduced me to. In their gallery, Holly presented a group of artists which were called “Pattern and Decoration”. Part of the group was Robert Kushner, Kim MacConnell, Joe Zucker, Brad Davis, Tina Girouard, Ned Smyth, Judy Pfaff, many, many others. Then there was also William Wegman who took these wonderful photographs of his Weimaraner dog. And Laurie Anderson was also part of that group.

The art scene and the atmosphere in New York in the 1980s was really wonderful. There were so many groups, you have to consider that there were still the pop artists, of course, there was Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns. Then you had the minimalists, you had the conceptual artists, you had the new painters like Schnabel and Fischli and so on. And all these groups lived and worked at the same time in this never stopping city. And I remember, there was an amazing pressure on the galleries. The main galleries at that time had moved from the Upper East Side, or many new galleries, had started in Soho, which now is a fashion hub, but it was really the artist community which developed that area originally. They had to move on because the real estate became too expensive. You walked in the street and you saw Jasper Johns or you saw Robert Rauschenberg, you saw Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend, and it was a great community also.

D: What a time to be alive, really.

CRS: It was really very lucky that I had this opportunity. As I had grown into the Schlemmer legacy, this too was part of my life. I did not reflect about it. I did not start collecting these artists which I should have done maybe.

“Another very close friend of mine was Robert Mapplethorpe and we spent a lot of time together. He also portrayed me. He did a photograph series of me. But then AIDS happened and we lost many of these friends.”

Dancers of The Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus

Costumes by Oskar Schlemmer for "The Triadic Ballet", at Metropol Theater in Berlin.
Photo: Ernst Schneider, 1926. Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer.

D: It's very, very upsetting. I want to discuss with you more about the work of your grandfather. One of the most famous artworks is actually the performance, the Triadic Ballet. The costumes are incredibly dreamy. But also very fragile. There's quite a few restrictions for the performers wearing them. So my question is actually if you can tell me more about the ballet. But also, I think, I believe there is a text that your grandfather, Oskar Schlemmer, wrote about a very famous ballerina, Isadora Duncan at that time, and is there a relationship?

Not really. Isadora Duncan was before World War I, let us start with that. He (Oskar Schlemmer) did a very nice drawing and he wrote a short text about Isadora Duncan, mentioning her in his diaries. Her dance form was very expressive. It was very natural. It was about the body and it was what you call in German “Ausdruckstanz”. A kind of expressionist dance where your body and the expression of your face are very important. The body is freed from the classical ballet look, the costumes, the tutu. She would wear these very wide, sort of Greek-inspired, pleated dresses, freely flowing scarves, and bare feet and would move on the stage. This was somehow a freedom of the body, which was a very new experience. 

Drawing of Isadora Duncan by Oskar Schlemmer master of the Bauhaus

Left: Oskar Schlemmer, "Isadora Duncan", 1913, pen. | Right: Isadora Duncan dancing with scarf, 1918. Heritage Images / Hulton Archive / Getty Images.

You must remember that in the Victorian, but also the German 19th century, at that time women were put in these very restricting dresses with corsets and everything was hidden. You would not see the legs. The whole body had to be covered. And all of a sudden there were these American dancers; there was another one Loie Fuller. They came to Europe and did this very new, free dance form, which then influenced other dancers like Mary Wigman and Gret Palluca. It is not really what Schlemmer was searching for. The interesting thing is that she (Isadora Duncan) became very popular in Europe. Many Isadora Duncan children dance schools were founded in Europe at the time to learn this free expression dance, which was, I am sure, very, very important as an educational element. “The Triadic Ballet” is sort of the opposite of this. It's putting the body into sculptural costumes where you see very little of the physical body of the person, of the dancers.

If it was on a black stage, they would wear a black overall dance costume so that the body, that the costume, sort of the parts of the costume, like in the metal dance, you just see these metal rings.

“You don't really need to realize the actual person and/or dancer. These were like what I call ambulant sculptures, which moved on the stage in a very formal sort of relationship.”

There was no story. It was not a narrative ballet, very much in contrast to what happened at the same time in Paris, the “Ballets Russes” which still evolved around stories and love stories, very revolutionary also, but still were very much in a sort of a tradition of a narrative tale. With Schlemmer, there was nothing of that. The dances were abstract. They were divided in three sections, a lemon colored section at the beginning. Then in the middle, there was a pink section and finally a black section.

Turkish dancer from the Triadic Ballet and Spiral Dancer by Oskar Schlemmer and the Bauhaus

Left: Oskar Schlemmer, Dancer (Turkish) from "The Triadic Ballet" (Das triadische Ballett). Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer. | Right: Oskar Schlemmer, Dancer (Spiral) from "The Triadic Ballet" (Das triadische Ballett). Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer.

It was first performed in 1922 in Stuttgart. At that time, Schlemmer had been appointed already in 1921 by Walter Gropius to the Bauhaus, but he asked Gropius that he needed time to realize this ballet first, in Stuttgart. Initially he was commuting between Weimar and Stuttgart. The great thing is that Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, and many students of the Bauhaus, all came to the first “Triadic Ballet” performance in Stuttgart. The public and its reaction was, of course, very mixed. There were people from the area who were very upset about this new form of dance, but there were also these great friends who were present and supportive.

The bauhaus teachers and masters

From left to right: Josef Albers, Hinnerk Scheper, Georg Muche, Lázló Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Gunta Stölzl, Oskar Schlemmer in Dessau (1926). Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer.

D: Absolutely a defining moment in his life, for sure. Similarly to Bauhaus and Gropius' invitation for him to join the movement, which part of Gropius' invitation really interested Oskar?

CRS: Well, you see, it is interesting you say the “Bauhaus movement”, it was really a school. Today it is considered much more like a movement. There was, of course, a manifesto, which was composed in 1919, and had to do with the traditional construction workshops of the cathedral. That was the vision of Gropius and the artists who founded the Bauhaus in 1919.

Schlemmer was, after World War I, still a master student at the Stuttgart Academy. This appointment meant that he became a teacher, he was employed, he would get a salary, he was among his peers, and that he transitioned from the student role into the master role. Of course, most of the artists were senior to him, like Vassily Kandinsky; who joined in 1922 after Schlemmer and Klee, or Lyonel Feininger, who was already in Weimar, but also his fellow student from the Stuttgart period, Johannes Itten. At the same time as Schlemmer, Paul Klee was appointed.

Just previous to this, Schlemmer had tried to convince the Stuttgart Academy to appoint Paul Klee as the new Head of the Painting Department, as a successor of his wonderful teacher Adolf Hölzel, who retired. The Stuttgart Academy declined, arguing that Klee was too contemporary; they were not interested in him. How lucky for the Bauhaus that the Stuttgart Academy did not take that chance.

“There Schlemmer, still in his role as a student, had tried to bring Paul Klee as a successor to Hölzel, to Stuttgart, and now all of a sudden they were colleagues in Weimar.”

The other thing, which I think is important, at that time: he had fallen in love with a young woman called Helena Tutein. They married in 1921. Of course, he wanted to start a family. He was a young artist who had not yet had a market for his art. To have a salary, of course, in Weimar, was a temptation as well. And then of course, the access to the workshops of the Bauhaus. At that time, I do not think the budget was abundant, but it was quite adequate, he created several sculptures in the workshops. But also the costumes for “The Triadic Ballet” (“Das Triadische Ballett”) were partly done in Weimar, in the workshops by students and together with his brother; not all of them, but some. That opened Schlemmer many new possibilities.

Oskar Schlemmer with his family, wife Tut and three children

From left to right: Tut, Karin, Tilman, Jaïna and Oskar Schlemmer. Meisterhaus, Bauhaus Dessau, Germany, 1926.
Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer

D: Wonderful. I want to touch on the relationship that you mentioned with Paul Klee, obviously a relationship of peers, and also the beautiful thing that Oskar Schlemmer was looking up to him. Interestingly enough, Paul Klee had a son, Felix Klee, who had the same admiration towards your grandfather. Can you tell me more about the different teachers and their relationships?

CRS: What we need to remember is that Oskar Schlemmer was junior to Paul Klee, and he was junior to Kandinsky and Feininger. He was just slightly older than the students, but younger than his colleagues at the Bauhaus school. The relationship between Kandinsky, Klee and Schlemmer was of great mutual respect. 

The Bauhaus Masters Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer, Georg Muche, and Paul Klee. In Paul Klee’s studio at the Bauhaus Weimar, 1925.

From left to right: Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer, Georg Muche, and Paul Klee.
In Paul Klee’s studio at the Bauhaus Weimar, 1925.

When Klee was to arrive in Weimar by train, Gropius asked Schlemmer, “you go please to the station and pick him up.” There is a very nice little anecdote when Klee got out of the train and he knew Schlemmer, of course, already. They were very happy, they said hello to each other and Klee took him to the side and asked, “Schlemmer, what are the meat prices here in Weimar?” So, that shows another part of Paul Klee. The Klees were very, very careful with their expenses. He had a housekeeper as well and he always kept records of all the household expenses. That is why he was interested in the prices. I am sure my grandfather had no idea what the meat prices were in Weimar at the time, because they probably hardly had meat at home. My grandmother was not a good cook. That was not sort of a priority to Schlemmer. But that is nice, and it shows the relationship (they had).

Felix was at that time still younger. When they finally moved to Dessau, Felix Klee enrolled as a student. I think he was 17 years old, and he is supposed to be the youngest student who joined the Bauhaus. Paul Klee was very severe as a teacher and also as a father. Felix wanted to go to the theater and perform, so Oskar Schlemmer was a sort of ideal for him. That is how this admiration originated, and the respect also. Of course, all these performances that Oskar staged in Weimar already, but also at the Bauhaus stage in Dessau, is very much what Felix Klee loved. 

Staircase mural by Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus Workshop

Oskar Schlemmer, murals on the staircase in the Bauhaus Workshop building, 1923. Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer.

When Oskar Schlemmer left the Bauhaus in 1929, he moved to the Academy of Breslau, which today is Wroclaw in Poland. Part of the reason why he wanted to move to Breslau and teach at the Academy was that he wanted to create more theater work. This in the end did not happen as much as he had hoped, but there were two operas which were staged at the State Theater in Breslau. One was “Rossignol” by Igor Stravinsky, and the other was “Renard” also by Stravinsky. These were new performance pieces, with the music by Stravinsky, staged first in Paris and commissioned to Stravinsky by these wealthy ladies in the salons of Paris. Schlemmer wanted to realize these two pieces. The coincidence is that Felix Klee was an assistant at the theater in Breslau, so they could really work together once again.

Bauhaus Signet

Karl Peter Röhl designed the Bauhaus emblem in 1919. The inclusion of Chinese symbols representing yin and yang, along with depictions of a sun, star, and swastika as used in India (as a symbol of the sun) which was later misused by the Nazis in reverse, illustrates the spiritual aspirations of the institution. Oskar Schlemmer's newly designed emblem crafted in 1923 (on the right) mirrors the school's shift towards a focus on production and industry.

D: The Bauhaus logo is one of the most iconic artworks. What is the story behind it?

CRS: Well, you see, I think it is one of the most iconic artworks today. I consider it as one of the most remarkable sort of brand logos, which was ever created because it is so striking. The Bauhaus, when it started in Weimar, was much more directed towards crafts. There was stonework, pottery, woodwork, different workshops, and then of course also the theater workshop. This original concept of the master and the apprentice was very dominant in the initial Weimar period. The logo which they had originally chosen to be the logo on the stationery and for the school, was very much a guild, craft-related image.

At some point, the school realized that they had to be more contemporary. In the master council they discussed creating a new logo, and the artists were asked to present proposals. If you think that at that time, there was Kandinsky, there was Paul Klee, there was Lyonel Feininger, but also László Moholy-Nagy, who was very much interested in graphic design.

“It is amazing that they chose the logo of Oskar Schlemmer, because, I think Gropius recognized that this was the most striking emblem to represent the school. It was both about the human being as well as about art, about teaching. It encompassed so many aspects.”

D: And very minimal.

CRS: Very minimal indeed. Very striking how with a few sort of vertical and horizontal elements, you create a face.

D: Absolutely. Your grandfather was heavily persecuted during the Nazi era. His artworks were confiscated, destroyed, and he was also not permitted to perform his profession. How did that affect him and his family?

CRS: Well, now we jump, of course, again. We were in the happy times of Bauhaus and Breslau, and his last assignment was in Berlin. Breslau was closed by Nazi elements and actually by decree from Berlin. But just before its closing, he had been appointed to the Academy of Berlin, Vereinigte Hochschulen. You see today, if you look at Germany in that period, we look at the Bauhaus out of our perspective. At that time, of course, the most important national institution was the Academy in Berlin, in the capital, not the Bauhaus.The Bauhaus was extremely eccentric people would say, a bunch of people with crazy ideas. But Berlin was sort of considered a serious, important art academy. In Germany there was Munich, of course, there was Stuttgart, Frankfurt, but Berlin was sort of the main institution to be.

“For Oskar Schlemmer to be appointed to the Academy of Berlin was an amazing, rewarding assignment.”

This did not last very long because the Nazis had taken power. But even before they took power, they were already sort of infiltrating institutions, like we see it unfortunately now in parts in Germany again. All of a sudden posters appeared in the lobby of the Berlin Academy stating names of some of the teachers and that these are “Marxist Jewish elements” and to “avoid these teachers”. This was all arranged, it was propaganda, of course, and while there might have been some radical right-wing students in the school as well, as of course, as much as very left-wing as well, the decision was taken by the Nazi party cadre.

This was a time of great political and social activism in the Weimar Republic period in Germany. It served as a pretext to the Nazi authorities to call Schlemmer and say - I paraphrase:“Look, the students oppose you, they don't want you, you are communist, you are Jewish, and therefore we give you leave.” He was not fired immediately but initially put on leave, but later he was fired, with the rule that it was irrevocable, and that he had no access and claim to pension later for his teaching period in Berlin. That was a very effective procedure (by the Nazis) of removing people from office in academies, or artists, or in theaters as well.

With his appointment to Berlin, the Schlemmer family had moved into an apartment, they lived in Siemensstadt, a newly built housing area, which was partly designed by Hans Scharoun, I think also by Walter Gropius, by other contemporary architects. It was a very new style apartment building area in Berlin. The children went to school, they were now youngsters, so for them it was fantastic to be in this big city.

From one day to the other, Schlemmer had no income. It affected his life very much. Because he had no income, he placed each child with somebody else, some with relatives, the boy (Tilman) was brought to a lady they knew who had a boarding school, my grandmother (Tut) had to go somewhere, and the family was dissolved.

Drawing of the Bauhaus murals in the Bauhaus School by Oskar Schlemmer

Oskar Schlemmer drawing of the Bauhaus Workshop murals in Weimar, 1923. Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer.

At the same time, already in 1930, his mural wall paintings had been destroyed in Weimar. In 1923 Schlemmer had created mural paintings and reliefs in the entry area and staircase of the workshop building in Weimar. These reliefs were destroyed by hammer and the entire work was overpainted. He was really one of the first artists to be affected by this right-wing fascist movement in Germany. This was three years before Hitler took power.

Of course, it completely changed their lifestyle. By then he had established relationships with some art galleries and sometimes he could sell. However, he was always dreaming to restage “The Triadic Ballet”. He had all these incredible, wonderful ideas, and all of a sudden this was over.

You said he was not permitted to perform (his profession) - it really was to a degree that he and other artists were prohibited to work as artists. I remember that he then, in order to generate some income, applied to the Reichskulturkamme. This was the organization that controlled all artistic activities in the Reich. Its designation was to promote art that was in line with the regime, but also to suppress avant-garde tendencies. It very much controlled, well, everything was controlled by the Nazis, and they were very strict. He applied that he could work as an illustrator, because he thought that that would not be considered "harmful". But it was prohibited. They did not give him permission. One other thing which was very limiting to him is that he was excluded as a member. As an artist, you had to be registered at the Reichskulturkammer, you had to be a member.

“He was excluded, which meant that painters that were not registered with the Reichskulturkammer had no access to paint, brushes, canvas, or anything artistically.”

I find it incredible that you think of a government, a totalitarian government system, which goes into such details to determine that an artist should not have access anymore to painting materials.

“That had all a very great impact, and of course also to the children, it conditioned the children. Why they lost part of their previous life, from one day to the other, was not understandable.”

My mother (Jaïna) was placed with her maternal grandmother in Mannheim, the Tuteins, which was the family of Tut Schlemmer, who were once very, very wealthy Huguenots. They had migrated during the Pogroms in France to Germany, and mainly to Mannheim and Antwerp. They owned large parts of Mannheim at the time. By the time my mother then came to stay with her grandmother in 1933, that wealth had gone due to inflation, the bank crashes, and so most of that fortune had gone. This grandmother had a little tobacco shop where she would sell cigars and tobaccos in these beautiful packages, and my mother loved it very much, to be in that shop. So, the children sort of learned to adjust.

In 1935, my grandfather managed to sell some artworks. He rented a little house in South Germany, in Eichberg. It was a hamlet of farm houses, a customs enclave inside Switzerland, but it was part of Germany, and rather close to Zurich. I am always amazed to see what they called close to Zurich, because it was quite a distance. They would go by bicycle to Zurich from there, which was really impressive.

Here Schlemmer reunited, in this very small house, with the family. The children who had grown up as urban children, all would embrace new nature and farming. The farmers in that area were very generous people. The children could sit at the table with the other children at lunch and were fed, which was very helpful. They helped during the harvest and in the fields. They went to school, of course, and became great friends with the children of the farmers’ families. I guess it was my grandfather who decided to keep sheep. So, they ordered a sheep from North Germany, which at that time came by train in a crate. Shortly after this female sheep arrived, she gave birth to several lambs. Hence, she was pregnant when she arrived.

“All of a sudden, nature and this sort of closeness to the soil and agriculture gave them a whole different perspective. It helped the family to get over this damaging and severe situation in which Oskar Schlemmer and his family were. These were actually rather happy times.”

My grandmother, from one day to the other, had to milk this sheep. Another very nice anecdote is that they then decided that the sheep should also have a ram. Therefore, they ordered a ram. This female sheep was a rather large lady. However, with the new crate arrived a little male lamb, which they freed and then had to walk quite far from the railway station back to Eichberg. This tiny little baby sheep was supposed to become the husband of this large lady sheep. There is a story, which my aunt Karin, my mother's sister, always told in a very amusing way, when this little sheep had to be walked for three miles to the village. But it did not want to walk, of course. And so, Oskar Schlemmer took a little stick which sometimes he would softly touch between the lamb’s legs. As a result, the baby ram would jump sort of three meters and then stop again. He was named Pipin and he grew and became a very, very large ram. We have been back to this village, also myself, and I heard the stories of these girlfriends and boyfriends of the Schlemmer children. They would tell me that at some point, my grandmother (Tut Schlemmer) would scream “watch out” and on the slope, he (the ram) would run and jump over the fence and race into the village. All the people had to get quickly into their houses because he would attack. I can say that this was a rather cheerful time in spite of all the severity and problems. 

The house had a little veranda and in one corner was the “studio” of my grandfather, which of course was not great. He had been used to the spacious studios in Weimar, in Dessau, and in the Meisterhaus. He had a large studio in Breslau, he had his own studio in the Academy in Berlin. Now, he was on this veranda, with a space of two by two meters to paint, as my mother told me. He did and he resumed painting.

Watercolour of a landscape Rhine valley with the Vosges by Jaina Schlemmer

Watercolor by U. Jaïna Schlemmer, created while the family lived in Sehringen, 1937. View into the Rhine valley with the Vosges in the background. Photo Archive C. Raman Schlemmer.

He could not purchase any more canvas, but you could not stop him from working. He had this brilliant idea to buy this paper from the market, which is called oil paper, and was used to wrap mainly sorts of oily foods, like sardines or other things which would smell. The market women had used this paper to wrap food and he started to buy rolls of this paper. Of course nobody suspected that he would do something else with it. He started painting on this oil paper. He had this great skill to do watercolors, that was very beautiful and special. And he transferred this skill to oil on oilpaper. My mother sat next to him and she painted too. I still have some of these little watercolors or gouaches, which my mother painted, sitting next to her father. The son (Tilman) started cutting little figures in plywood. My grandfather would make a drawing of a figure like an angel, but also little figurines of "The Triadic Ballet”. Tilman would saw them out, and then they would paint it together with his father and create these little wooden figures. Sister Karin was not really interested in drawing, she was rather out with the girlfriends and the boys as well.

D: Wonderful. It's nice that there's positive memories despite the Nazi regime.

CRS: Yes, yes. But also, because these farmers in that area were so generous and welcoming. I just recently went back to this village and unfortunately now all the girlfriends and boyfriends have passed away. But I met one lady who was married to one of these boys. When they hear Schlemmer, they still glow and they think of that really fantastic period which they experienced together.

My mother also had a tortoise, like a Greek land tortoise. I remember when we went back once, maybe in the 1960s, one woman came and she said, “oh, you know, I've seen your tortoise again.” She could recognize her because my mother had written in bronze color, which is something one should not do, but she had written a name on it. This woman had seen that it still had traces of that paint. She lived there in the forest sort of 30 years later, she was still alive and roaming the area. So, the spirit of the Schlemmers was still present.

D: One of the lucky solutions was to emigrate. Many artists migrated to the States. I think in 1937, that was also Oskar Schlemmer's thought. 

CRS: Yes. Well, you see, you say lucky. If you were Jewish to save your life, you had to try to migrate. Unfortunately, many people did not realize it, that is why millions of people got killed by the Nazis. But of course, one way to escape that rule and to remain faithful to your art and what you wanted to represent and your liberty, was to migrate.

There were certain artists like Max Beckmann who had no children. They migrated already, I think in 1933, or maybe a few years later, they went first to the Netherlands, which of course later was occupied (by the Germans), then they were forced to go to America. They had no children, so it was much easier. I am not saying that it was easy (to do), but it was easier. My grandfather and my grandmother had three young children. To just leave Germany seemed not an option at the beginning.

But, back to your question, at some point, of course, something very serious happened and this was the exhibition in 1937 of “Degenerate Art”. It was an exhibition called “Entartete Kunst”, which was first organized in Munich. By 1937, all artworks by artists which were declared “degenerate”, “entartet”, artists were removed from the public museums in Germany. The regime had already placed some of their functionaries in museums and changed the directors’ positions. Some museum directors were of Jewish origin, others were simply too liberal. They were replaced by Nazi party members. The Nazis did a very thorough, clean job to make sure that all those “degenerate art” -works were removed from the museums. 

Degenerate Art exhibition organized by the Nazi regime in Munich

The exhibition "Degenerate Art" was shown from July 19th to November 30th, 1937, in the rooms of the Munich Hofgarten. The public turnout was large. (© picture-alliance / akg-images)

Nazi minister Goebbels visiting the "Degenerate Art" exhibition with two paintings of Emil Nolde hanging to the left.

Nazi minister Goebbels inaugurates the "Degenerate Art" exhibition, with two paintings of Emil Nolde hanging to the left.

In the case of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, hundreds, I have seen that list in London, and you just cannot believe how many works they removed and confiscated. But also, showing how many works by Kirchner were in 1937 already in public collections. He was a contemporary artist, but hundreds of his artworks, mainly graphic works, were already collected by public museums. Schlemmer was also declared a “degenerate artist” (“entarteter Künstler”), and some of his paintings were exhibited in 1937 in Munich.

Following this, there was another exhibition in Berlin, which was labeled Bolschewist, and in which paintings by Schlemmer were included. There were additional exhibitions in other cities in Germany, and these exhibitions were very popular. People lined up to see what they thought was “degenerate art”. At the same time in Munich, there was an exhibition of what Hitler and his colleagues,-- it is horrible to call them colleagues, -- but what all the other ministers like Goebbels and what they thought was official art. That happened as well. Once this occurred, it dawned on Oskar Schlemmer that he had to leave.

He managed in 1937 to send a very large group of artworks to America. The decision arose because he was approached by Herbert Bayer, one of the students at the Bauhaus, to participate in an exhibition about the Bauhaus School at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. That, of course, was a great opportunity. Herbert Bayer was appointed by the director of MoMA to collect works in Germany. Now, the request was, “can you please send two or three works?” I think my grandfather sent 50 works. He sent them, of course, to get them out of Germany, the “Reich”. Some of these artworks were exhibited in the MoMA exhibition. Only a few were exhibited in this exhibition with the title “Bauhaus 1919 until 1933”. There is a wonderful catalog of this exhibition. He sent some of the figurines of “The Triadic Ballet" to New York. And of course, you can imagine, they were so large. They were packed in huge trunks and sent overseas. He hoped very much that this would open the door for him and his family to migrate.

Installation view of the exhibition "Bauhaus: 1919-1928” at the MoMA with paintings by Oskar Schlemmer

Installation view of the exhibition "Bauhaus: 1919-1928” with paintings by Oskar Schlemmer, December 7, 1938–January 30, 1939. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. IN82.8. Photograph by Soichi Sunami.

What you required at the time for immigrating, especially since America entered the war in 1939, but even already before: you needed two sponsors from the United States to apply for the visa, you needed to have some kind of job perspective or even be confirmed. If you think of the people who emigrated, like Walter Gropius, he got accepted immediately and he was appointed by Harvard. Mies van der Rohe was also appointed by Harvard, but he was upset that Gropius was there, so he went to Chicago. Of course, Thomas Mann was a reputed author at the time. So of course, he got the visa. He got two sponsors. He got an assignment as a professor in the United States.

Oskar Schlemmer had no sponsors and he was not a famous artist. If you think about some of his Bauhaus colleagues, like Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Moholy-Nagy, who was also in Chicago – and used Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus Logo, and Josef Albers. Students like Herbert Bayer, Xanti Schawinsky, some of the art dealers who had migrated with some of Schlemmer’s paintings, were all there. They didn't help him. So that is part of the story as well. In the end, he did not manage to emigrate to the US.

But, I know that he started learning English, and I presume that he was not talented at languages. Obviously, he had been to London, and he had been several times to Paris. Therefore, I think he must have had some basic language knowledge. But, he really started learning English to emigrate.

Sometimes art historians after World War II, who then spoke about or wrote about Oskar Schlemmer, said, “oh, he was the artist who decided to stay in Germany.” No, he did not have a choice!

The exercise books which he used for practising in English, are proof that emigration is something which was a project of his. The problem of course, in 1939 America entered the war, and then communication was impossible because there was no postal service from the Reich to the US. All these things we cannot imagine today, but everything got completely cut off. There was in 1938/1939, an initiative by a gentleman who wanted to bring "The Triadic Ballet” to the United States. He approached Albers and the other Bauhaus people. They never informed Schlemmer. My grandmother also never knew. I discovered this in archives in the 1990s when I went to the National Library of Congress, and to the New York Library, and other archives where I found documents which proved that he would have had a chance if it had been communicated to him, but it was not. 

D: And of course, with the difficulty in communication, a lot of works were lost or kept in collections in the States without the artist's knowledge or willingness.

CRS: Yes, also art dealers who migrated with works to America, which they had on consignment. We know other cases where museum directors took parts of the collections in their suitcase to America and sold them there. They took it out of Germany. Many such things happened during that period.

Because of the “degenerate art” decree, the artworks which were confiscated by the Nazis were in storage. The Nazis had a network of several art dealers after 1937, through whom they tried to sell these confiscated artworks. There were, of course, Kokoschka, Corinth, Chagall, Kandinsky, Klee, Kirchner and many other 20th century artists. Schlemmer had no market. That was not very interesting for the art dealers.

So luckily, the Kunstmuseum Basel, that is a whole long other story which we talk about another time, but the Kunstmuseum Basel bought two paintings by Oskar Schlemmer. A third painting by Schlemmer had to be returned to Berlin and was destroyed. 

“Many works of my grandfather were destroyed because they were of no use to the Nazis. They could not get Swiss Francs or other foreign exchange for it. It was easier to burn them rather than to store them.”

D: All of this injustice must have definitely had an impact on your family, psychologically and obviously financially. What I'm interested in is, have those stories been communicated within your family? Is there an Erinnerungskultur (Culture of Remembrance) that was discussed? And was that also part of your upbringing?

CRS: Very much. But from a perspective today, I think much more should have been talked about. I should have been able to hear and tell many more stories. We now know from this whole post-war, or the entire generation who lived through this war, also Jewish families, that when they start talking, they say, “for years, we could not talk about what we experienced.” Of course, it is more serious after all, if you were in a concentration camp and what you experienced there.

My mother (Jaïna Schlemmer) was on the East Front, she became a nurse when Germany started the war. She enrolled as a Red Cross nurse, working first in Badenweiler, where the studio house was nearby. She was working in a military hospital, which was actually one of the grand hotels. She had dramatic experiences with these young, wounded soldiers who came without a leg, without an eye. She was a young woman and these were all young men. That was not an easy situation for these young nurses. As soon as the soldiers were declared slightly fit again, they were sent back to the front. That was a dramatic experience for my mother. That is something she talked about to me. She named me also the doctor who did it, somebody we knew after the war, who sent the soldiers back to the front.

She was moved to the East Front -- mobile military surgical hospital units--, at the time when the Russians were approaching. This was, of course, the area where today is Poland. The Germans were retrieving and the Nazis were removing the troops back towards Berlin, back to the center of Germany, fleeing the Russians, which were forwarding. The mobile military surgical hospital trains did not transport only the injured. These were hospital trains, Red Cross, with the Red Cross symbol. There is an international convention that you cannot bomb a train marked as a hospital and Red Cross. As we realize now, the Russians bomb hospitals in Ukraine as well, but this is against international law. Under the guidance of the Red Cross, the Nazis, the Wehrmacht, were moving on these hospital trains weapons as well, and the Allied forces knew, and so they bombed these trains.

“My mother talked about it, but I wish I would have talked more about it to her. I think it would have helped her, hopefully, that was what I thought, to get some of this anger and this grief out.”

My grandmother Tut lived in a very different situation in those years. She stayed in the studio house in the South Black Forest, and nearby there were hardly any bombings. It was in the countryside. Eventually the French then came closer. Among the French troops were also colonial troops like the Moroccan units, and that was not very “pleasant” for the population, of course, what happened is that they destroyed a lot. But in all, Tut lived a rather protected period in that house.

My mother, I think, of all the family members, had the most dramatic experience, especially at the East Front, and moving back the Germans troops from the forwarding Russian troops. When the war was over, she was assigned to continue to work in North Germany, under the Swedish Red Cross. She always described these Swedish nurses, they had these enormous uniforms, robes with their veils waving. Germany was the enemy, so it was not necessarily that they treated the German nurses nicely, because they had been on the opposite side. Jaïna was present when they opened Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp. Hence after the war, she still served under the Swedish Red Cross and she came home much later, during 1945-46. That period was, of course, a very traumatic experience for her.

I believe that my grandfather did not experience such situations during World War II. But he (Oskar Schlemmer) experienced it acutely, physically and mentally during World War I on the war front. I know from his notes in the diaries, that he saw how Jewish people were chased out of villages and cities. He was very much aware of that. He was always accused of being a Jew and a Bolshevist, and this was very much something he was conscious of. But nobody in the family has seen a concentration camp inside but my mother. Nobody had seen the war front when the Red Cross train was bombed and they had to remove the injured from the train into the bushes along the railway tracks. And, of course, not all of the wounded survived. Jaïna had very traumatic experiences.

“I strongly believe that part of these experiences are transmitted through generations.”

Oskar Schlemmer, "Bauhaus Stairway" (Bauhaustreppe), 1932, installed on the staircase of MoMA, New York.

Oskar Schlemmer, "Bauhaus Stairway" (Bauhaustreppe), 1932, installed on the staircase of MoMA, New York.

Part of this whole story is also of my grandmother telling how they suffered after the art of Oskar Schlemmer was declared “degenerate” and how they lost paintings, how they were cheated, how the “Bauhaus Stairway” (currently in the collection of MoMA) was never paid to the artist. A story which then continued after World War II, I told you initially that my grandfather was dismissed from the Berlin Academy without the right to a pension. So, this continued. The authorities after World War II stating to my grandmother that as her husband was dismissed by the authorities, she had no right to claim her husband's pension.”

And this is amazing, if you think. The whole juridical system in Germany continued to be controlled and infiltrated, also after the war by judges, which were former Nazi party members (NSDAP). The Allied forces required some kind of still functioning governance structure, of course. Many found reasons why they could say, “oh, I was not so serious.”

As a result, Tut was without any income. She applied for what is called Wiedergutmachung (compensation) -- and it was declined by the German authorities. Finally, a politician of the Socialist Party SPD arranged that she get a pension of 58 Reichsmark. That is like 58 Euros. I am sure it is actually much less than this, and that was her monthly income.

She couldn't take lawyers to try to claim the artworks back, which were in America. Nina Kandinsky once said to her in New York, as they traveled together to New York: “you see, I'm rich. I can afford lawyers. You are poor. You can't.” Which was a reality as well. None of these misplaced and illegally withheld artworks, which were lost through people not giving them back rightfully, consignments or whatever. She could not do anything legally, because she did not have the financial means to do it. You have deadlines, within which you have to claim your right to the property and you have to prove it. All these stories I heard were always told during my childhood. They were very, very present. This grief and this bitterness about how this great artist was deprived from his liberty to work as a free artist.

D: Unbelievable. It was a very dark time.

CRS: It was, yes. Today in all correctness, we think of the people who were brought to the camps – and most of them killed. However, within Germany, there was also so much repression in the society. It is not the same if you are not allowed to paint as being in a concentration camp, of course. I do not want to ever compare this. But still, here was a genius of an artist who was forbidden to be free and work as an artist. And this was a silent form of torture, as well. So, once he realized, this is my view, that there was no way to escape, that he could not offer any perspective also to his children and his family, he just gave up. He was ill, he had a kidney problem. But I think it was really melancholy and sadness which led to his death on 13th of April, 1943.

Caspar David Friedrich, "Woman before the Rising Sun", 1818 and Oskar Schlemmer, “Figure from the Rear”, 1928

Left: Caspar David Friedrich, "Woman before the Rising Sun", 1818. | Right: Oskar Schlemmer, “Figure from the Rear”, 1928
Photographed during C. Raman Schlemmer's lecture at the Palazzo Magnani in Reggio Emilia

D: You speak of this melancholy and sadness. When you look at texts describing his works that he was creating at the last period of his life, there's a great romanization. That's quite oxymoronic, really. There's great comparisons between Caspar David Friedrich and your grandfather's works, even though it was a different situation.

Yes, but Caspar David Friedrich was an artist he very much admired, also Philipp Otto Runge, but also Grünewald, these great masters. Think about the rigor in the construction of the paintings of Oskar Schlemmer, which actually you will find in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich in a way as well. All these situations, like Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818, which Friedrich never had seen in real life, but they were very constructed. They are constructed situations. So even if you think of Jeff Wall today, who constructs the photographs. Initially he has an idea, he has a vision about a scene, but then he constructs the entire tableau. This is too far going, what I am trying to say. But yes, there is always this romantic aspect as well.

In addition there was always his great sense of humor. He (Oskar Schlemmer) was a theater person. He was a performer from his early student times. You will discover photographs where he is, -- we do not know what it was, but he is on stage in costume. And he was always telling little texts, like poetry texts, funny texts. Part of his family originated from Mainz, Germany, and Mainz has a great tradition of carnival. Certainly, that sort of talent was transmitted to him as well, although he was very young when his parents passed away. But this humor -- when you read his diaries and his letters, and see how cheerful he still sometimes was. How much humor he continued to have in his art!

He then had to, because every male German, and this we see now very much in a country at war, like in Ukraine as well, had to be either at the front line as a soldier or to serve labor service, which was called “Arbeitsdienst”. You had to prove to the Nazi authorities that you were doing something for the survival of German society. He had to do graffiti painting on new apartment constructions. He had to tarnish paint on strategic buildings like the gas supplies of Stuttgart, which were really demeaning works for him to do. Eventually, he found a possibility to work in a paint factory in Wuppertal, Germany. This man, Kurt Herbert, had a very important collection of Asian, especially Japanese lacquerware, that was his personal interest, a very wealthy industrialist. He asked my grandfather to work on lacquer and to do research. This was dealing with very toxic materials. The same factory was producing camouflage painting for warplanes, so there are always two sides. This was the benevolent face of this industrialist, but his profit came from supplying the army, the Wehrmacht, of course. But not (yet) resigning from his creative impulses, my grandfather arranged a new sort of “Triadic Ballet” performance. And the dancers were the  secretaries of the factory. Because he could, of course, not use the original “Triadic Ballet” costumes, based on his designs, they did sort of paper cut-out costumes. When I look at these years, I am always amazed how strong he remained, resilient, humorous and how dedicated he remained to his art.

But then, of course, you see a break towards 1943, the last year, when he passed away in April, the comments in his diaries become sadder. If you look at the paintings, you can see how the colors changed towards the end of the 1930s, they become much more somber.

Oskar Schlemmer letter reply from From the Reichskartell of Fine Arts Gau Württemberg

Letter: Inventory number: AOS 2014/1035. Dated: 24 August 1933. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Translation to English from the original letter in German:

From the Reichskartell of Fine Arts Gau Württemberg Neckarstrasse 2.

Stuttgart, 24.8.33.

Dear Professor! Well, what should I say in response to your letter. You have surrounded yourself with a clique of Jews, had an international orientation, collaborated with Toller, and then you wonder when a purely nationally oriented government excludes you. I have indeed considered you a very talented artist with an instinct for the modern, a fresh, energetic mind. But your circle was devastating. You did not feel German, especially at a time when things were at their worst for us. Now, your art is not Jewish or international; it is pioneering work for a real style. I say this to anyone who wants to hear it or not. Kokoschka, Nolde, Barlach, and all the others are modernized archaists; even the subjects they deal with, biblical themes, emotional anguish, etc., point in that direction. But for you, I'm sorry. You are not a Schiller! Like almost all artists, you belong to the cryptocrystalline national element that thinks first of itself. One must also stand "steel-hard and clear" in relation to the overall idea, and in that, you are integrated as a German. But I'm sure you already know that. Any advice is unnecessary. Prove that you left the Bauhaus because of communist activities against you. I will then try to draw the attention of Minister Goebbels to you. You are mistaken if you speak of a change. For the National Socialist idea, no one can be modern enough! Because it has a transcendent will for freedom, to break free from thousand-year-old bonds. It does not matter how something first appears, only the spirit matters. The entire purification today is not an art question; it is a purely personal and character question. Best regards, Yours [...].

D: Muddy, in a way. There's a great way to learn about an artist is definitely through the archives, the letters. I stumbled across a letter from the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart archives They have a very big collection, almost 3,000 artifacts; letters, photographs, artworks of your grandfather. I would like to just quote a letter that I found addressed to your grandfather from someone at the Reichskulturkammer, which is the Reichskartell of Fine Arts, from an administrative division of Nazi Germany in 1933. Quite interestingly, the writer states, I quote: “I did consider you a very talented artist with an instinct for the modern, a fresh and energetic mind. Your art is pioneering work for a true style. (...) the entire current purification is not a question of art. It is purely personal and character.”  Which actually means that the discrimination, racism, and everything that your grandfather received from the Nazi regime had to do with his "character", although he was really a pioneer.

CRS: Well, with his personality. Exactly. And, you know, we looked at this letter before, and of course, he says other things about his art as well. He discriminates his art as well in the same manner.

D: But what I find incredibly brave is the fact that Oskar Schlemmer was actually one of the very few artists that actually confronted the regime. I don't know if anyone during that time of his great contemporaries and peers confronted the actual social (-political) situation.

CRS: No, I think this is very unique. I cannot say that nobody else did it in the artist community. But of course, many of his sort of peers, his contemporaries, had left Germany. They just gave in by leaving and avoiding any conflict. He wrote a letter when he was dismissed in Berlin, and when they had started confiscating artworks from the national museums, Oskar Schlemmer accused the minister of this procedure in a very, very long letter. That is amazingly courageous, because we know there were concentration camps. There were many political prisoners in these camps, there were not only Jewish people, there were not only Romani and Sinti, but there were many, many political prisoners. I consider this to be amazingly courageous.

There are art historians… I have been to a university lecture in Berlin, as part of a conference on artists living under the Nazi regime, where an art historian asserted that Schlemmer was “apolitical”, “he didn't read the newspaper, he was conservative.” I really wonder what goes in the mind of these art historians, based on these facts, which we know, of how courageous he was to dare to say that. He was maybe in the 30s not as revolutionary anymore, especially in the early 1940s. I believe that then he was a broken man, because of what happened. But he had not given up.

When he was young, and in the Stuttgart years, this was also the period when he met my grandmother. They were arrested in the streets because they were considered leftists and not conforming to the system. My grandmother had short hair, and that alone was already a sign that you were a communist. No, they were not apolitical. 

D: One can actually understand how brave your mother was, through a story that is published on your website, schlemmer.org. I was amazed at the bravery of your mother, particularly the fact that she loaded rolled-up paintings and drawings onto a cattle wagon, together with her younger brother (Tilman). She drove the wagon east to the German-Swiss border, saving all those artworks. Of course, that was incredibly brave, and putting her life in danger, taking into consideration what was happening at the time. In case that they could confiscate the works and also have an impact on her life.

CRS: The Nazi henchmen probably would have destroyed them if they would have stopped her and found what she was transporting, “degenerate” art. This was, of course, a period of great chaos, and she had put a large piece of cloth over the wagon. It was not very obvious what she was transporting. But you are saying quite rightly that she brought it to the Swiss-German border. They were actually living in that studio house in the south of Black Forest, which was bordering France, opposite you had the Vosges, the Alsace, which at the outbreak of the war was still a German territory administration. And to the south, which you could sort of see in the distance, was Switzerland. Therefore, the Swiss border was quite near. 

As the French troops were approaching from the West, her intention became clearer. There had been stories that, especially, and I am sorry to say it, that the Moroccan soldiers whatever they got under their fingers, they destroyed. I know from my father's grandmother that they came into her house in Stuttgart, where she had beautiful Biedermeier and Jugendstil furniture, also ceramics designed by her husband (Paul Haustein), and they just broke everything to pieces. These stories were known. In addition, there was the luring danger that some Nazis would come to the house and find all these artworks, which should have been confiscated.

At some point, actually, I can't distinguish this historically now all in our conversation today, but at some point, some military staff of the Wehrmacht were placed in the house. My grandmother had to vacate her bedroom and there were officials from the military staying in the house. As part of all this must have been the intention to move the endangered artworks further east, actually. That was the main motivation. They had friends, further east which were on the border to Switzerland and where they had lived before in that custom enclave where she could place it. There was a textile factory where she worked also during the war. Probably this is where these artworks were stored to save them from destruction.

D: Preserving your grandfather's legacy and his artworks really involved a lot of risk-taking. There were a lot of tasks that your grandmother did, your mother, and you later.

CRS: Yes. Well, if you think today that a museum like Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart claims they have almost 3,000 objects. Every major museum in the big cities in Germany today owns at least one painting, but also works on paper by Oskar Schlemmer. However fact is that by 1937 all artworks by Schlemmer in Germany had been removed from public collections.

“Would it not have been for the bravery and the courage of the family, the Germans could not see the art of Oskar Schlemmer today!”

I find it amazing how this is often forgotten. The German state is now proud that it shows the works of Oskar Schlemmer, yes, but it can only show it because the family saved the artworks from Nazi persecution and destruction.

D: Absolutely. And you've dedicated decades.

CRS: Of course, yes, yes. That is what was somehow laid out into my destiny by my grandmother. She nurtured that interest, but she also nurtured this expectation. Considering what has happened to Oskar Schlemmer, I always have said, and I have said this also on the American ABC evening news, on live television:

“It is a moral obligation, from my point of view, to take care of the œuvre. This is not primarily about ownership, but it really is about the legacy.”

Today there are of course many Schlemmer artworks in museum collections, they are part of this legacy for me as well. It is not so much whether I own an artwork or not, but it really is the totality of his œuvre. He created what you call a total artwork, something we have not yet talked about, a Gesamtkunstwerk, and which of course “The Triadic Ballet” very much represents with music, sculpture, painting, dance and movement. This I see as a whole. This is what has to be transmitted to future generations. That is part of my obligation towards this great ancestor.

This is very much something which was part of my education already as a small boy, transmitted by my grandmother and also by my mother, and the amusing anecdotes told by my aunt Karin or Felix Klee. I also spent time alone with my grandmother, as a child. We traveled together, also when I had grown up, e.g to the Venice Biennale. We had a very positive relationship. Often, relationships between grandchildren and grandparents are perceived as 'easier' than those between a mother and daughter, mother and son, and of course, father and child.

“I had my years of rebellion where I thought, why do I have to live a life where I always look backwards? Because partly it is this, if you take care of an ancestor and dedicate your life to his life and what he created.”

But I matured in this. I have grown up in this. Partly, I think my Indian origin also has helped it, especially my South Indian origin, where the respect and the worship for ancestors actually is very, very important. He is part of this, my circle of ancestors, out of which I was born.

D: As I mentioned before, you have dedicated decades of your life and have done such tremendous accomplishments, showcasing, presenting, bringing awareness of the Oskar Schlemmer estate. Looking back in 1986, you orchestrated the first retrospective of Oskar Schlemmer and you brought all those amazing works to the States at the Baltimore Museum. Of course, that was a very special moment, just as your grandmother, who was 95 at the time, also crossed the Atlantic Ocean and visited the exhibition. It was a huge accomplishment. Looking back, can you share more information, but also tell me more about any of those accomplishments and what they actually mean to you?

CRS: Well, you see, I think one thing which helped this international appreciation of Oskar Schlemmer is that I am a very, I dare to say, I am a very cosmopolitan person. This is something my grandmother recognized very early on. I was fairly at ease with other languages. Already as a teenager, encouraged by my mother, I moved around a lot and was never homebound or homesick. I made very easy friends, especially in the artists’ communities. My mother was much more German centered and also did not speak other languages easily. My father did not travel back to India. So that is why my grandmother recognized not only this little boy, which she had nurtured and involved in the work of her great husband, but also this international opening. I was also working with the international Artforum Magazine, for example. I was working with a Japanese company, was responsible for new design tendencies and lifestyle, and I traveled frequently internationally. People found very easy access to me and thus to Oskar Schlemmer.

Therefore, on one of these visits to New York, I was approached by the director of the Baltimore Museum, Arnold Lehman. They had already planned to organize an Oskar Schlemmer exhibition in Baltimore. They knew how to get in contact with all the German museums which owned artworks of Oskar Schlemmer. But they had no contact with the family and they did not know how to go about this. This became a wonderful collaboration.

“The amazing thing is we started working on this exhibition six years before the opening. No institution can afford such planning anymore. The catalog was ready one year before the opening.”

Today everything is at the last minute and maybe the catalog the day after the opening. It was an amazing organization in that museum in Baltimore. They also told us that they wanted the exhibition to travel within the United States, and would we agree? Of course, we agreed.

I became sort of the connection, to my grandmother and to my mother, also for language reasons and because I traveled forwards and backwards to the United States, and the director and the curator, Brenda Richardson, who unfortunately passed away last year, visited us several times to Stuttgart. They met my grandmother and mother and it became really a very, very special relationship. I am still friends with Arnold Lehman, the director then. He very sweetly said in October 2019, -- you were present Dimitria -- maybe I shouldn't say that, but he said:

“How lucky Oskar Schlemmer is to have you as a grandson.”

‘This is something my grandmother very much realized and many people told her, especially the Bauhaus community. At some point in 1968, during the exhibition of the 50 years Bauhaus in Stuttgart, the Bauhäusler called me the Mascot of the Bauhaus (Ariel Scharon). Tut was the “Mother of the Bauhaus”, and I became the “Mascot of the Bauhaus”, because I was everywhere and talking to all these great people.’

To come back to this exhibition, yes, this was an amazing experience. And of course, there was the question of the age of my grandmother. I went to see her, and I asked her, “would you like to travel to the United States for the opening of the exhibition?” And  she in reply asked, “well, what is your idea? You decide.” I replied, “no, you decide. And if you decide to travel, I will make everything possible so that it is no strain for you.”

Finally, she made that decision. We made one condition, that one of her Bauhaus student girlfriends, who was junior to her, however in her 80s also, would accompany her. My mother was worried that she would have to be taking care of her mother (Tut Schlemmer) and the work duties, therefore, it would be very difficult to travel together. So, these three ladies; with the Bauhaus student who was called Trudel Arndt and was the wife of Alfred Arndt, a very, very close friend since the Weimar days. These three ladies flew in First Class to America, and we were put up in a beautiful former nunnery in Baltimore, which was owned by the insurance company and served as a guest house.

We had a butler, we had a chauffeur, we had a cook. It was really very easy for my grandmother. At some point, she was asked by somebody from the museum, “when are you leaving?” and she said, “I don't know yet.” Somebody came up to me and said, “Raman, I think your grandmother is not going to leave anymore.” They had this whole apparatus in place to make her stay comfortable. Still in the airport at departure, she did not want to leave, she was really very happy.

It was amazing, the mayor of Baltimore, who was a black American, Afro-American, declared the opening week as “Oskar Schlemmer Week.” Hence there were banners all over Baltimore with this declaration.

“When we would go together in the evening to a restaurant, people would get up and applaud Tut.”

It was really amazing. It is a big city, it is not a tiny American town.

This generation had sort of another view on honor, on pride. This trip to America was a fulfillment for my grandmother. She was celebrated like a royal in Baltimore. This also shows the positive part of the American people, their generosity and enthusiasm. It was really a wonderful experience for her.

A year later, she left the world. I think this exhibition was crowning all her relentless work and struggle. The other thing she saw, of course, in all modesty:

“she saw that there is a continuation, that the work will spread into the world through the grandson.”

We had wonderful press, we had interviews, we met so many people. There was this Bauhaus couple, Andor and Eva Weininger, they came from New York. It was a reunification also with friends from the Bauhaus period. It was very, very special.

If I may add, the population of Baltimore is Afro-American to a large part. There was a gala sit down dinner after the opening. The Lauders were there from New York, the editors of Artforum, and really fantastic people had especially flown in. But also, this Afro-American bourgeoisie of the city in black tie. I gave one of the dinner speeches. I spoke about the dream of Oskar Schlemmer, and I have to be careful today, and the dream of Martin Luther King. The people got up, some were in tears, it was really amazing. And so for my grandmother Tut to experience all of this was, I think, was very special.

Installation of "The Triadic Ballet" figurines at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Installation design by Frank Gehry, light design by C. Raman Schlemmer in collaboration with Arnold Chan.
Installation of "The Triadic Ballet" figurines at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Installation design by Frank Gehry, light design by C. Raman Schlemmer in collaboration with Arnold Chan.

"The Triadic Ballet" at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Installation design by Frank Gehry, light design by C. Raman Schlemmer in collaboration with Arnold Chan. Photography by Farah Sosa, Courtesy of the LA Phil. 

D: I want to touch upon two big exhibitions that you were the force behind. Centre Pompidou in Metz, and also the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Yes. Where you also worked with Frank Gehry.

CRS: But with all respect, I have to mention another exhibition, which was “TANZ - THEATER - BÜHNE” (1994-95), which means “dance - theater - stage”, which really originated from an idea of my mother’s. Jaïna received as a gift from her mother in 1982, all the theater works, which were still in my grandmother's possession. For some reason, the German museums after World War II were not particularly interested in this part of the œuvre. About eighty percent of what Oskar Schlemmer created for the theater was still held together. Of course, part of the artworks, which my mother had saved during the war, also in the 1930s. Because my mother was an obsessive collector, every paper, everything had to be kept, and she accumulated more. My grandmother knew that therefore these works would stay together. This was very different from the attitude of the other daughter - that's another story.

My mother then worked with this material after 1982 and reconstructed it. She was a stage and costume designer, so it was very much at the heart of her own profession. She reconstructed certain works, which had been sort of dismantled or where so called experts did not know what these were. She realized that a work e. g. belonged to “Rossignol” or whatever. She put all this together, acquired and created installations, and concentrated on an exhibition, which was the “dance - theater - stage” exhibition, that opened in Dusseldorf. 

Installation of works on paper by Oskar Schelmmer at the exhibition "Oskar Schlemmer, l'homme qui danse" (in English: "Oskar Schlemmer, The Dancing Artist") at Pompidou Metz

From October 13th to January 16th, 2016 the Pompidou-Metz center hosts the exhibition "Oskar Schlemmer, l'homme qui danse" (in English: "Oskar Schlemmer, The Dancing Artist") Photo by Maury GOLINI. Copyright C. Raman Schlemmer.

C. Raman Schlemmer, the artist's grandson, curator of this exhibition along with Emma Lavigne, director of Pompidou-Metz.

C. Raman Schlemmer, the artist's grandson, curator of this exhibition along with Emma Lavigne, director of Pompidou-Metz. Photo by Maury GOLINI. Copyright C. Raman Schlemmer.

It was very much a continuation of the 100 years celebration, in 1988. That is when she started. Then we staged, managed, created ten exhibitions for his 100th anniversary and several publications. This exhibition was years later, and was really a very, very important exhibition. It was a retrospective exhibition of the theater work and it is the first time the world, mainly audiences in Germany and the countries where it went to, have had access to this incredible, important part of the œuvre. The interest in this part of the work since this exhibition has really increased tremendously. The performative part of the œuvre of my grandfather, which is really a total artwork as well in itself. This exhibition traveled to Vienna and to Hanover. In all respect, I want to mention this before continuing.

The exhibition in Metz was actually another version of that exhibition of my mother, with a completely different concept, because I had much more freedom than when my mother arranged her exhibition (in 1996). Theater and dance is very ephemeral and the museum people had sort of difficulties to accept stage and theater in their pure museums, because theater always has a different aspect of the backstage, and so some of her ideas could not be realized at that time. Especially because the director in Dusseldorf thought that the "smell" of the theater should not come into the museum.

At the Centre Pompidou Metz in 2016, I had carte blanche. It was a meaningful and creative collaboration with Emma Lavigne, the director of Centre Pompidou Metz. I emptied the entire exhibition space. There were no dividing walls, which  normally is the case when this museum organizes modern art exhibitions. They usually create a whole circuit where you walk through. I set everything out and we had an enormous catwalk, diagonally through the 80 meter gallery space. On it were the figurines of “The Triadic Ballet” and of other dance costumes were installed, but also marionettes by Aleksandra Ekster. I showed some of the contemporaries of my grandfather. You entered the exhibition through a curtain and you came into a rather dark room, and there was sound as well. Music composed by Oskar Schlemmer, and in different areas different music. Apart from the staging, and the catwalk, the great secret of that exhibition was the light. I managed to engage a light designer from London, Arnold Chan, who is a really great light artist. I told him that as I had no walls in the 80 meter long gallery and that the light would need to divide the different parts of the exhibition. But equally important to me was that the costumes would be lit like on a stage, which means from below also. When you are on the stage as a dancer, you do not have the light only coming from the top, but you also have the light in front of the stage, and museums do not like this. They have all kinds of reasons - a child can put its hand and burn it. Now you have LED lights, so this does not happen anymore. All this I could realise in Metz.

“You entered through this curtain and you became the actor and the spectator.”

That was my idea, you were on the stage yourself, you could walk around. You had to decide which direction you had to go, there was no division, there was no indication - what would be a priority walk. The catwalk was also interrupted, so that you could go through, it was not like a Chinese wall, going through the exhibition space, and then there was film and there was this music. It really was mesmerizing. There is unfortunately no catalog, but it was a great experience.

D: You also did a lot of guided tours of the exhibition, you were very involved.

CRS: Yes, but this I do at ease. I even did it during a retrospective exhibition with the Staatsgalerie, finally after 40 years, organized in Stuttgart in 2014. I guided groups like the very famous Stuttgart Ballet. I invited the dancers to come to see the exhibition, because I thought it could be an important part of their education, part of their training. They always have educational programs, and so they came, and afterwards the ballet director said to me, “I don't know how you do it, but normally they don't concentrate for more than half an hour, then they look at their iPhones. And you managed to keep their concentration for two hours,” and that is of course the work, which is so fascinating. It is how you communicate it as well.

The greatest group I had in Stuttgart, this was in 2015, the year the German government permitted all these refugees to come into the country. There was all this chaos, and people did not know how to manage. For several months, I worked with the authorities, who are in Stuttgart in charge of refugees, so that I could bring a group of refugees into the museum. I said, “these are people, mainly at that time also from Syria, I think they were doctors, maybe they went in the evening in the theater at home, or to the cinema, and now all of a sudden they are in a home. They don't participate in any cultural life. We have to show them the positive sides of cultural life in Germany.” This group of all the groups I guided, was the most amazing group. There were women from Nigeria, Iraq, Syria, Balkans, young parents with children -- they were actually told not to bring children, but they brought them, and I said, “of course”. The exhibition was very popular, it was packed, and here I came with this very, I apologize to say, colorful group. -- I feel myself, I am colorful as well. -- We proceeded through the exhibition. In the morning, I had a group of citizens from Basel, they did not ask any questions. These refugees, they asked me the best questions, I told them, “this is an artist who suffered under a totalitarian system, this is one of the reasons why you have escaped from your home, and he was not able to emigrate,” so they identified through his destiny, and had a much easier access to the art, and they really appreciated it. I did this in Metz as well, with young school groups, all in French.

I think there were two other highlights which I would like to mention, one was where you were partly involved as well, the reconstruction of the “Bauhaus Dances” in 2019 in London, which we performed at the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery, but also several times at the Frieze Art Fair. It was actually a project of Frieze. They had approached me, they wanted a one-hour evening dance performance, and I said to them, “this is in a few months, is it possible?” They said “it should be done with a national ballet company”, I said “forget it, they have scheduled all their dates already three years ahead”. But then I called this curator again, and said “look, can we do something for 20 minutes, half an hour?”, and so this is what we did, which made much more sense at Frieze, because visitors are prepared to pay less attention to a performance.

Bauhaus performance at Thaddaeus Ropac gallery in London

Oskar Schlemmer's grandson oversaw a rare restaging of the artist's 1926 Bauhaus performance at Thaddaeus Ropac gallery.
© Glen Burrows; courtesy of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.

When in the gallery (at the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac), this white costume strode down, there were about 250 to 300 people, and there was this sound of admiration. I was in tears. The silence was absolutely incredible, some people could not really see well, because there was not enough space for so much public.

I have always seen these costumes in black and white photographs, and in London, we managed with the costume designers, who work for Covent Garden, for the Royal Opera House, through a wonderful friend, Ilaria Martello, who works at Covent Garden, to reconstruct these costumes, which are mainly padded dance costumes. Luckily, I had already reconstructed the masks, and to see it in color was really fantastic, and the three dancers were excellent.

Lis Beyer or Ise Gropius sitting in a B3 Marcel Breuer B§ chair at the Bauhaus wearing a mask designed by Oskar Schlemmer, 1926. Dress from Lis Beyer, 1927.

Lis Beyer or Ise Gropius sitting in a B3 Marcel Breuer B§ chair at the Bauhaus wearing a mask designed by Oskar Schlemmer, 1926.
Dress from Lis Beyer, 1927.

We had very little time to rehearse, we rehearsed upstairs in the gallery, and our green rooms were in the offices. It was really very special, but how I was able to transmit to these dancers the spirit of the dances of Oskar Schlemmer, that was really amazing, how that happened in such a concentrated time, and how they understood, especially Kennedy Muntanga Jr., who is a dancer of African descent. When he showed me videos of his dances, he is like a jumping ball, and he can do anything with his body. I said, “oh, this would have been more like Isadora Duncan, you know”, and I said, “you're too flexible, you're too good for Oskar Schlemmer,” but he understood, and so that was really great.

On to the other great event, which happened shortly after. I was contacted by a curator of LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum, and she said, “Raman, can we invite the dances which you did in London? We are planning a program for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a concert program connected to the music of the Weimar period,”, and she added, “no German museum will give us anything, because we couldn't respect the time to request it, and we are under incredible pressure.” So, in the end, she said whether I could send one costume. Well, in the end, we had six costumes, that is my talent.

Finally we did not show the “Bauhaus Dances”, which would have been in a theater of only 250 people. It seemed exaggerated to bring three dances for one day for 250 people to Los Angeles. In contrast, the figurines were seen by thousands of visitors who went every night to the concert hall, which was designed by Frank Gehry. The condition was that Frank Gehry would also design the installation design of the figurines.

In the beginning, when I was shown the first sort of project, I said, “no, no, this is Bauhaus, one can't do things in wood. This has to be black or white or, but not natural wood together with Triadic Ballet.” But of course I accepted it because he is a great designer -- and he was right.

The whole Walt Disney Concert Hall and the exhibition hall inside is in wood. It is a 40 meter high space where they were exhibited. It made total sense. He (Frank Gehry) designed and they made this incredible and complex set of bases, knowing that I wanted light from below. He knew that there has to be engines below on which the figurines turn very slowly. He also understood, which often the museums in Europe do not understand, is that you have to be able to go underneath because if one of these lights or something happens, you have to be able to repair it. He did this brilliantly.

I had a wonderful time there because I could go to all the concerts and was backstage afterwards. I heard all the Weimar music, “Weimar Variations”, organized and directed by Esa-Pekka Salonen but also other concerts before. Frank Gehry then was already above 90. The year before, I was invited to his 90th birthday in Berlin. He goes to all these concerts. He is amazing. The energy. He goes to his studio daily. Now I do not know, he will soon be 94 (in February 2024). But, I saw him last year in Bilbao (at the Gala for the 25 Years Guggenheim Museum Bilbao) and he said, “oh, I'm off to Berlin to see Daniel Barenboim, and then I will continue to Abu Dhabi.” Wonderful!

To come back to Oskar Schlemmer, his vision was really that these figurines of “The Triadic Ballet" would be his entry into the United States. This is why he sent (the figurines), two or three were also installed at MoMA in 1938, but he did not get a chance to follow them. Of course, in the Baltimore exhibition, which went also to Minneapolis, San Diego, and New York, the figurines of “The Triadic Ballet” were exhibited. But this installation in Los Angeles and in a concert hall, not in a museum, and also with this great light design! Again, I think it was much closer to what would have been his dream and his vision. It was very touching for me that after, I believe, 83 years later, I could realize that, not on the East Coast, but on the West Coast. So even more looking into the future.

D: I also want to touch upon Los Angeles, because it's really a city that really embraces and understands Oskar Schlemmer's work in Bauhaus.

CRS: Yes, you are right. And that, of course, has to do with the fact that it is a great cinema city. That it was a very pioneering city in the 1920s and 1930s. Then you had, of course, this great community of immigrants who came to Los Angeles. They brought sort of that spirit of Weimar in that period. You had Brecht there, you had Weill, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Arnold Schoenberg, you had Stravinsky living in the city. So, there was this great feeling of avant-garde.

On the other hand, and very important also in architecture, of course, many of the buildings in Santa Monica or other parts of the city are very much under the influence of the Bauhaus design. They are not necessarily Bauhaus architecture. You have the architect, Neutra, and you have the house of Thomas Mann, which was a modern building, which now is part of the German government as an institute.

On the other hand, I must also note that there has never been an exhibition of his work in Los Angeles to date. Therefore, there is this appreciation, but the institutions have not followed up. I am regularly at the Getty Research Institute for my research. Because there is wonderful, important archival material on German art historians, even documents of mine, which I find there in the archives. But apart from the Walt Disney Concert Hall and LA Phil, no museum institution has really, ever organized an Oskar Schlemmer exhibition, small or large. There were even art dealers like Landau. There was Irwin Blum living in Los Angeles who placed many, many works of Schlemmer, especially also the posthumous sculptures. The work was present there, but the institutions have not followed up.

Atelier House Schlemmer, Winter and Oskar Schlemmer with sunflowers,

Left image: Atelier House Schlemmer, Winter 1938/1939. | Right image: Oskar Schlemmer with sunflowers, September 4, 1938.
Photograph U. Jaïna Schlemmer.

D: That's a pity, definitely. Lastly, I want to ask you about the petition, Save the Oskar Schlemmer Studio. What is the current situation and what are your goals?

CRS: Well, the sad thing is that by a family member, this house was in dispute. It was put up for forced sale, which is a juridical system to bring something into a public auction, and which is, of course, not in the spirit of how my grandmother, Tut Schlemmer, left this legacy and what her intention was. It is a house which was constructed in 1936, which was a difficult moment. Oskar Schlemmer then, in 1937, moved in and had a studio, but at the same time, there was the Exhibition of “Degenerate Art” in Munich, and he had this prohibition to work as an artist.

“It's a building which should be preserved for future generations, not only because Oskar Schlemmer would have wanted to work there more, but also as a monument to show how artists in that period were persecuted. To keep that memory alive, and to use it as a showcase for younger generations to explain what happens to artists, or what happens to human beings, under totalitarian systems.”

And this sort of Erinnerungskultur, memory culture, which Germany talks so much about, is actually not as present as people pretend. I am not a Zeitzeuge, which is a witness of the period, but I am a Zweitzeuge, which is a witness in the second generation. I have seen many people who were very close to Oskar Schlemmer come through this house in the post-war period, when I was a small child, and also in my childhood. Artists, art historians, writers who had known him, who were his friends.

I do not think that this studio house can become a Schlemmer Museum, because it is a wooden house. It cannot be made safe enough to keep valuable artworks there. They would be endangered. But to keep it as an archive, as a library, as a reminder of that period, and not only of the Schlemmer family, but also of the ancestors of my grandmother, Tut Schlemmer, which was this Huguenot family. And then, of course, through my father, I have another ancestry, which is a very important Jugendstil artist, Paul Haustein, who did wonderful work, who was also teaching at the Stuttgart Academy, while Oskar Schlemmer was a student. There are many crossroads. To keep a memory of these various personalities, who formed this family, out of which Oskar Schlemmer also grew up, then transmitted it to his family.

D: How can people support this cause?

CRS: Well, one is to sign the petition, organized with change.org. And then you can donate to change.org, which is not money coming to the project, but it helps to proliferate, to get more signatures. But also, it would be great to raise funds to eventually buy the house out of this property dispute, and then bring it alive again. All this will need financial means as well. It has been empty for several years. It is in very good condition.

It has been listed last year through my initiative as a national monument, so it is fairly protected from destruction. The garden was also listed, which was my initiative, because I said this is a garden which was installed by Oskar Schlemmer. So we should keep the garden also protected. That takes this cultural property out of the speculative market.

D: Is there a financial target?

CRS: Not really, because that depends very much on the market situation.

D: Thank you so much, Raman, for your time and also for the insightful conversation, and letting us in the Oskar Schlemmer world.

CRS: It's a great pleasure to have that opportunity to talk to you, Dimitria. And we will continue in other circumstances to talk more.

— “Schlusspunkt.”—