Exhibition | HANNES BECKMANN | Essay

Hannes Beckmann, German/Czechoslovakian/American

Hannes Beckmann was born in Stuttgart, Germany on October 8, 1909. He graduated from high school in Hamburg and began his studies at the Bauhaus, Dessau in 1928. He received diploma #61 in painting and stage design which was signed by Mies van der Rohe and Wasily Kandinsky. His instructors were Wasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Josef Albers.

Upon graduation from the Bauhaus, Beckmann was appointed stage designer of the Dessau Landestheatre. He was prevented from filling the position due to the rapid rise to power of the Nazi party which resulted in the closure of the Bauhaus and the boycotting of all its teachers and students.

In 1932, Beckmann moved to Vienna where he studied photography for two years at the Graphische Lehr und Versuchsanstalt and received a diploma for extraordinary merit in photography. In 1934 Beckmann moved to Prague where he painted, exhibited, wrote articles on art photography and worked as a newspaper and stage photographer. During the German occupation he joined the national resistance movement. In 1944 he was interned in the Bystrice concentration camp where he spent the remainder of the War. Most of his artwork was destroyed during air raids at this time.

Recent scholarship on Beckmann’s life as an exiled artist in Prague has been published by Ms. Bronislava Rokytova, Curator, Museum of Literature, Prague. A monograph published in 2013 titled Enough Silent Whisper (Exiled Art Scene in Czechoslovakia 1933–1939) and two scholarly articles published in 2014 in Umeni, the Czech art history journal discuss Beckmann’s art and life in Prague and a collection of letters written by Wasily Kandinsky to Beckmann discussing both artist’s life in exile.

While in Prague Beckmann received artists supplies, shipped from the United States by Hilla Rebay. Rebay, a German baroness and artist who had settled in the United States was a close friend of Wasily Kandinsky and was the driving force behind the Museum of Non-Objective Art, Solomon Guggenheim Foundation. Beckmann would emigrate to the US in 1948 and become head of the Foundation’s photographic department. In 1949, twenty of his paintings brought from Europe were selected for a one-man exhibition at the Museum, his first in the United States.

From 1953 to 1969 he taught painting, photography, two dimension design, color theory and psychological perception at Cooper Union School of Art in New York and the School of Fine and Industrial Art in Newark, New Jersey. He was also a visiting critic in the Department of Fine Arts at Yale University during this time. In 1969 he was appointed Professor of Art, Visual Studies Program, Dartmouth College until his retirement in 1975. Beckmann’s work was presented in Bauhuas and Op art exhibits in the 1960’s and 1970’s including the ground breaking Responsive Eye exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1977, the year Hannes Beckmann died, a traveling exhibition of his paintings created in 1972 to 1975 was organized by the Goethe Institute. The exhibition traveled to Atlanta, Montreal, Toronto and Boston.

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