Artists & Designers

Lothar Baumgarten (b. 1944)

Conceptual artist Lothar Baumgarten was born in Rheinsberg, Germany, in 1944. Based in New York and Berlin, Baumgarten's output encompasses sculpture, photography, installation, and film. He studied first at Staatliche Akademie für bildende Künste, Karlsruhe (1968) and then at Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (1969–71). Baumgarten was a student of Joseph Beuys for a year at the latter. It was there he embraced Beuys's notion of social sculpture in which artists are more than makers of things, they are active, often activist, members of society.

Learned in the structuralist anthropological theories of the French sociologist Claude-Levi Strauss, Baumgarten is known for his employment of the language of conceptual art to examine perspectives on nature and culture. Levi-Strauss's idea was, briefly, that all cultures have common structures that can be studied and compared one in relation to the other. Baumgarten found in the structuralist mode a way to study other cultures in relation to one's own that often found western societies wanting in the realms of the metaphysical and the spiritual. Whereas traditional anthropologists would represent cultures other than their own in the particular language of anthropology itself, a codified academic discipline that can be traced to Enlightenment principles of scientific classification, Baumgarten would do so in the language of art, allowing a different portrayal of cultures to arise; and his works are often characterized by an anthropological approach particularly concerned with ecology, history, and colonialism.

In many cases, Baumgarten is interested in cultures that are juxtaposed to western European cultures as "the other," and how perceptions of such cultures have been shaped in the latter societies. For example, in his early works he employed an antecedent German anthropological practice of using documents and materials available in the author's own land to describe a place without ever having been to it to demonstrate the absurdity of this study of "the other." After completing the installation "De gefällt's mir besser als Westfalen," El Dorado 1968-1976 ("I like it better here than in Westphalia," El Dorado 1968-1976) (2004.20.A-D), Baumgarten went to live with an indigenous, almost entirely autonomous, people in the upper regions of the Amazon River. His aim was to create a representation of the life of a people unconnected to the industrial West, and contrast his presentation of the facts of their existence with the anthropological mainstream. In his Carbon (2004.37.A-B) works, Baumgarten uses landscape to record the contemporary, often neglected, state of the American rail system that enabled the expansion of the United States, but was made possible by (and even allowed) the destruction of indigenous peoples and cultures.

Adapted from

  • Charles Wylie, DMA unpublished material, 2004.
  • John R. Lane, "Lothar Baumgarten - Carbon," 2004.
  • Charles Wylie, "A German Persistence," in Fast forward: contemporary collections for the Dallas Museum of Art, eds. María de Corral and John R. Lane (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007), 188-193.
  • Charles Wylie, "Lothar Baumgarten's Mysterious Garden," n.d.

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