"Wolf D. Harhammer. Two realities" - Museum Folkwang dedicates first institutional exhibition to photographer

From 9 February to 26 May 2024 and from 11 June to 1 September 2024, Museum Folkwang is presenting the first institutional exhibition of the Stuttgart photographer Wolf D. Harhammer, whose work was long considered forgotten. His world is that of artists, showmen and clowns. In the mid-1970s, he photographed people who had sought their place in the microcosm of circuses and fairgrounds. Since 2021, Harhammer's work has been represented in the Photographic Collection with around 170 works and will be presented this year in an exhibition with two thematic parts.

The self-taught photographer sees himself as part of the community, which he documented with his camera for more than five years. In the post-war period, Harhammer first emigrated to Australia and began studying painting, sculpture and film at the Stuttgart Art Academy after his return in 1969. During his studies, he earned his living as a balloon salesman and later as a circus worker. In 1981, he published a selection of his portraits as a photo book entitled Zwei Wirklichkeiten (Two realities) with Trikont-Verlag, thus ending his artistic and photographic career.

Harhammer's portraits paint an impressive picture of a generation of circus performers and showmen in the 1970s and bear witness to the photographer's openness and empathy towards his subject. They provide an insight into a life that Harhammer at times shared with the people portrayed and in which reality and illusion, everyday working life and self-expression seem inseparable. Harhammer encounters his protagonists in everyday moments between two realities: In front of the caravan or in the garderobe, in a bathrobe at the entrance to the tent, made up for the performance and with coffee cup in hand. Without romanticising, his sober, documentary-style photographs also refer to a utopian moment. By playing with reality, the circus also becomes a projection surface for ideas of social freedom beyond the circus ring.

In conjunction with other works from the Photographic Collection, the first part of the exhibition from 9 February to 26 May 2024 takes up the circus as a space of possibility. Photographic perspectives on circus, variety and masquerade - from August Sander, Gertrud Arndt and Helmuth Kurth to Diane Arbus, Valery Shchekoldin and André Gelpke - enter into a dialogue with contemporary works by Harry Hachmeister, Liv Liberg, Paul Kooiker, Emma Sarpaniemi and Tobias Zielony, which focus on different forms of (self-)staging. Questions about the negotiation of identity, physicality and social community take centre stage.

The photographic investigation of social reality is the theme of a second part of the exhibition, which will present around 40 more of Harhammer's photographs from 11 June to 1 September 2024. Works by Barbara Klemm, Michael Kerstgens and Rudi Meisel, among others, will draw connections between Harhammer's portrait work and documentary positions from the 1970s and 80s from the Photographic Collection.

At the same time as the first part, Museum Folkwang will be showing selected final works by graduates of the Master's degree programme Photography Studies & Practice at the Folkwang University of the Arts in the rooms of the Photographic Collection from 9 February to 26 May 2024.



Two realities

9 February – 26 May 2024
11 June – 1 September 2024
Admission free

Fri, 16 Feb, 6 pm
Curators show round: Sonja Palade: WOLF D. HARHAMMER. Two Realities

Thu, 21 Mar, 5:30 pm

Wolf D. Harhammer, Weißclown, Zirkus Hagenbeck, 1973

Wolf D. Harhammer
White clown, Circus Hagenbeck, 1973
Silver gelatine print, 27,1 x 18,4 cm
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024