What: Gerhard Richter, The Joy of Life, 1956
Where: Deutsches Hygiene Museum, Dresden, Germany (not on display)
An early mural by one of the world’s most famous artists takes pride of place in the foyer of a major German museum – but you can’t see it. In 1956 the 24-year-old Gerhard Richter created The Joy of Life whilst an art student at the Dresden Academy of Arts. As an example of the official Soviet artistic style of socialist realism, in which Richter was forced to work, the ten-metre-long mural is an inevitable paean to the wonders of socialism, depicting exuberant workers dancing against a backdrop of factories and tractors. After his defection to the west, and his subsequent criticism of the art produced in his native East Germany, the mural was painted over by the authorities in 1979.
Since the Berlin Wall came down, there have been repeated calls for the mural to once again see the light of day. However, Richter has dismissed the work as ‘a waste of money’ and ‘not worth preserving’. No doubt the artist is troubled by the prospect of adding to his public oeuvre a work in which he takes no pride, produced under a system in which he had no faith. Until such time as the mural may be revealed, one can only speculative on its relative flaws and merits from this meagre black and white photograph.
You can read more about The Joy of Life in an article published in The Art Newspaper: Cold War cover-up to continue.