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Kafka im Künstlerbuch

Gallery exhibition of the German Museum of Books and Writing at the German National Library in Leipzig

Press release:  5.3.2015

From 11 March until 6 September 2015, the German Museum of Books and Writing shall be showing the exhibition "Kafka im Künstlerbuch". The exhibition shall open on Tuesday, 10 March, at 19:30, in the museum foyer of the German National Library in Leipzig.

The gallery exhibition "Kafka im Künstlerbuch" in the German Museum of Books and Writing is devoted to the question of how visual artists approach the mysterious, sometimes cryptic, texts of Kafka, with their own stylistic devices and techniques. The exuberant wealth of imagery of Kafka's texts has incited many book designers, illustrators and typographers to grapple with the cryptic and whimsical texts of the Prague author. The roots of the resulting works lie in the visual power of suggestion of the language Kafka uses.

At the same time, the show is a reminder of Leipzig's huge tradition as the home of the book and European literature, and of Kafka's visit to Leipzig on 29 June 1912, when he first met publishers Ernst Rowohlt and Kurt Wolff. The exhibition focuses on the book adaptations of the few of Kafka's texts that the writer himself – if with a lot of scepticism – agreed to publish. These texts include the novellas "Das Urteil" (The Judgement), "Der Heizer" (The Stoker), "Die Verwandlung" (The Metamorphosis), "In der Strafkolonie" (In the Penal Colony), "Ein Hungerkünstler" (A Hunger Artist), and the story collections "Betrachtung" (Contemplation) and "Ein Landarzt" (A Country Doctor).

The main focus of the gallery exhibition is art books to Kafka's texts, as well as graphic portfolios, bibliophilic editions, comic strips, typographical works and book objects, which also show the artistic handling of the cryptic texts. Whether Alfred Hrdlicka is painting the Odradek from "Der Landarzt" (A Country Doctor) as an exophthalmic man with a helmet that looks like a bathing cap, or Peter Collien shows him exactly as described, almost affectionately, as a bobbin; whether Hans Peter Willberg condenses Kafka's texts into scriptural sequences, or the "Hungerkünstler" (A Hunger Artist) ends up as a silvery skeleton in a tinny, wire-covered lunchbox; whether Alfred Kubin graphically disguises the dark figures in "Ein Landarzt", or comic-strip artist Robert Crumb hunts the protagonist Gregor Samsa in the furious nightmare of a bourgeois jungle: the exhibition is a collection of works that translates the threat posed by Kafka's imaginations into pictures and visual suggestions. The result is a panorama of Kafkaesque pictures and models, which highlights the currency of Franz Kafka's texts. When the young author writes to fellow student Oskar Pollack: "A book must be the axe for the frozen sea in us", the gallery exhibition "Kafka im Künstlerbuch" reflects the vehemence of this swing of the axe and its echo in the works of the book artists – even a century after the books were created.

On the occasion of the exhibition opening, which focuses specifically on the tradition of Jewish literature as a cultural contribution to the Leipzig Book Fair, with this year's guest country, Israel, Dresden University of Technology is releasing its "Kafka Atlas" – the first building block of the portal "Geisteswissenschaften in Sachsen" (The Arts in Saxony).

Kafka im Künstlerbuch

Exhibition of the German Museum of Books and Writing at the German National Library in Leipzig
11 March to 6 September 2015
Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 - 18:00, Thursday 10:00 - 20:00, public holidays (except Mondays) 10:00 - 18:00. Free admission.

Exhibition opening: 10 March at 19:30

Welcome: Michael Fernau, Director of the German National Library in Leipzig
Introduction: Dr. Stephanie Jacobs, Head of the German Museum of Books and Writing
Presentation Prof. Günter Karl Bose, Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig (Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig: "Das nicht. Bitte das nicht!" Von der Folgenlosigkeit einer Bitte ("Not that. Please not that!" A plea that went unheard)
Accompanying program: Axel Thielmann, speech and song, Tilo Augsten, piano

Guided tours of the exhibition

26 March at 10:30, 9 April at 17:00, 22 April at 17:00, 7 May at 10:30, 28 May at 10:30


23 April, 21:00 and 22:00: "Kafka im Kopf". 15-min reading in the dark


The book has shaped our culture and civilisation like no other medium. For centuries our knowledge about the world and its peoples has been stored in books. The task of the German Museum of Books and Writing of the German National Library is to collect, exhibit and process evidence of book and media history. Founded in 1884 as the Deutsches Buchgewerbemuseum (German Book Trade Museum), it is the oldest museum in the world in the field of book culture, and also one of the most important in terms of the scope and quality of its stocks.

The main focus is on the book and its myriad aspects: as an ingenious invention and as the product of economic and technical processes, as a social icon and the most important vehicle of culture, as a work of art and as a censored and burned repository of ideas.

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