Richard Calvocoressi, who curated Penck’s 1984 Tate exhibition, sheds light on his journey from east to west
Your obituary of AR Penck (6 May) offers a thoughtful account of the artist’s work. To say that he “escaped” to West Berlin in 1980, however, may give a misleading impression. As one who got to know Penck in London in the early 1980s, I was led to believe that he was sold to the West by the East German regime for foreign currency, under the notorious Freikauf system used to get rid of unwanted dissidents. I remember a figure of DM 250,000 (then about £80,000) being mentioned. I curated an exhibition of Penck’s work at the Tate in 1984, in which he showed a large, multi-part sculpture, Memorial to an Unknown East German Soldier – really an anti-memorial that drew on his grim nuclear weapons training in the People’s Army. He struck me as someone of great integrity. The main painting illustrated in your obituary, with the artist standing in front of it, is one of a contrasting pair, East and West, purchased by the Tate at the time, in which he reflected on the bewildering experience of forced emigration. He told me ironically that he had never met a Marxist before he moved to West Germany.
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