1955, ten years after the end of the war, the young Bundesrepublik experienced a hitherto unprecedented cultural event when a magnificent Picasso exhibition toured through Germany. More than 300,000 (!) visitors wished to see the 250 exhibits at the tour’s three stops, Munich, Cologne and Hamburg. Picasso’s gallerist Kahnweiler insisted on speaking at all three openings, the catalogue had to be reprinted, the television Wochenschau reported extensively on the events, and the sensational exhibition was covered in all literary supplements and mass medias, no matter whether of professional or national, or provincial newspapers. Young and old thronged into the packed halls, marvelled at the unknown in art, and stocked up on postcards of the meta-artist. While the abstract art being presented simultaneously at the first documenta in Kassel went comparatively unnoticed by the public, the Picasso exhibition marked a fundamental caesura of the two Germanys and its national identity in the post-war art history.
The historic exhibition will be reconstructed and analysed on the basis of hitherto unknown pictorial and textual materials. First of all we shall show how Maurice Jardot, who as cultural officer of the French military government had been responsible for numerous exhibitions in occupied Germany, realised the exhibition together with Kahnweiler, Alfred Hentzen, director of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, and art dealer Michael Hertz. In a second step we shall illustrate how the event was a pivotal contribution to popularising Picasso – who was framed as the epitome of modern art – throughout all of Germany. Nevertheless, not without reason did a few critics level the charge that the curators’ selection ignored those works by Picasso, such as his “Peace Dove,” that had arisen in the spirit of Communism. The fact that this exhibition was accorded to Picasso only as late as 1955 is surely also due to his membership in the Parti communiste. And in fact the exhibition was also noted with great interest in the GDR, where it initiated a lively debate on culture. Artists such as the young Gerhard Richter, who created the mural “Last Supper with Picasso” for the students’ mensa of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, recognised in Picasso both an artistic and Communist role model. And finally we shall deal with the epochal work Guernica, the exhibition’s undisputed centrepiece. This was the first and only time that the iconic painting was to be seen in Germany. On the basis of its specific reception in Germany in 1955, we shall demonstrate that at this point in time, the German aerial assault on Guernica on 26 April 1937 was not yet conceived as part of collective guilt, but still as part of a collective forgetting.