Pavel Schmidt: Franz Kafka - Verschrieben & Verzeichnet

  • Pavel Schmidt, Klamm, courtesy of the artist.


Sep 13 – Oct 16, 2011
Level 3, Sert Gallery


Panel Discussion:
Opening Remarks: Prof. John Hamilton (Harvard)
Critical Engagements: Prof. Stanley Corngold (Princeton), Prof. Judith Ryan (Harvard), 
Prof. Andreas Kilcher (Zürich), and Prof. Almut-Barbara Renger (Berlin). 
Response: Pavel Schmidt

The Kafka cycle presented here consists of forty-nine sketches created over the past four years by Pavel Schmidt, Swiss painter, illustrator, and installation artist. The title of each drawing is the name of a character from one of Kafka’s narratives or someone the author personally knew. Schmidt juxtaposes each drawing with a fragment from Kafka’s previously unpublished writings, which are presented in the German with English translations. The texts are not meant to explain the images, nor the images the texts. There is nevertheless a correlation between the works of the two artists: for Kafka, writing was an inner necessity. He created his characters by wrestling with, rejecting, molding, and inventing language—a creative process that Pavel Schmidt deliberately explores in his work. The cycle has been previously exhibited in Zürich, Berlin, Prague, New York, and Princeton.

This exhibition is co-sponsored by the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and the Departments of Comparative Literature and German, and made possible with support from swissnex Boston / Consulate of Switzerland and Pro Helvetia.

Pavel Schmidt was born in 1956 in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. He started out studying chemistry at the University of Bern before training in Fine Arts in Munich, where he worked with Daniel Spoerri. From this encounter, he retained a sharpened sense of life’s drama and of his own experience as a work of art. He has shown extensively in Europe, the United States, and Korea, and has produced many books as painter, illustrator and installation artist. He has organized actions in extraordinarily diverse sites, using explosives, fireworks, and smoke-bombs, destroying and rebuilding to music cultural archetypes like gods and goddesses, garden dwarves and hoses. He enjoys breaking and blowing up everything in order to apply his bandages and crutches, thereby reconstructing his own world, as a destructive and reparative nurse-artist. The present exhibition—Franz Kafka: Verschrieben & Verzeichnet—offers a startling interpretation of Franz Kafka's work. In this cycle of 49 color sketches, Schmidt works with original fragments from Kafka's bequest and causes these cryptic, unpublished texts to collide with provocative images.

John Hamilton, Professor and Chair of Comparative Literature, Harvard University. In addition to numerous articles on Classical Antiquity and its Reception, German and French literature, and Music Aesthetics, he has published Soliciting Darkness: Pindar, Obscurity, and the Classical Tradition (Harvard, 2004) and Music, Madness and the Unworking of Language (Columbia, 2008). Forthcoming is a book entitled Careless & Carefree: Security in the Western Tradition. 

Stanley Corngold, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and German, Princeton University. He has published widely on modern German writers and thinkers (Dilthey, Nietzsche, Musil, Kraus, Mann, Benjamin, Adorno, among others), but for the most part he has been translating and writing on the work of Franz Kafka. Together with Professor Benno Wagner of the University of Siegen and the eminent civil-rights lawyer Jack Greenberg of the Columbia Law School, Corngold edited, with commentary, a translation of Franz Kafka's main office writings. The volume, titled Kafka before the Law: the Office Writings, appeared in 2008 and describes the place of these documents in the history of worker's compensation insurance as well as their importance for an understanding of Kafka's novels and stories.  

Andreas Kilcher, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies, ETH-Zürich. Publications focus on issues and themes in the History of Science, German-Jewish Literature, and Kabbala and Literature from early modernity to the present. Major works include mathesis und poesis (Fink, 2003) on encyclopedism in literature from 1600 to 2000; Geteilte Freude (Lyrik Kabinett, 2007) on the reception of Schiller in Jewish modernism; and an important monograph on the life and work of Franz Kafka (Suhrkamp, 2008).  

Judith Ryan, Robert K. and Dale J. Weary Professor of German and Comparative Literature, Harvard University. She has written extensively on literature from the late eighteenth century to the present, with particular interest in poetry and the novel. She has published Rilke, Modernism and Poetic Tradition (Cambrideg, 1999) and co-edited with David Wellbery A New History of German Literature (Harvard, 2004). Her latest book, The Novel After Theory is forthcoming in 2010.

Almut-Barbara Renger, Professor of Ancient Religion, Culture and their Reception History, Institute for Religious Studies, Freie Universität-Berlin. Her research centers on Genre Theory, Sociology of Religion, Literary Reception of Antiquity, Theory of Fairy Tales and Myth, and Buddhism in Literature and Film. Publications include: Between Fairy Tale and Myth: The Adventures of Odysseus and Other Tales from Homer to Walter Benjamin (2006); and Europa/Europe – The Bull and the Ring of Stars: From the Union with Zeus to the Union of Nations (2009). Her latest book, Oedipus before the Sphinx, or On the Threshold Betwixt and Between: From Sophocles to Cocteau, is forthcoming.