Thursday, 9 July 2020

Bruno Schleinstein I Warten ist der Tod

Bruno Schleinstein, untitled, undated, mixed media on paper, 42 x 30 cm

Bruno Schleinstein

Warten ist der Tod
July 18 – August 22, 2020
Opening July 17th, 6 - 9pm



“What must the itinerant traveller think when he dreams he’s home again – and is awoken by a song from his own country only to see that he’s in a foreign land.” (Bruno Schleinstein)

Bruno Schleinstein is born in 1932 in Berlin, the youngest of three illegitimate children. Unable to cope with the responsibility of raising her young child, his mother gives him over to the custody of a children’s home when he is just three years old. He lives there for the following six years. As a so-called Reichsausschusskind (a designation for mentally and physically disabled children deemed “unworthy of life” under the NS euthanasia programme), he is transferred to the Wiesengrund educational facility at the Bonhoeffer Nerve Clinic in Berlin in 1941. Doctors employed at Wiesengrund are by this time already performing medical experiments on the children that often end in the latter’s deaths. There is no record of whether any such experiments were performed on Schleinstein himself. What is certain, however, is that he can describe the operations carried out on the children there in detail.

Schleinstein remains locked up even after the war’s end. Following several unsuccessful escape attempts, he is transferred to a psychiatric hospital for children in 1947, justified on the grounds of his “obdurate tendency for escape.” In 1955, he finally succeeds in escaping from the facility and travels to Baden-Baden. He returns to Berlin in 1963 and finds a job at the Borsig-Werken, where he remains employed until his retirement.

An advertising display board for the company Asbach Uralt featuring a Moritaten (street ballad) singer gives Schleinstein the idea of taking up the profession himself. From this point on he spends his weekends wandering the city’s rear courtyards, where he performs music with an accordion and glockenspiel. He also illustrates his songs with his own painted display boards. An employee of the Akademie der Künste becomes aware of Schleinstein and invites him to participate in a Moritaten festival being held there. Schleinstein makes his first record, through which the filmmaker Lutz Eichholz becomes aware of the singer. This leads to his first film: 1966’s Bruno the Black. 

In 1973, Werner Herzog, who has just finished writing the script for his film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and is seeking to cast the lead role of Hauser himself, sees Eichholz’s film during a screening by the German public broadcaster ARD. Herzog is fascinated by Schleinstein’s authentic and unaffected personality and contacts the artist, subsequently casting him in the lead role under the stage name Bruno S. The film is screened as a German contribution to the 1975 Cannes Film Festival and is awarded the Grand Prix by the jury. In 1977, Bruno S. again plays the lead role in Herzog’s film Stroszek – a role written especially for him by the director. Bruno Schleinstein becomes a global star. Despite this, he continues to work as a forklift operator during the week and to spend his weekends playing music in courtyards. He draws and paints continuously. The first exhibition of Schleinstein’s pictures takes place in a Berlin bar in 1983, with his first gallery exhibition following a year later at endart gallery in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. Delmes & Zander exhibits Schleinstein’s paintings and drawings from the late 1990s on. They are shown with great success at international art fairs and in both solo and group exhibitions. It is his fellow artists that are most fascinated with the authenticity and directness of his work, however. As an autodidact who taught himself to play music, to draw and to paint, and who always strove to perfect his technique, Schleinstein serves as an inspiration to them. And so it is above all artists, photographers, filmmakers and musicians that come to play a role in Schleinstein’s life and allow him to operate as an artist amongst other artists. Bruno Schleinstein dies in Berlin in 2010.

A monograph of Bruno Schleinstein’s work, edited by Susanne Zander and Nicole Delmes, was published in early 2020, offering a view of his multifaceted artistic output.

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