Internationaler Kunstkritikerverband, Sektion der BRD



Revisiting Heinz Ohff

When he went into "retirement" in 1987 - he later lived and continued to write mostly in St. Ives in Cornwall - Berlin lost a first-rate art critic. Berlin lost the "Friedrich Lufft of the visual arts."

For 26 years at the Berlin newspaper "Tagesspiegel," Ohff observed the artistic life of the city, knowledgeably, dedicatedly and pointedly accompanying it. He was one of the first feature editors in Germany who wasn't a theater or literature critic, but rather an art critic. He belonged to AICA, but also to the PEN-Club and the Association of German Art Critics, of which he was chairman for many years.

Berlin's Polledition has now released "The Heinz Ohff Reader," enabling a revisiting of many of his reviews, as well as his features and literary texts (editors Ekhard Haack and Lothar C. Poll; distribution: order@infopress-berlin.de). His straightforward texts can still serve us critics as a standard, and continue to be an important tutorial for doubters of modern art practices. He always phrased things unambiguously - whether positive or negative. His judgment of Baselitz in 1963 was crystal clear: "Who, for heaven's sake, is to be provoked by these mediocre paintings?" In 1966, he wrote about Gerhard Richter: "Incidentally, he is one of the most gifted young painters in Germany." Regarding the work of Thuringian artist Altenbourg, Ohff asks in 1964: "Does one [in Thuringia] know how much artists like Altenbourg will be needed someday, if one in eastern Germany wants to regain a connection to art, not perforce that of the West but rather of the Eastern Bloc?"

Heinz Ohff was one of the "pure" critics who didn't work concurrently as curators, as is common practice today. He considered the counterpart to be a true counterpart, along the lines of: you do your thing, I'll do mine. In 1987, at the end of his career as critic, he did in fact curate an exhibition in the Staatlichen Kunsthalle Berlin, bringing to it his "extremely personal quintessence" (Ohff). He wordily excused himself in the "Tagesspiegel," only to come to the conclusion: "What can happen to me? The worst case is that I don't like my own exhibition, and would just as soon tear it to pieces. This would be taken care of for me by one colleague or another, and certainly all-too gladly".

Heinz Ohff died in Berlin in 2006 at the age of 83. Speaking at the funeral, Ekhard Haack said this about the work of the Eutin-born critic: "Against his will, he became ‘Berlin's high-priest of art.' Not because he elevated opinions to dogma, but rather because the artists trusted him. To the artists, articles by Ohff were like a christening through criticism."

 

 

Cologne, August 2007
Walter Vitt


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