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Harry Kramer

; © documenta Archive; Eric Fäse
The Image Shows the young Harry Kramer, smoking a cigarette Close to one of his famous, hovering installed auto-mobile sculptures. The image is a photografic portrait from Eric Fäse.

In Kassel, Harry Kramer (* 1925, + 1997) is best known for his role in setting up the Artist Necropole, in which various artists created their own grave monuments in a woodland area at the Blue Lake in the Habichtswald, a nature reserve to the west of the city. The 'hairdresser from Lingen' as the artist ironically referred to himself in connection with a retrospective of his work in 1997 and thereafter continued to use as a moniker, worked as an actor, a dancer and a puppeteer as a young man.

Then in the 1950s and 60s, Kramer gained international recognition as an artist with his Mechanical Theater (1952) and still more with his so-called auto-mobile sculptures, with which he also made several experimental films. On the basis of these moving objects that he created, Harry Kramer came to be one of the protagonists of kinetic art – similar to Jean Tinguely. At documenta III in 1964, these artists were a significant attraction in the section "Light and Motion". 

As a professor, or better as a university teacher, at the Kassel School of Art and Design, Harry Kramer also gained great recognition. In the 1970s and 80s, he prepared group works, actions and performances together with his students which garnered substantial attention.   The two-time artistic direction of the documenta Manfred Schneckenburger praised the exceptional teaching activities of Kramer this way: "I know of no other case in which an oeuvre (...) can be reckoned not so readily in years but rather in semesters." 

Dying is nothing new in life, although living to be sure is also nothing new... 

Harry Kramer's Necropole project, which at the time of its inception was quite advant-garde, was intended as his last artistic endeavor. His urn is interred anonymously beneath a tree. Michael Willhardt devoted his dissertation to the – as he termed it – solo entertainer Harry Kramer. Willhardt quoted Kramer as follows in explaining the motivation behind the Artist Necropole:  

"Artists have no influence on cultural policy, museum acquisitions and the programs of international exhibitions. On close examination that is just as well. Otherwise they would exterminate themselves as gladiators in the arena. The contest at the cemetery of vanities is an unbloody one. The melancholy, loneliness and representative function of this profession can wish for no more apt location for self-realization and self-presentation than this one. Only at his own tomb can the artist be both the ordering party and the patron of the artistic endeavor. That in itself is sufficient legitimation." 

The Harry Kramer Archive set up by his wife Helga Kramer in the style of his atelier is located in the Aschrotthaus (Oberste Gasse 24, 34117 Kassel) nearby the documenta Archive. The extensive bequest which presents personal objects, original artworks and archival materials related to Kramer's artistic endeavors as well as his teaching activities is regularly enlarged through donations and acquisitions. The bequest can be viewed by appointment.

And here a further tip: A highly interesting video, which concisely presents Kramer the artist and the man as well as his early works can be found in the Filmothek of our colleagues from the Bundesarchiv in Koblenz: The UFA-Wochenschau No. 394/1964 dated 14 February 1964 (a German newsreel show) presents Harry Kramer from minute 2:20 onwards in its weekly review under the title Experimente in unserer Zeit (Experiments in Our Time).

; © documenta Archive; Ryszard Kasiewicz
Harry Kramer Archive, Room 1

; © documenta Archive; Ryszard Kasiewicz Harry Kramer Archive, Room 2

; © documenta Archive; Ryszard Kasiewicz Harry Kramer Archive, Room 2

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