Fritz Cremer

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Fritz Cremer (1906, Arnsberg, Westphalia - 1993) was a German sculptor of catholic extraction who turned to communism in the 1920s. Originally a stone-cutter, he studied at Berlin and got a government grant for the German academy in Rome, Villa Massimo, from 1937 to 1938. His communist past, possibly not particularly spectacular in terms of political action, seems not to have been taken into account the Nazi regime; but this is by no means a singular case since talents of all kinds were sought after and employed in the culture industries as long as they kept quiet about their former political options. Cremer served as a soldier from 1940 to 1944, spending an extended leave in Rome where the German Academy had been taken over by the German army. In 1946, vouched for by his party comrades, he got a professorship and the chair of sculpture department of the Academy for Applied Art in Vienna.

During his time in Austria, Cremer designed two memorials for the victims of fascism, a small one for the French prisoners at Mauthausen and a very important and controversial one at the central cemetery of Vienna. Controversy was sparked off by the memorial's dedication to the victims of Fascism as from 1934, the year that an authoritarian regime accepted by the Catholic Church took power in Austria. In 1950, Cremer moved to the German Democratic Republic and took over the master class at the Academy of the Arts, later serving as vice-president from 1974 to 1983. His most important work by far during his earlier life in the GDR and a major example of 20th-century art in Europe is Cremer's memorial at the former concentration camp of Buchenwald, high up in the hills above Weimar. A further memorial at Mauthausen was commissioned to Cremer by the German Democratic Republic's Association of Victims of Fascism in the mid-1960s. This memorial dominates a pivotal area of the former concentration camp, the access road to the stone quarries where most of the camp's victims died.

Cremer was respected in the GDR because he sometimes spoke up against the communist regime's stubborn denial of modernism and artistic liberty; he was never censored since no doubt seems ever to have been cast on his political sincerity. Part of his authority, of course, was due to his decision to move to the East and to denounce Western policies during the Cold War. A good example of his intransigency, comparable to that of the right-wing caricaturist A. Paul Weber in West Germany, was the widely distributed and quite masterly cycle of lithographs in which he denounced the Hungarian rebellion, shortly after the event.

Cremer was an excellent draughtsman; his prints and drawings are sometimes far more interesting than his later works of sculpture, from the 1970s onwards.

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