Maskenmann / Gesichtzeigen
Wolfgang Mattheuer, Installation view of the bronze sculpture Maskenmann / Gesichtzeigen [Mask Man / Showing Face], 1981, DAS MINSK Kunsthaus in Potsdam 2022. Sammlung Hasso Plattner, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022. Photo: Ladislav Zajac
The bronze sculpture Maskenmann / Gesichtzeigen (1981) by the artist Wolfgang Mattheuer has stood on the terrace in front of MINSK Kunsthaus in Potsdam since the exhibition house opened in September 2022. It portrays the artist himself, holding a sheep mask in front of his face so that he remains half hidden. While his left hand holds the mask, his right is balled up into a fist. The mask still has a protective function, but the man seems to be about to reveal it.
In 1980, Wolfgang Mattheuer began to work on the plaster model for the larger-than-life sculpture Maskenmann [Mask Man] (1981) in the garden of his childhood home in Reichenbach. He had already made his first small plaster statuette the year before, which was added to the collection of Peter and Irene Ludwig. Since 1984 it has been in the collection of the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. The artist initially titled the sculpture Maskenmann. However, the artist later retitled the sculpture in memory of the Leipzig Monday demonstrations and added Gesichtzeigen [showing face] to the title.1
The sculpture refers to the charade that many citizens in the socialist system of the GDR were forced into. In 2017, Sandra Danicke wrote in the Süddeutschen Zeitung: "Making the mask recognizable as such was definitely a daring act in the former GDR.”2 The balled-up fist on the tensed left arm illustrates an awakening resistance, Wolfgang Mattheuer’s wife Ursula Mattheuer-Neustädt remarks, “against his own fear, against the compulsion to which he has hitherto submitted; fear, from what, compulsion by which means? Nothing is said about that; all fear, all compulsion is meant.”3 In an interview with ZEIT in 1999, the artist himself states: “This man, who pushes his mask to the side and wants to speak openly, this was actually the situation in 89. More and more people went out and showed themselves. It was a fantastic, incredible time.”4
In 2022, the museum founder and patron Hasso Plattner acquired the sculpture from the estate of Wolfgang Mattheuer. Installed on the terrace of DAS MINSK, the Maskenmann looks out over Potsdam’s urban panorama—a panorama with a GDR past. Another important sculpture by the artist is located in the vicinity of DAS MINSK, in the courtyard of the Museum Barberini: Jahrhundertschritt [Century Step] from 1984. Each of these works critically comment on the political reality in the GDR. In both, Mattheuer reflects on his present in a dialectical manner: while Maskenmann / Gesichtzeigen show both mask and fist, the figure of Jahrhundertschritt extends his right hand to the Hitler salute, while clenching the left hand into the fist of the communist movement.
Seven bronze casts of the sculpture Maskenmann / Gesichtzeigen (1981) exist. Further editions can be found on the market square in Reichenbach/Vogtland; at the artist’s gravesite in Leipzig’s South Cemetary; in the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig; in the sculpture garden of the Neue Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the city of Heilbronn.