Brazilian collection of GDR painters in the Cottbus State Museum

In his prefab apartment the pictures were stacked up to the ceiling. The year is 1985, at Leipziger Strasse 65 in East Berlin, in a high-rise diplomatic building right on the edge of the Wall. This is where Francisco Chagas Freitas lives, who had arrived in the capital of the GDR a year earlier, immersed himself in the underground art scene within a very short time and thus became one of the most important art collectors in the state.

In the diplomat’s apartment he hoards the subversive paintings like a treasure. He collects works by Hermann Glöckner, Eberhard Göschel, Gerda Lepke, Peter Hermann and many others. There he creates a world beyond the dominant socialist realism, which is now being resurrected in the Brandenburg State Museum for Modern Art in Cottbus and also tells the story of a special art collector.

From 1984 to 1991 Freitas was cultural attaché at the Brazilian embassy in East Germany. After completing his diplomatic training, he came to eastern Germany in his late twenties, in the midst of the thaw. His boss at the time, the ambassador Mario Clabria, was also an art lover and introduced him to contemporary art in the GDR.

Peter Herrmann painted Freitas in 1989 as a thoughtful young man.


Peter Herrmann painted Freitas in 1989 as a thoughtful young man.
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Image: BLMK

The two share a passion for the abstract art of the socialist country, which was not shown at the national art shows. They are particularly fascinated by the artists who fall through the cracks in the art world. Artists who worked abstractly, expressionistically and non-figuratively.

In the “melancholic east of Berlin”, as he later often put it, he sought contact with artists of the “second tier”. His diplomatic status and foreign exchange salary were the tickets to the art scene, which distinguished between underground and statecraft, and to a colorful bohemian life that can be guessed at in the Cottbus exhibition.

He has his most intensive contacts in Dresden. The city on the Elbe, with the art academy, becomes his place of longing. The diplomat obtains the hard-to-find acrylic paints from the West for the artists and buys their works. The first artist who did it to Freitas because of his radical visual language was Max Uhlig. In 1984 he acquired the oil painting “Landscape” from 1979, which shows impressions of a barren region in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in expressive strokes, in the Rotunde gallery in the Altes Museum in Berlin.

Abacate (avocado) by Karla Wosnitza as a symbol for the fall of socialism.


Abacate (avocado) by Karla Wosnitza as a symbol for the fall of socialism.
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Image: BLMK

It will be the first picture in his collection. Uhlig, who did not conform to the canon of art politics, had little success at first. His artistic breakthrough came only after reunification, also through his eccentric portraits. He made one for Freitas in the mid-eighties. In the dashed image he is represented as a feathered bird. Next to them are Angela Hampel’s punks and Helge Leiberg’s dancers.

The sculptor Hans Scheib also studied in Dresden in the seventies. Freitas receives a picture from him that shows the outline of a person lying on the ground. Dark blacks form a shadow that surrounds the figure. A few years later, in 1989, Peter Hermann painted the diplomat: as a thoughtful young man, with horn-rimmed glasses and a beige suit – a symbolic image of this decade.

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