The Flensburg “Primavera”

From Hana Filip on Facebook yesterday, on these two artworks:


(#1) On the left in HF’s presentation


(#2) On the right

[HF] Zeitgeist: “Primavera” (Fritz During, mid 20th cent.), left. The European University of Flensburg removed this statue from its foyer, because the statue has “hips that overemphasize a woman’s reproductive function”. Next to it is a detail from Dürer’s (1504) “Adam and Eve” (where Eve is a typical representation of Dürer’s naked women with wide hips). It does raise questions about what is art, and its reception.

Now since few of my readers will have heard about Flensburg and its university, some background on that. Then, an extended Facebook conversation about the Flensburg “Primavera”, originally between HF (in Germany) and me (in California), later drawing in a number of others (from all over the world), and ending rather surprisingly in wrenching reflections on the difficulties of living up to our moral commitments.

Flensburg and its university. From Wikipedia:

Flensburg is an independent town (kreisfreie Stadt) in the north of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

… The nearest larger towns are Kiel (86 km (53 mi) south) and Odense, Denmark (92 km (57 mi) northeast). Flensburg’s city centre lies about 7 km (4 mi) from the Danish border.

… University of Flensburg has about 6,000 students as of 2019/20. Founded in 1946 as a pedagogical college, it became a university in 1994. Unlike the much larger University of Kiel it is not a full university; theology, medicine, law and some other programs are not offered here. But it does have the right to confer doctorates.

The Facebook conversation.

— AZ: Bizarre. What about those breasts? I guess they’re ok because they’re small and have no nipples.

— HF > AZ: I had the same thought – what about those breasts? They seem at least as troublesome and thought provoking as those hips.

— AZ: The response stinks pretty much all around. I was thinking that this is an especially fine female nude, particularly since it’s entitled “Primavera”, so I’m affronted that it should be removed from public view.

— HF: I think so, too. It is quite abstracted, sanitized in fact, in comparison to tons of other artistic representations of a woman’s body, including Dürer’s.

— AZ: Yes yes yes. Note my comment about the absence of nipples. It’s really a highly abstract distillation of The Female.

— Peter Austin: Oy vey — have they ever seen what Kim Kardashian et al. look like?

— HF > PA: Wide hips are all the rage in pop culture, women even dying while undergoing / post plastic surgery to have such hips, “Kardashian” hips. But this is a different segment of population than those who criticize this statu

— Toni Borowsky: What would they do with Courbet’s L’Origine du monde?

— HF > TB: well, I would not put that painting into the foyer of a university as a single permanent piece adorning it. But of course, it is a welcome contribution to any art exhibition. So let’s suppose a university foyer had an art exhibition with a bunch of pieces of art – then definitely yes. I suppose the question is not only what’s art and its use. Addendum: see my explanation/background to this issue of “Courbet’s L’Origine du monde”, in my response to Arnold Zwicky below.

— AZ > HF: This is more complex that you might have thought. You’re assuming the entrance foyer to a university should be adorned with some innocuous p.r. piece. I’d like to suggest that a university might want a piece of artwork that communicates very clearly: this is a place for the free expression of thought and the cultivation of artistic expression. (Adding that this particular work is elaborately embedded in a rich history of the female body in Western art, a history that its creator clearly wanted the viewer to appreciate.) That would be a bold and non-standard choice for the site, but I think a defensible one. And, I think, an admirable one.

— HF > AZ: I agree with you, on all the points, and really I don’t need any convincing. I myself would be perfectly fine with that choice. However, I’m only honest by admitting that I would not have the courage of my convictions, if I were say the Dean or President of a university, and so I would not have the courage of endorsing such a bold and admirable move. I’d be afraid of inviting being politically persecuted (despite my mother’s frequent advice – ‘don’t ever let fear guide your decisions’). The criticism of such a decision would start something like a political persecution. My dad was definitely an agent provocateur who did not shy away from making bold statements, comparable to fighting for having Courbet’s L’Origine du monde adorning a university foyer – and we all paid for it dearly. So I must admit that I’m not that courageous. … But I would defend “Primavera” by During.

— AZ > HF: I understand your feelings on this subject and appreciate your stance. But how to live in a world where you might be persecuted for your opinions, the way you live, every thing you do? How to strike a balance where you behave according to your own moral beliefs, without ruining your life and the lives of others around you? Even I, proud queer warrior, have moderated much of what I do so as not to sacrifice my career and wreck the lives of my family. Nevertheless, we were all persecuted by the police for many years.

— HF > AZ: right, exactly, I know that you understand this conundrum better than most – `how to live in a world where you might be persecuted for your opinions, the way you live, every thing you do?’

And now from HF in e-mail:

I’m very much looking forward to your “Flensburg Primavera with ample fertile hips” blog essay.

Btw, what an interesting word “gebärenfreudig” – I  had to use a whole long phrase to translate the intent in the Flensburg context. In my FB post, it is something like “reproductively happy” but that just does not do it justice.

“Reproductively happy hips”, hmm.  I wonder what you may come up with.

I have to admit to bafflement about gebärenfreudig. The problem has to do with the cultural context in which this odd adjective is used, Ample hips are, first of all, conventionally viewed as especially fertile ground, and then these ample fertile hips are being celebrated for their reproductive potential. Ok so far, but I balk at thinking of them as happy. What an odd bit of imagery — does it have some cultural context that I’m just unaware of? Some sect or social movement in which the female reproductive organs are personified and venerated?

2 Responses to “The Flensburg “Primavera””

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Hana Filip adds on Facebook today:

    The students’ union AStA would like to have the statue put back in its old place.

    https://www.bild.de/regional/hamburg/hamburg-aktuell/von-uni-entfernt-studentin-alina-kaempft-fuer-nackte-frauen-skulptur-84815770.bild.html

  2. Mark Ziegler Says:

    I believe art should be shown, not removed. Art should provoke thought and discussion. There is no better way to precieve how social change happens than by contemplating a work of art from an earlier epoch. I enjoy looking at art and thinking how much things have changed. As for being “offended”, I think that is ridiculous. Art that does not evoke emotion is not art at all. And I am of the firm option that university students are at university to learn, discuss, form their own options and defend them in robust intellectual debate.

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