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1924,Amsterdam -

Amsterdam 1924, Alkmaar 1994


Lucebert (pseudonym of Lubertus Jacobus Swaanswijk) was a multi-talented artist who engaged in writing poetry as well as painting. Lucebert was part of the group experimental poets the Vijftigers (Fifties) and involved in the CoBrA-movement. In Cobra magazine no. 4, for instance, he published the now famous poem ‘Verdediging van de Vijftigers’ (Defence of the Fifties) in which he criticises the poetry of their predecessors. In both his poetry and his art, Lucebert denounced the imperfection of mankind. In his visual work, this is illustrated by the often grotesque human figures: nearly monstrous beings, never perfect nor idealised, but rather deformed and suffering. In Lucebert’s poetry, there exists a striking equivalent to the physical aspect of much CoBrA painting (the thickness of paint and a predilection for bodily subjects). For his poetry often has a lyric-associative nature (through varying in words in both content and sound) revealing, as it were, its own process of creation.

Recently, the biography ‘Lucebert’ by biographer Wim Hazeu was published (Publisher De Bezige Bij, 2018). The book contains a chapter that has sparked much debate lately. Letters from Lucebert to his childhood friend Tiny Koppijn, which Hazeu received from Koppijn’s daughter, reveal that the young Lucebert sympathised with fascism and maintained anti-Semitic viewpoints. Lucebert sent those letters in 1943 and 1944 from the office of a munition factory in Apollensdorf on the Elbe. He had signed up for the Arbeitseinsatz voluntarily. After the war Lucebert distanced himself from these views. For years, he roamed the streets until he met Gerrit Kouwenaar in 1948. Together with Kouwenaar, and with Jan Elburg and Bert Schierbeek, among others, he would soon form the Vijftigers (Fifties). Lucebert would conceal his Nazi-sympathies for the rest of his life.

It is evident that these shocking facts shed new light on Lucebert as a person, yet in what way they will affect the interpretation of his work is less easy to predict and is something that will have to become clear in the next couple of years. A dominant perspective in our present time is that when it concerns art, the work should be seen separately from the maker: it is not about what the maker has put into his work, but instead what the viewer gets out of it. But is that true? The Cobra Museum will continue to exhibit Lucebert’s work (like in this collection display) with the intention to facilitate a dialogue about these complex questions.

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