Karl Arnold “Hoppla, wir leben!”

Karl Arnold was a contemporary of Käthe Kollwitz and they must have known each other during the 1920s & 1930s. In an exhibition currently showing at the Käthe Kollwitz museum in Köln, Arnold’s style is very different from Kollwitz’s. While he shared her concern with social inequities, he approaches this theme through caricature of society’s upper echelons. Arnold’s main medium was indian ink, occasionally with watercolour. His characters are simply yet eloquently drawn. Through his drawings, we hear the endless complaints of the wealthy as their comfortable lifestyles begin to be threatened by the aftermath of WW1 and the onset of the global economic recession at the end of the 1920s. In the early 1930s, he became preoccupied with the rise of Hitler and National Socialism. Arnold’s theme might have been “excess”; all of his subjects have an excess of some kind: excess money, excess stupidity, excess power…. caricature was thus the medium of choice. Only rarely does he seem to focus on the lower strata of society, if the current exhibition can be considered typical. One example of this is his 1925 drawing “Studie zu Hunger” (on page 3 of the press photos, which can be seen here (scroll down – the photos are at the end of the document). Arnold still employs caricature here but in this drawing, “Studie zu Hunger”, he empathises and treats his characters kindly, suggesting that his viewers do the same.

The title of the current exhibition, “Hoppla, wir leben!” (translated for the exhibition as “Oops! We’re alive!” takes its name (1) from the 1927 expressionist drama by Ernst Toller which explores the fate of a former revolutionary who having spent 8 years in a mental hospital is released into a society with which he cannot engage. More information here. The title sounds almost childlike and conceals more serious themes, reflected in the way in which Karl Arnold used humour through caricatures to bring to attention the changes he witnessed in Germany between the wars.

A short article (in German) was published in the in the Frankfurter Allgemeine on the 19th April 2011. The article also shows some of the pictures from the current exhibition and can be seen here. The author makes the interesting point that it is a puzzle why Karl Arnold was spared despite his very public criticism of Hitler through the satirical journal Simplicissimus.

The link to the current exhibition (at least until 22nd May 2011 is here.

(1) http://www.portfolio.theatercalarts.com/RozFulton/hoppla/ , accessed 19.04.11


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