In Memoriam Carl Laszlo (1923 – 2013)

26 Nov

Click to enlarge unimaginably
All photographs by Andreas Baier

On November the 8th in 2013 our staff photographer’s mentor Carl Laszlo died at the age of 90 in Basel. Carl Laszlo was surely one of the great and most fascinating institutions in the international art and intellectual business. He survived the Holocaust while a major part of his family members were murdered; nevertheless he constantly insisted not having been a victim but a spectator sitting in the first row.

After the second world war was over he was taught psychology by ‪Léopold Szondi‬, provided museums as well as private art collectors with Réne Magritte and Salvador Dali, published his legendary magazine «Panderma» and was rumbling around with guys like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, with Robert Mapplethorpe and Gerard Malanga, with Allen Ginsberg, Dieter Meier or William S. Burroughs. With Richard Avedon and Kostas Axelos. With Manon, Simon Marsden or Olle Baertling. With Victor Bockris and John Cage. With Udo Breger and Howard Brooker and Earle Brown as well. With Dr. Dieter Burckhardt, Lucius Burckhardt and Louis Cartwright. With Christo, Bob Colacello and William Coupon. With Tim Curry. With Prof. Rolf Fenkart, Marie-Louise von Franz and James Grauerholz. With John Giorno, Patrick Gossweiler and Johannes Grützke. With Brion Gysin, John Hall, Debbie Harry, Frederick Hughes, Peter Hujar and Herbert Huncke. With Gérald Incandela, Marion Kalter, ‪André Kertész‬, Heiner Koechlin, Wayne Kramer, Dr. Alan Krassai, Les Levine and, of course, Klaus Littmann. With Thilo Maatsch, Chris Makos and Dr. László Mátéfi. With Duncan McLaren, Taylor Mead, Stewart Meyer, Marisol Escobar, Philippe Mikriammos and Paul and Kitty Mirani Pagano. With Eric Mottram, Gianna Nannini, Floris M Neusüss and – quite right – James Nitsch. With Claude Nobs, Daniel Odier, David Ohle and Meret Oppenheim. With Peter Orlovsky, Verner Panton, Esther Pfirter, Jürgen Ploog and Siegfried und Gesche Poppe. With Genesis P-Orridge, Marcia Resnick, Helmut Röhrling and Si und Dieter Rosenkranz. With Patricia Highsmith, Dr. Albert Hofmann, Dr. Robert Gordon Wasson and Baron Johann von Sardagna. With Sidney Janis, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, Raoul Hausmann and K.O. Goetz. With Jean Arp, Lou Reed, Dieter Hagenbach, Alexis von Goldschmidt-Rothschild and Gräfin und Graf von Posadowsky. With Christian Schad, Janne Schaffer, Christoph Schwegler and Walter Steding. With Chris Stein, Prof. Thomas Szasz, John Tytell and Jörg von Uthmann. With Anne Waldman, Regina Weinreich, Peter Weiermair Carl Weissner, Bernhard Vischer lic. iur. and certainly with Miklos von Bartha as well. With Edmund White, Charles Wilp, Terry Wilson, and, of course, also with Fürstin Gloria von Thurn und Taxis as well.

And with, and with, and with … and with Hans Ulrich Obrist who shared probably Carl Laszlo’s last performance in public at the Fondation Beyeler. About this conversation Meerschweinchenreport reported here (this however in German).

His house, maybe we should better say villa, in Basel’s Sonnenweg 24, was a huge museum itself. Only a small part of his impressive collection gathering some 15.000 pieces of artwork was to be seen in one of the 14 bedrooms and the staircase. Even the guest’s bathroom made one believe being part in a high budget Hollywood-movie:

View into the garden and on the Burmesian temple.

About his time in the concentration camps Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau he published two books «Ferien am Waldsee» in 1956; and «Der Weg nach Auschwitz» in 1987. This is a quote from «Ferien am Waldsee»: «But even the more survival experienced in the concentration camp school were petrified, no one could get used to this sort of adventure. One saw mature men tremble, those who had seen thousands around dying away during several years in prison; one saw trembling Jews who had made it up until here, had managed it to save their lives, and were now forced to witness the destruction of their families in Treblinka and Majdanek; one saw camp elders and Kapos – the most privileged aristocracy of the camp – who had whipped many hundreds of companions in misfortune to death, had robbed, tortured and betrayed them, and were now bent and pale with fear of death, they were now awaiting their victims’ fate themselves. Suddenly everyone was there, even those who had hitherto hidden so skillfully.»

In an interview with Markus Somm from the Baseler Zeitung Carl Laszlo was asked by the editor-in-chief: «But the time in Auschwitz, you can hardly describe it as a happy time?» But Carl Laszlo, however, answered: «Of course, yes! The fact that I survived it, is a good thing. It would have been less good, if I would have been murdered, wouldn’t it?»

In 1986, Andreas Baier met Carl Laszlo the first time on Art|Basel. He instantly became fascinated by him, his very special way to reflect about life and certainly, when he was invited by Carl Laszlo to stay a couple of days in his incredible house, in his «home sweet home» as well.

This photograph shows the guest’s bedroom. Reading «Ferien am Waldsee» while being surrounded by paintings from various artists who all portrayed Carl Laszlo in their very own and special way is an experience that is still impossible to describe. All our staff photographer, formerly aged 21, remembers from that night is that he was constantly asking himself «Where am I?»

The next day, however, Carl Laszlo was so kind to provide him with some proper intellectual coordinates which helped him to find out his actual mental location. He quoted the Russian movie director Andrei Arsenevich Tarkovsky: «The only meaning of art is making dying easier». So, Andreas Baier used the unique opportunity to show him an advertisement that our staff photographer wanted to have published in Red Box (and which was rejected) in order to promote his skills as a creative photographer. On this photograph he wore these typical «cloths» one is to be put in after life and photographed himself standing upright in an opended coffin. The claim said: «Such a coffin should be nice ’cause worms also eat with their eyes!». Followed by his phone number. That was the whole add. To his surprise Carl Laszlo said that death is mankind’s only unsolved problem; and as it seems it will remain as such for a very long period of time.

This example might demonstrate best, that it was simply impossible to draw a clear picture of him.

Another example: When our staff photographer’s parents first visited Carl Laszlo in the early 1960s to find out if it might be useful to do business together they were so nervous that his father managed it to have mistakenly droped a fork from a cake plate straight into a painting by Salvador Dali which consequently evoked a small hole in the canvas. Naturally, his parents became instantly cold sweated. But all what Carl Laszlo said was: «Don’t worry, it’s a restorer’s job». So, all three agreed of not doing business together to ensure of not destroying this great and thoughtful atmosphere. It is to be said that this all happened at a time when Carl Laszlo already gained a serious reputation as a tough negotiator.

In his second issue of RADAR Carl Laszlo published some letters to the editor. Quite obviously, one advertising gallery had serious problems with William S. Burroughs’ literary quality, so it wrote: «(…) We do not want to financially support a magazine that plays down the risk of addiction and the drug problem. (…)»

Only to refresh our memories: William S. Burroughs’ book «Naked Lunch», first published in 1959: Because of US obscenity laws, a complete American edition (by Grove Press) did not follow until 1962.

Carl Laszlo replied: «As for the drug problem, we do not fight drugs, but only the risk of addiction in a society which plays down, overlooks or trivializes the risk of the most common addiction – namely alcohol: and the most lethal drug: the ideologies. We are convinced that only outspokenness, ie Enlightenment can help the addicts. For us the diminutiveness of the drug problem is out of the question. For a society, however, which prefers to examine the truth exclusively through the lense of closed eyes, our publications might seem scandalous to it.»

Carl Laszlo was surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands, of Buddha sculptures: in the gardens, under the roof and in his temple.

At the Art|Basel: Miklos von Bartha with Carl Laszlo.

The stock market guru André Kostolany said about him: «Carl Laszlo has a great and profound knowledge about the human soul.» The painter Christian Schad (1894-1982) wrote about his friend: «He’s someone who permanently walks between all fronts, not only in art.» And the Rumanian philosopher Emile Cioran Michel who gained his fame in France formulated the thesis: «For someone to whom had happened to what Carl Laszlo had to experience, everything on this earth is allowed.» «Nonsense,» replies Laszlo. «I never would have the idea to derive from my camp experience any special rights.»

About Carl Laszlo: Baseler Zeitung, Tacheles, art – Das Kunstmagazin.

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Andreas Baier‘s parents were running an avant-garde art gallery as well as publishing an art magazine called «Magazin KUNST». So, he was born straight into the international art scene.
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