Photography exhibition “Germaine Krull – The Return of an Avant-Gardist”

Germaine Krull © Goethe-Institut Thailand

June 24 - October 2, 2022

The Jim Thompson Art Centre

Curated by Anna-Catharina Gebbers, curator at the Nationalgalerie at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin, and initiated by Maren Niemeyer, director of the Goethe-Institut Thailand

She was a citizen of the world, an artist, a revolutionary, a war journalist and one of the first women to manage a hotel in Bangkok. Germaine Krull, born in 1897 in Posen, has re-invented herself and her life on many occasions. The impressive body of work left behind by this exceptional photographer is as unusual as the century she lived in. It reflects the restless search for artistic and und social freedom of an intrepid pioneer. For the first time, her photographs will be on display in Bangkok, the city whose social life she helped shape for two decades.

Germaine Krull is a legend and considered one of the pioneers of Western modernist photography. But it was, as so often, chance that led her to her profession and her life-long passion. Lacking formal education and a high-school diploma, Germaine Krull was not admitted to university; instead, she attends a photography school in Munich. In her early 20s, she is a radical activist in Munich, and eventually relocates to Russia. In the 1920s, she moves to Berlin, where she joins the circle of Berthold Brecht and George Grosz. It is in Paris in 1929 when she finally finds her true calling: Magically drawn to the, as she called it, “old black thing“, she juggles on the Eiffel tower, takes photos of engineering details and plays with the light and the sheer force of the gigantic metal construction. In 1927 Germaine Krull publishes these photos in a groundbreaking portfolio called “Métal“, which makes her a star overnight.

Restlessly, she travels the world, visits Brazil, Africa, Laos, and Cambodia and arrives in Bangkok in 1947, aged almost 50. Planned as a short vacation stop to recover from her work as a war correspondent, Thailand becomes one of the longest chapters of her life. Shortly after her arrival, she photographed the cremation of King Rama VIII (1935-1946), Ananda Mahidol, in the presence of his brother Bhumibol Adulyadej, who succeeded him on the throne as Rama IX (1946-2016). Alongside the charismatic American Jim Thompson she becomes the co-owner of the completely run-down Oriental Hotel, which she manages between 1947 and 1967. Under the leadership of the photographer and the silk merchant, the hotel regains its former splendor. The Bamboo Bar is the place to be of Bangkok’s society, and Germaine Krull becomes one of the most influential personalities of the time. 

Only 20 years later, at the age of 70, she leaves Bangkok for Northern India, where she lives among the Dalai Lama’s exiled community as an advocate for Tibetan refugees. The famous cosmopolitan dies in 1985, following a serious illness, in a nursing home in Wetzlar, Hesse, where she is also buried.

For the first time, her works return to Bangkok, the city where she spent a great deal of her life and left significant marks. At the Jim Thompson Art Center the Goethe-Institut Thailand presents a selection of her works, provided by the Germaine Krull archive of the Museum Folkwang in Essen, which manages her artistic estate. The exhibition offers novel insights into her experimental photographs and the extraordinary life of the great photographer and of the time she lived in.

The exhibition also includes photographs she created in Thailand, which have never been on display before.

Her homecoming to Bangkok could not be more fitting: With the initiative of the Goethe-Institut Thailand and in cooperation with the Museum Folkwang in Essen, she reappears in Thailand as guest in the Jim Thompson Art Center, the legacy of her long-time companion and co-manager Jim Thompson.

Maren Niemeyer, director of the Goethe-Institut Thailand: “Germaine Krull is a total discovery to me. Her work is an awe-inspiring testament to the often forgotten and overlooked female gaze on the eventful history of the 20th century.“

Anna-Catharina Gebbers, curator at the Nationalgalerie at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin: “Thriving with the confidence of the New Woman, Germaine Krull has also revolutionized photography: Her unusual compositions and photographic experiments pervade her work up to the late oeuvre that she created in Asia and on which the exhibition focuses.“