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Jeanne Mammen Exhibition

The Health region Berlin-Buch lies to the northeast of the German capital. It has been known for its clinics, biotechnology companies and research institutes for over a century. Today the Campus Berlin-Buch is mostly known for its largest research institute, the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association. Less known are the artworks on the site. This brochure aims to provide a glimpse into this lesser known, but no less impressive part of the campus.

Visitors approaching from the Karower Chaussee will first notice a distinctive gatehouse, which was completed in 1916 and originally intended to host the entry and administrative offices of the central cemetery of the village of Buch-Karow. Instead of a cemetery, however, the grounds served as a campus for clinics and research and the gatehouse was used for other purposes. The upper floor was converted into apartments for visiting scientists. The left side of the ground floor hosts ”Café Max”, named for the biologist and physicist Max Delbrück, a name also borne by the campus‘ largest research center. Delbrück‘s groundbreaking work in genetics led to a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1969. The right side of the gatehouse hosts the world‘s largest public exhibition of the works of the Berlin artist Jeanne Mammen.

The presence of her works on the campus is not a coincidence; instead, it reflects many years of friendship between the scientist and the artist, described in the next chapter.

Detlev Ganten, the founding director of the Max Delbrück Center, was responsible for establishing this exhibition. He considered the friendship between Max Delbrück and Jeanne Mammen a model for promoting interactions between the arts and sciences. The Jeanne-Mammen Room was established on the Campus Berlin-Buch through a close collaboration with the Jeanne-Mammen Society e.V. The initiative was able to acquire paintings and sculptures from the artist‘s heirs thanks to the generous support of the LOTTO-Stiftung Berlin. Generous grants from the Jeanne-Mammen Society permitted the expansion of the collection with works acquired from Max Delbrück‘s family. Thus over the years, the collaboration between the Society and the Max Delbrück Center created a site where Jeanne Mammen‘s creative work could be experienced, as a testament to the friendship between these two remarkable individuals.

In addition to the artist‘s atelier at Kurfürstendamm 29, since 1999 the campus gatehouse has served as one of the most important exhibition spaces for her work. Even more than her atelier, the Jeanne Mammen room in the gatehouse is a memorial to the friendship between an artist and a molecular biologist. The room and the exhibition serve as a place where ideas can be exchanged, free from ideological boundaries – in a way that might have pleased them both.

Max Delbrück and Jeanne Mammen first met in 1936. Delbrück had returned to Berlin in 1932 after completing his studies in physics; he worked as an assistant in the laboratory of Lise Meitner but quickly became immersed in biology upon the advice of Niels Bohr. Jeanne Mammen had been born in Berlin but was raised in Paris. Her family was forced to leave France when the First World War broke out; they returned to Berlin in 1915. During his time in Berlin, Delbrück personally organized a series of informal get-togethers to develop contacts between physicists and biologists. They met evenings in various places, including the home of the Chemist Kurt Wohl and his wife, the pianist Greta Wohl. These social events were frequented by non-conformists – scientists, writers and artists who could exchange ideas free from Nazi ideology. It was here that an acquaintance was made between two individuals who looked at life and their fellow humans from two very different perspectives, at the same time sharing a profound curiosity. Delbrück left Germany in 1937 for the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena (USA), on a Rockefeller fellowship. Throughout the war he continually purchased paintings by Jeanne Mammen, which helped support her. He continued his assistance after the war through CARE packages and other means. The relationship continued with visits and vacations with Mammen, Delbrück and his wife Manny. They continued a lively intellectual exchange throughout their lives. Their correspondence, which has been preserved, reveals how important and fruitful this exchange was for both. In 1978, in a text for the Jeanne Mammen Society, Max Delbrück wrote, ”My friendship with Jeanne Mammen began in the 1930s, two years before I emigrated. Jeanne was in her mid-forties, had gone through an intensive phase of artistic production in the 20s, and had begun a bitter process of inner emigration. I was in my late twenties, at that point a nothing, and about to leave for the USA. We got to know each other at the homes of the biologist Hans Gaffron and in the apartment of Kurt and Grete Wohl on the Schlachtensee ... Jeanne was there. She didn‘t stand out: she was small, not very pretty, didn‘t call attention to herself, hardly said anything. I had heard that Jeanne was an artist and had seen some of her paintings at the Wohls‘, but at the time I didn‘t have any appreciation for painting, and for modern art none at all. I hadn‘t ever met a painter in person. When I saw paintings in exhibitions, I wondered what could be the point of such distortions of reality. Then once in the tram Jeanne showed me an image of a man who had black spots where his eyes ought to be. I asked her why she chose to distort, twist, falsify nature in that way. She looked up, and pointed out a person sitting on the bench across from us. ”Look at him – aren‘t his eyes black spots?” And very surprisingly and convincingly, they were.” 1

Our exhibition begins with the portrait, ”Young man with a scarf” from 1937, which probably is a depiction of Max Delbrück just before his departure.

Gertrud Johanna Luise Mammen, called Jeanne, was born in Berlin on November 20, 1890. She was the youngest daughter of Gustav Oskar Mammen, a businessman, and his wife Ernestine Juliane Karoline (maiden name del Haes). The household Jeanne grew up in was wealthy, liberal and cosmopolitan. Her talent for art was evident early on. ”From a very early age I drew on everything I could get my hands on. I always had a huge stack of paper that I painted on. Then we made up dramas with death and murder and love stories – it was terribly wonderful. I never wanted, wished for or did anything else – my path was as straight as a rocket‘s. I was very lucky; in spite of everything it was the best thing that could happen to me.” 2

A great deal has been written about Jeanne Mammen‘s work: her studies in Paris, Brussels and Rome, the influence of Symbolism, the artistic phases she worked through – from naturalism to abstraction, from cubist-expressionist through sculpture and graphic to the representation of puzzling ciphers. The caricatures with which she began, capturing daily scenes and making her a chronicler of the Golden Twenties. Her life-changing experience at the World Exposition in 1937, where she saw ”Guernica” by Picasso – whom she once called the ”holy father”. Her continual search to represent form and movement and not least her ability to cope with a lack of materials. She could make art out of wires, twine and candy wrappers because it was the only way she could exist with her ”mania for painting”. Those interested in learning more will find references to further literature at the end of this brochure. Jeanne wrote about herself in 1974, two years before her death, as part of a vitae for a catalog for an exhibition of her works. She wrote: ”Short report of the facts: Carefree childhood and youth in Paris. Studies interrupted by the outbreak of the war in 1914, fled with the last train to Holland to avoid imprisonment. Half a year later relocation to Berlin, destitute (all of my possessions had been seized in France and were later auctioned off as war reparations). Minimal income from retouching photos, drawings of clothing, cinema posters, cobbling, etc. Followed by cartons of food (without food), English blockade, end of the war, inflation. Finally the situation improved a bit through collaborations with ”Simpl” and other magazines. With the beginning of the Hitler era, all of the magazines I had worked for were outlawed or drawn into the Party line. The end of my ”realistic” period, move toward an aggressive, radical type of painting (in contrast to official art policy). Second World War: no oil paints, no canvas – all paintings from this era were made with poster tempera on cardboard. Food cartons, stamps, forced labor, bombing raids. Forced reeducation to become a ”fireman”: on fire patrol until 3am after the ”all clear.” No windows, no heating, no gas or electric light, no food. Paintings, lithographs, drawings, most furniture burned, flooded out, stolen. Three months of Russian occupation, and then the English at the Ku-Damm. Inflation, Russian blockade of Berlin, air bridge, currency reform. In the 1950s move toward a looser polychrome style of painting, which gave rise in the mid-60s to ”adhesive pictures” (scraps of paper and tinfoil on oil ground). And promptly enjoyed a third and hopefully last round of inflation.” 3

To this, little can be added – except to explore Jeanne Mammen‘s artworks.

Closing remarks

In her final years Jeanne Mammen devoted herself entirely to cipher images, such as the ”Verheißung eines Winters” (Promise of a winter). White impasto covers the image, letting through impressions of light blue patterns. There are lines, in the middle a small death‘s head, below what might be an open bird‘s beak, and to the right a face. The rest of the symbols are unclear. On the back is a date: ”October 6, 1975” – the only painting she ever dated. And it is her last; when she was finished, she gave away her easel. Jeanne Mammen died on April 22, 1976.

Near the end she passed judgment on her own artistic work: „There is nothing important to say – a totally unimportant mayfly.” 4

She was always aware of her own impermanence in the face of time. Her works are her legacy, and they will remain.

I have developed an unhealthy preference for the color white. When I am feeling better again, I will make lots of white paintings. In a hundred thousand years they will have turned golden. 5


1 Zitiert nach Jeanne Mammen und Max Delbrück –Zeugnisse einer Freundschaft, Berlin 2005, S. 64
2 Zitiert nach Hans Kinkel, Begegnung mit Jeanne Mammen, in: Jeanne Mammen 1890 – 1976. Ein Lebensbericht, zusammengestellt von Georg Reinhardt, 1991, S. 81f
3 Zitat aus Jeanne Mammen 1890 – 1976, hrsg. von der Jeanne-Mammen-Gesellschaft in Verbindung mit der Berlinischen Galerie 1978, Edition Cantz Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, S.17
4 ebd. S.100
5 ebd. S.103

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