R. B. Kitaj’s Monument to Rosa Luxemburg

To give you a brief respite from documenta 14, from my memories of Athens and preparations for Kassel, here is R. B. Kitaj’s 1960 work “The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg”. I saw this sublime work at the Picasso Museum here in Malaga, as part of the exhibition “Bacon, Freud, y la Escuela de Londres” and was immediately drawn to the multiple components of its composition. If you can pull yourself away from the tragic action of the center – the wounded body of Luxemburg – try to focus on the small, colorful image of a pyramidic structure to the middle left side of the canvas.

This is a photograph of a watercolor sketch of an unrealized Monument to the enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, designed by Janus Genelli. We know this because in the text in the upper righthand corner of the canvas, Kitaj not only quotes a narrative of Luxemburg’s murder, but also the sources for some of the borrowed images. For example, he tells us that the obelisk in the bottom left corner were taken from a 1938 article for the Warburg Institute journal by Alfred Neumeyer called “Monuments to ‘Genius’ in German Classicism”. The same essay includes this colorful sketch of the unrealized Monument to Kant.

It made me wonder, was this visual reference employed by Kitaj to bring our attention to the place of the pyramid in Kant’s discussion of the sublime? Kant divided sublimity in manufactured objects (i.e. non-natural objects) between those of the fine arts as works of singular genius (e.g. the Homeric epics) and to those structures of collective labor, but not genius, such as the pyramids. Perhaps Kitaj was bringing this to our attention to distance his eulogy to Luxemburg from the work of genius of German classicism, as a slope that led down to National Socialism and the extermination of the Jews (which was Kitaj’s ostensible focus in this and many other works). Instead, he prefers his Monument to Rosa Luxemburg, and his own art, to be on the side of the collectively produced sublimity of the pyramids.

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