Beate Passow was born in 1945, in Staldendorf, Lower Saxony. From 1969 to 1975, she was a student at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich, and studied painting with Mac Zimmermann. She then received various work stipends for Munich, Bonn, Paris, Budapest, and Stuttgart. Since the 1980s, she has participated in group exhibitions (»Bezugspunkte 38/88« / »Points of Reference 38/88,« Steirischer Herbst, Graz, Austria, 1988). Since 1990, solo exhibitions of her work have taken place at the Städtische Galerie Lenbachhaus, at the Kunstforum Munich, the Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, and the Haus der Kunst, Munich (1995), the Schindlerhaus MAK, the Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles (1999), and the Jewish Museum, Veinna (2005).
Passow’s works are mostly situated in or shaped by the medium of photography and display central themes. Since her first work in public space – the gilded stand across from the Prince-Carl Palais, in Munich, »from where one could, figuratively, ›point at‹ the passionate hunter Franz-Josef Strauss« (Passow 1995) – the artist has dealt with the presence of collective signs, cultural codes, and the symbols of memory in public space. Her photographic work and her installations focus on cultural phenomena, but also on the memory of National Socialism and genocide, on Auschwitz and war. The project Wunden der Erinnerung / Wounds of Memory, enacted together with Andreas von Weizsäcker in seven European countries, characterizes her endeavor of searching for traces. This aims to preserve those sometimes inconspicuous markers that have remained as evidence of the past: books from a municipal archive in the Czech Republic, shot through with bullets, bullet holes at a bridge head in the Netherlands, bomb splinters in trees in Belgium. With her photographic work Zähler = Nenner / Numerator = Denominator (1995 — 98), that captures the tattooed numbers on the arms of the last survivors of Auschwitz concentration camp in a series, Passow gathered traces of National Socialism. In their serial arrangement, the signs emerge into an irritating and oppressive formation of violence. (De-)Contextualization and counter image serve equally as critical comment and as warning against forgetting – they serve the »coming to terms with the present,« as Passow put it (1995), and not with the past.
Passow’s photographs and photo series play a game of medial displacement and deformation, taking installation as their starting point. For example, the outfit of a concentration camp prisoner, exhibited with price tag in the show-case of a Munich department store, not only presents a provocative form of dealing with the fading of memory. Passow meets the process of exclusion from consciousness with a medial mis-representation, with the absurdity of the display in public space and in a commercial context. The photo series testify to comparable medial strategies: The photographically mediated installations, where frozen books subtly allude to censorship and the burning of books (Quelle Privileg, 1999) or also deal with current forms of fascism, work with different levels of reality. Closely interrelated, they create absurd picture constellations. White Pride (2000) achieves this through the confrontation of the private – the photograph of an inviting, open locker of an obviously fascist party member – with the public, the photo collage of Arno Breker’s portrait busts of his admirers which he kept creating until the 1980s. The collage is installed in the background and appears like a documentary film, it. Moreover, picture series, such as Bundesbrüder / Federal Brothers (2001), achieve their absurd as well as telling effect through the confrontation of different pictorial realities in photography. The series captures the members of a duelling fraternity – posing with eye shield and saber – as allegories of traditional professional groups: merchant, physician, judge, etc. There are upside down sheets of a dance of death by Holbein that act as background and take up the whole picture, multiply disavowing the absurdity of the present through the historical reference.
Recently, Passow’s interest in German history and Germany’s present has shifted towards socio-political themes in an international perspective: Lotuslillies – Maos Erbinnen / Mao’s heiresses (2000) captures in a documentary style the last women living in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, whose feet were bandaged to be smaller, following the historical beauty ideal. Under the title Mode und Bewusstsein / Fashion and Consciousness (2006), for example, Passow’s photo series also focus on culturally connoted strategies of veiling in public space in Germany. They show wearers of burkas on motor bikes, in church, or in a café.
Beate Passow lives and works in München.
Beate Passow, Miles and More: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie Erlangen im Museumswinkel, hg. v. H. Weskott, München/ Erlangen u.a. 2006
Beate Passow – Lotuslilies: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Kunstsammlungen Augsburg u.a., Heidelberg 2003
Beate Passow / Andreas v. Weiszäcker: Wunden der Erinnerung, ein europäisches Projekt, hg. vom Institut für Moderne Kunst, Nürnberg 1995
Beate Passow – Verzweigte Zeit: Ausst.-Kat. Museum am Ostwall, hg. v. R. Pahlke, Dortmund 1995
Beate Passow, Arteigen: Ausst.-Kat. Stadtmuseum München, Städtische Galerie Cham, München 1994