Mansudae Art Studio repaired German fountain

According to Bloomberg:

In November 2005, two Germans flew to North Korea on official business. Their goal was not to discuss nuclear disarmament or diplomatic relations. Rather, they went to check on the progress of a sculptural commission: the reconstruction of Frankfurt’s so-called Fairy Tale Fountain, an art nouveau relic from 1910 that had been melted down for its metal during World War II.

Blueprints for the original Fairy Tale Fountain had gone missing, and the City of Frankfurt needed sculptors who could work from old photographs to re-create the naked beauty gazing down on an array of cherubic children and enormous water-spewing reptiles and fish. For this intricate job, the Germans had turned to Pyongyang’s Mansudae Art Studio.

Klaus Klemp, deputy director of Frankfurt’s Museum of Applied Art, discovered Mansudae back in 2004 and was impressed enough by the craftsmanship to convince Frankfurt officials to hire the atelier. “It was a purely technical decision,” he says. “The top tier artists in Germany simply don’t make realist work anymore. North Koreans on the other hand haven’t experienced the long evolution of modern art; they are kind of stuck in the early 1900s, which is exactly when this fountain was made.” North Korea’s price tag for reconstructing the ornate bronze fountain was also attractive: €200,000, including shipping and handling.

In Pyongyang, Ministry of Culture officials escorted Klemp and his colleague, Philipp Sturm, to an expansive, well-lit factory space hung with banners touting slogans like, “When the Party Gives Orders, We Execute!” and “Self-Sustenance Is the Only Path To Survival!” There, a full-size plaster model of the German fountain stood among other works-in-progress, including a 25-foot-tall white marble statue of North Korea’s first leader, and a smaller statue of three revolutionary heroes, one of them brandishing an enormous flag.

The quality of the work was impeccable, but the Germans did have one complaint: Their art nouveau fountain had been rendered with a slightly hard, angular communist touch. “The woman had kind of a cement block hairdo,” recalls Sturm. “It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed. We explained to the head sculptor that the socialist realist style wasn’t really in vogue in Frankfurt at the moment. He was very receptive and softened the look accordingly.”


Germany is the only Western democracy to have hired Mansudae’s art army, and it did so before North Korea further sank into isolation by launching the country’s first nuclear and missile tests in 2006. “There’s no question that North Korea was a criminal country, even then,” says Klemp, but Germany at the time hoped a policy of rapprochement might help the Hermit Kingdom embark on a better, more humanitarian path. “It would be very difficult to hire them today,” Klemp says.

Frankfurt’s Fairy Tale Fountain was completed entirely in North Korea, and went off without a hitch. The Germans took precautions early on to supply Mansudae’s sculptors with photos of European children, so the sculptures “wouldn’t end up looking too Korean,” says Klemp. “We knew that could be a problem, but so did they.” Once complete, the fountain got shipped from China to Hamburg, and then trucked to Frankfurt where it was installed. “We were all really pleased with the work,” says Klemp. “Everything was done on time, and everyone we worked with was exceptionally professional and personable … for me, the most interesting part was how normal it all was.”

Read the full story here:
Mansudae Art Studio, North Korea’s Colossal Monument Factory
Bloomberg
Caroline Winter
2013-6-6

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