April 24 – August 2, 2015
Franz Josef Strauß. The Power of the Image

It is almost three decades since his death, and yet Franz Josef Strauß remains unforgotten. Few post-war German politicians have captured public and media interest as much as Germany’s former Federal Minister, chairman of the Christian Social Union party (CSU) and Minister-President of Bavaria. Idolized by his friends and vilified by his enemies, he polarized public opinion like none other. Strauß would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2015. On the occasion of this anniversary, the Münchner Stadtmuseum, in partnership with the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung, is to stage a gallery exhibition to commemorate the eminent CSU politician and examine his media portrayal. The exhibition draws on photographs, posters, magazines and film footage to show the strategies used in both his media portrayal and his visual deconstruction. It focuses, in particular, on the artistic techniques selected to convey specific content. The result is an exploration of issues of aesthetic impact and political iconography that reverberates far beyond a particular individual, in this case Strauß himself.

Franz Josef Strauß’s political life vividly illustrates how the trend towards the cult of personality that emerged as long ago as the 1950s has since escalated. Nowadays, policies appear to have faded almost into insignificance while almost all that matters is the politician’s personality and how it is depicted in the media. This is deeply problematical in a world where political processes have become highly complex as have issues requiring regulation. The politician as a figure helps us make sense of this complexity, hold someone accountable for the decisions taken while increasing the profile of politics in general. Public confidence in what is an abstract political system is strengthened by people’s trust in individual politicians. In circumstances such as these, it is clear that creating the right image is crucial to enabling politicians to win and hold onto power.

By the time he had joined the German cabinet as Federal Minister for Special Affairs in 1953, the national and international media had already begun to show an interest in Strauß the man. This marked the beginning of a relationship that would turn him into a public figure and would continue throughout his political career and, indeed, long after his death. The exhibition explores the public image of Strauß as a politician. Different image-building strategies and the principal iconographic techniques used to implement them are illustrated through a variety of visual media. Many of the strategies commonly used today for portraying politicians in the visual media can be traced back to depictions of Franz Josef Strauß. He is shown, for example, in traditional roles either as the father of the nation or as a ‘regular guy’ living a purportedly authentic private life, as well as in those of visionary and influential statesman.

For a politician like Strauß, a man never afraid to court controversy, the flipside of this affirmative world of representative image-building came in the shape of satirical attacks that continued throughout his career. Photomontage, along with caricature, is a technique particularly well suited to critical commentary and one that allows pointed questions to be asked. Images constructed by the media also lend themselves to targeted deconstruction through a humorous, provocative or ineven defamatory depiction of individuals and the politics they represent. On some occasions, in the case of Strauß, this would result in disputes and even legal battles. A closer look at the portrayal, self-portrayal and deconstruction of Franz Josef Strauß in the media not only teaches us about the man himself and how political propaganda works – it also affords us an insight into the media society in which we live.

The exhibition has been produced in cooperation with the Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung

Publication

Allitera has published for the exhibition a catalogue with articles by Werner K. Blessing, Hannes Burger, Tobias Flümann, Doris Gerstl, Thomas Helmensdorfer, Renate Höpfinger, Horst Möller, Henning Rader, Rudolf Scheutle and Helmut Schleich, available for € 19.90 at the museum’s ticket desk and its online shop.