Schmidt made U-NI-TY in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of East and West Germany. (The German title, EIN-HEIT, is split in two.) Composed of 163 pictures, some taken by the artist, others culled from newspapers, old and recent magazines, propaganda journals, history books, and related sources, this work is a meditation on national identity. Schmidt drew upon two artistic traditions in photography: the use of the medium as a means of expression by individual practitioners, and its use as a vast resource of existing images that can be drawn from and reused at will. Bringing the two together, he explored the relationship between the individual and the state, from the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 through the nearly fifty years of ideological opposition that divided Germany after 1945.
Schmidt interspersed contemporary photographs of ordinary places and individuals with archival images of anonymous and famous people, interiors and exteriors, mass scenes, emblems, and monuments. History is presented not as a linear sequence of well-defined events but as a decentered, simultaneous overlapping of ever-shifting frameworks and viewpoints. Viewers are obliged to ponder whether a given image was made in East or West Germany, before or after World War II, during the period of separation, or since reunification.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Made in response to the fall of the Berlin Wall and to the subsequent reunification of East and West Germany, EIN-HEIT (U-NI-TY) explores the difficulty of historical memory in contemporary Germany. The series mixes recent and archival pictures of mass demonstrations, emblems, monuments, notorious politicians, and everyday people. Some are straightforward photographs, shot in a factual descriptive style; others are rephotographed pages of newspapers, propaganda journals, and history books. Viewers are left to determine whether a given image depicts a perpetrator or a
victim, a moment before World War II or after it, or a scene from a divided or a reunified Germany.
Gallery label from 2020