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Posted by portugalpress on March 08, 2018
Johannes van Zweizell – self portrait
Sculptures of Johannes and Heidi
Stolen Art

Despite the fact that we live nearby, it has taken me 10 years to make a second visit to Quinta da Arte, near Julião to the north of Tavira.

Unfamiliar with the route, I lost my way and, in a sense, I became ‘lost’ when I arrived among artwork suggesting an explosion of ideas. Like Alice, I had arrived in a Wonderland.

Owner Johannes von Zweizell took pains to explain his artistic ideas, but it would take me weeks to fully appreciate the concepts behind the dozens of works of art in the grounds of Quinta da Arte and inside the house itself.

Johannes was born in 1943 in Germany. He studied political sciences, philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis and, of course, art. He has been exhibiting his artwork since 1977 in venues such as Munich, Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Brussels, New York, Faro and Quinta da Arte, the home which he shares with Heidi.

Since 1986 he has focused on thematic art, bringing together ideas about science and computer technology; in fact, he has created a new art form. Because much of the work on display in his home and grounds relates to cell structure, he punningly calls his work “Cell est la vie”, which made me think of his work of self-expression as “Cellfies”.


Each of the cells in our bodies contains organelles, which have their own specific function to help the parent cell to survive, and the nucleus of the eukaryotic cell directs the cell’s activities and stores DNA.

As we are faced with rapidly-changing technology and major developments in artificial intelligence, we must examine how this new technology will affect the human race. What does it mean to be human? This is the question posed by Johannes through his art.

Stealing intellectual copyright or plain theft

Johannes and Heidi had the grand idea of creating a biological sculpture park in the grounds of their Quinta, but their enthusiasm fell on stony ground.

Johannes contacted many potential supporters around the world but to no avail, although both Prince Charles and the Pope sent words of support. To top it all, in an act of cultural vandalism five years ago, thieves stole many of the bronze and copper sculptures on display at the Quinta, and all that remains of his creations are photographs.

So affected were they both that for two years Johannes was unable to work and Heidi wonders, even now, whether people who had worked at their home eventually returned as thieves.

Unable to produce these pieces a second time, Johannes moved in a different direction. He spent two years working out how he could transmit his artistic vision via computer to television.

Johannes von Zweizell invites Craig Venter to Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper

The American biotechnologist Craig Venter is well known for his theory that our generation will bring together computers and genetic science so that the genetic programming of life by DNA sequencing may be modelled by computer. Using any object which Leonardo must have touched, Venter is attempting to recreate Leonardo da Vinci’s DNA.

Johannes admired his work to such an extent that in 2012 he created his masterpiece. His big idea is to use 14 connected TV screens to display his paintings of the following 14 individuals: Jesus Christ, the 12 apostles and Craig Venter.

The floor in Johannes’ painting is covered with the lettering AGTC (Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytosine), the substances which together form our DNA.

He shows the letters INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews), which were nailed above Jesus’ head as he hung dying on the cross.

We also see the letters CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) which is a means for gene editing. Johannes estimates the cost of his revolutionary work at €4,000 per TV screen.

“If this is a Man”, by Primo Levi

Like most of his generation, Johannes has been deeply affected by the War and by the experiences of men such as Primo Levi.

Born in Turin in 1919 and having graduated in 1941, Levi attempted in 1943 to contact the resistance movement in Northern Italy. Captured and sent to Auschwitz in February 1944, he was released by the Soviets in 1945 and died in 1987, possibly by suicide.

Based on Levi’s book of wartime memories, “If this is a Man”, Johannes’ sculpture shows dozens of squares with red tongues wagging as if talking of the holocaust. Levi’s square is empty because he does not want to talk; he wants to die.
Next to this sculpture, Johannes places a film about torture and a poem (Todesfuge) by the Romanian surrealist poet Paul Celan, who as a youth was committed to a forced labour camp for 18 months, as his parents were deported and confined in an internment camp in Transnistria where they met their deaths.

Imagination and Inspiration

My February article ‘Sculptures in the Sun’ showed how the light and colours of Provence attracted many French painters of the Impressionist school.

We in the Algarve enjoy a similar climate, which with its light and colours attracts artists from the world over.

Although there is continuing talk of the Algarve as a year-round holiday and cultural destination, it seems that the sophisticated cultural opportunities offered by artists such as Johannes von Zweizell are nearly always overlooked.

After 27 years in the Algarve, Johannes and Heidi are discouraged by the thefts and the lack of recognition. They will now abandon their plans for an art display in the countryside, leave their Quinta and return to Germany for good.

By Lynne Booker

Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association.