Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933
October 4, 2015-January 18, 2016
LACMA. Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, The Profiteer (Der Schieber), 1920-21. Oil on canvas; 47 1/4 x 47 1/4 in. (120 x 120 cm), Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, © 2014 Renata Davringhausen, photo © Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast – ARTOTHEK
New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933,
is the first comprehensive show in the United States to explore the themes that characterize
the dominant artistic trends of the Weimar Republic.
Organized in association with the Museo Correr in Venice, Italy,
this exhibition features nearly 200 paintings, photographs, drawings, and prints by more
than 50 artists essential to understanding 20th century German modernism.
Special attention is devoted to
the juxtaposition of painting and photography, offering the rare opportunity to examine
both the similarities and differences between the movement’s diverse media.
The historical moment
During the 14 years of the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), artists in Germany grappled with the devastating aftermath of World War I: the social, cultural, and economic effects of rapid modernization and urbanization; staggering unemployment and despair; shifting gender identities; and developments in technology and industry. Situated between the end of World War I and the Nazi assumption of power, Germany’s first democracy thrived as a laboratory for widespread cultural achievement, witnessing the end of Expressionism, the exuberant anti-art activities of the Dadaists, the establishment of the Bauhaus design school, and the emergence of a new realism.
This new turn to realism, best recognized by a 1925 exhibition in Mannheim, Neue Sachlichkeit (of which New Objectivity is the English translation), has at times been called Post-Expressionism, neo-naturalism, Verism, and Magic Realism.
The diverse group of artists associated with this new realism was not unified by manifesto, political tendency, or geography, they shared a skepticism regarding the direction Germany society was taking in the years following World War I and an awareness of the human isolation these changes brought about.
Neue Sachlichkeit exhibition poster
The artists mood at the time
Germany’s financial, sociopolitical, and emotional defeat in World War I took a profound toll on the nation. In contrast to their Expressionist predecessors—who had enthusiastically embraced the war before confronting its harrowing realities on the battlefield—practitioners of the New Objectivity movement were disillusioned with the complex realities of the new Germany.
Digressing from Expressionism’s penchant for bold, abstract subjectivity, the Weimar Republic’s burgeoning group of artists favored realism, precision, objective sobriety, and the appropriation of Old Master painting techniques, including a nostalgic return to portraiture and heightened attention to the appearance of surface.
One of the first problems that the Weimar Republic faced was Hyperinflation. Money became so worthless that children could play with stacks of it.
The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections
1. Life in the Democracy and the Aftermath of the War
Highlights the disparity between victims of the Weimar Republic and the growing bourgeoisie that benefited from the deprivation of that period. Artists such as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, August Sander, and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, portrayed urban landscapes highlighting postwar outcasts and their environs: the unemployed, disfigured, victims of violence, and prostitutes are set amid backdrops of bordellos, street corners and other scenes fraught with menace. In contrast, the Weimar Republic’s burgeoning upper class was often depicted as corrupt and ruthless.
1. Max Beckmann, Dance in Baden-Baden (Tanz in Baden-Baden), 1923. Oil on canvas; 42 1/2 x 26 in. (108 x 66 cm) Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: bpk, Berlin/Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen/Art Resource, NY2. Otto Dix, To Beauty (An die Schönheit), 1922. Oil and collage on canvas; 54 15/16 x 47 7/16 in. (139.5 x 120.5 cm), Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal
Davringhausen’s The Profiteer (1920–21), for example, caricatures a common social type of the early Weimar era: the exploitative businessman making his fortune during the period of hyperinflation. Davringhausen places his profiteer on the top floor of a skyscraper in a long, narrow room filled with windows that appear to be left open, as if there may be the danger of falling out. The brick red walls add to the psychological intensity of the hyper-modern space, in which the well-dressed businessman sits at his desk, enjoying a glass of wine and a cigar as he stares out dispassionately, avoiding the viewer’s gaze.
George Grosz, Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion –Ohne Titel), 1920. Oil on canvas; 31 7/8 x 24 in. (81 x 61 cm), Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrheim-Westfalen, Art © 2014 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, photo: Walter Klein
2. The City and the Nature of Landscape
Artists respond to the tensions caused by the effects of industrialization, which bled from cities into rural areas. As factories and jobs proliferated, Germany experienced a mass migration of its population from the countryside to urban areas. The notion of the city became associated with the future while the rural was nostalgically regarded as the past, and those who experienced the transition of migration were subject to feelings of displacement.
The complex relationship between the urban and rural reflected the disparate conditions of the Weimar Republic. In addition to artists such as Leonhard Schmidt, Gustav Wunderwald, Erich Wegner, Georg Scholz, and Anton Räderscheidt, this section features Arthur Köster, whose photographs of architect Otto Haesler’s Georgsgarten Siedlung represented architectural spaces using high-contrast lighting and experimental framing. In St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler, Köster’s human subjects, dwarfed by the buildings’ geometric rigor and frozen in the composition’s overriding sense of stillness, suggest an apprehension toward the new, modernized Germany; meanwhile, his images portraying the green spaces of Georgsgarten Siedlung distill nature through the lens of industry.
Georg Scholz, Self-Portrait in Front of an Advertising Column (Selbstbildnis vor der Litfabsäule), 1926. Oil on pasteboard; 23 5/8 x 3 5/8 in. (60 x 77.8 cm) Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; photo by A. Fischer/H.Kohler, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe Totowerkstatt
Georg Schrimpf, Reclining Girls in the Countryside /Liegende Mädchen im Grünen), 1930. Oil on canvas; 21 ¼ x 39 ¾ in. (54 x 101 cm), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, photo © 2015 Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.
Franz Radziwill, The Street (Die Strasse), 1928. Oil on canvas; 20 7/8 x 17 11/16 in. (53 x 45 cm) Museum Ludwig, Cologne, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv.
3. Still Life and Commodities
Proposes a new form of the still life, meticulously staged compositions that might be called object-portraits. Zeroing in on disparate, banal objects of everyday life, these images represent things as markers of modernity and mass production. This section sees a recurring motif of cacti and rubber plants—“exotic” plants that were common in households at the time—and includes work by Aenne Biermann, Georg Scholz, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Finsler, among others.
1. Georg Scholz, Cacti and Semaphore (Kakteen und Semaphore), 1923. Oil on hardboard; 27 3/16 x 20 9/16 in. (69 x 52.3 cm) LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; photo LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster (Westfälisches Landesmuseum), Münster/Rudolf Wakoningg.
Franz Radziwill, The Handtowel (Das Handtuch), 1933. Oil on canvas on wood; 20 11/16 x 33 7/8 in. (76 x 99.5 cm), Radziwill Sammlung Claus Hüppe, courtesy Kunsthalle Emden © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo by Fotostudio Blatterspiel & Haftstein, Wardenburg.
4. Man and Machine
The penultimate section of New Objectivity, highlights artists’ attention to the Weimar Republic’s advancements in technology and industry. While some were skeptical about the lack of humanity found within networks of new machinery, others acknowledged the transformative power of technologies and sought new ways of conceiving man’s relationship to industry. Photography plays a key role in this section, not only commenting on its newly accepted position as an art form, but also serving as a key influence for painters such as Carl Grossberg, who executed paintings of factories with photographic precision as seen in Paper Machine (1934). Additionally, some artists, such as Renger-Patzch, attempted to bridge the psychological divide between the natural and the industrial by drawing structural parallels between machinery and botany.
Carl Grossberg, The Paper Machine (Die Papiermaschine), 1934. Oil on wood; 35 7/16 x 45 11/16 in. (90 x 116 cm), Private collection. Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich
Franz Radziwill, The Harbor II (Der Hafen II), 1930. Oil on canvas; 29 15/16 x 39 3/16 in. (76 x 99.5 cm) Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie /Klaus Goeken/Art Resource, NY
5. New Identities: Type and Portraiture
Which examines the way artists including Beckmann, Dix, Schad, and their peers turned to portraiture. While diverse in approach, the portraits featured numerous commonalities, including social typecasting, unsentimental renderings, and self-portraiture. Dominating these portraits are depictions of other artists, writers, and performers, the working class, and marginalized members of society as well as newly established types specific to the period, such as the war veteran and the “new woman.”
1. Otto Dix, The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall), 1923. Oil on canvas; 35 5/8 x 23 13/16 in. (90.5 x 60.5 cm), Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal2. Christian Schad, Agosta, “The Winged One,” and Rasha, “The Black Dove” (Agosta, der Flügelmensch, und Rasha, die schwarze Taube), 1929. Oil on canvas; 47 1/4 x 31 1/2 in. (120 x 80 cm) Private collection, loan by courtesy of Tate Gallery London, © 2014 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Christian Schad, Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis mit Modell), 1927. Oil on wood; 29 15/16 x 24 3/16 in. (76 x 61.5 cm) Private collection, courtesy of Tate, © 2014 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich
1. Kurt Günther, Portrait of a Boy (Knabenbildnis), 1928. Tempera on wood; 18 7/8 x 14 9/16 in. (48 x 37 cm) Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie /Art Resource, NY 2. Herbert Ploberger, Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (Selbstbildnis mit ophthalmologischen Lehrmodellen), c. 1928-30. Oil on canvas; 19 11/16 x 15 3/4 in. (50 x 40 cm), Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich, © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Bildrecht Vienna
One of the most iconic images to derive from this new trend informal realism is Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (1927) in which he wears a smoking jacket and its class connotations like a costume and stares brazenly at the viewer.
Max Beckmann, Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (Selbstbildnis im Smoking), 1927. Oil on canvas; 54 15/16 x 37 5/8 in. (139.5 x 95.5 cm), Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Another of the most important practitioners of this new portraiture is August Sander, who photographed his many subjects in somber, unexpressive poses, which he then arranged according to profession. The faces captured in his unfinished series—his subjects are only rarely identified by name—form an indelible archive of Weimar society.
August Sander, Painter’s Wife (Helene Abelen) (Frau des Malers Abelen), 1926. Gelatin silver print; 9 x 6 7/16 in. (22.9 x 16.4 cm) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.498.9 © 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur-August Sander Archiv, Cologne/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Stephanie Barron, Exhibition Curator and Senior Curator of Modern Art at LACMA, said, “Close examinations of this period still yield new insights into a complicated chapter in modern German art. With very different backgrounds, these artists—some among the most well-known artists of the century, while others are virtually unknown outside Germany—eschewed emotion, gesture, and ecstasy, and sought instead to record and unmask the world around them with a close, impersonal, restrained gaze. Together, they created a collective portrait of a society in uneasy transition, in images that are as striking today as they were in their own time.”
Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director said, “Contemporary art and popular culture alike are preoccupied with documenting ‘the real,’ and it is worth taking a fresh look at how artists in the 1920s dealt with the uses of realism in a time of postwar uncertainty” “We hope that New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933 will shed new light on this important intersection of art, politics, and modernization that marks one of the most crucial periods of the 20th century. “
* This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in association with Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933
October 4, 2015–January 18, 2016
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday: 11 am–5 pm. Friday: 11 am–8 pm, Saturday, Sunday: 10 am–7 pm.
Closed Wednesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
Phone: 323 857-6010 . Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036
New Objectivity, edited by Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann, provides fresh insight into artistic expressions of life in the Weimar Republic.
360 pages, 9.8 x 11.4 in.
300 color illustrations
Available in both English and Italian editions.
Between the end of World War I and the Nazi rise to power, Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was a thriving laboratory of art and culture. As the country experienced unprecedented and often tumultuous social, economic, and political upheaval, many artists rejected Expressionism in favor of a new realism to capture this emerging society. Dubbed Neue Sachlichkeit— New Objectivity—its adherents turned a cold eye on the new Germany: its desperate prostitutes and crippled war veterans, its alienated urban landscapes, its decadent underworld where anything was available for a price. This book mixes photography, works on paper, and painting to bring them into a visual dialogue. Over 50 artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Max Beckmann are included alongside Christian Schad, Alexander Kanoldt, Georg Schrimpf, August Sander, Lotte Jacobi, and Aenne Biermann.
Also included are essays that examine the politics of New Objectivity and its legacy; its relation to international art movements of the time; the context of gender roles and sexuality; and the influence of new technology and consumer goods.This book was edited by Stephanie Barron and Sabine Eckmann, with essays by Graham Bader, Nana Bahlmann, Lauren Bergman, Daniela Fabricius, Christian Fuhrmeister, Keith Holz, Andreas Huyssen, Megan Luke, Maria Makela, Olaf Peters, Lynette Roth, Pepper Stetler, James Van Dyke, and Matthew S. Witkovsky.
FILMS: New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic
The films presented here are among the most iconic of Weimar cinema, including some of its great early masterpieces of sound film, and starring famous actors such as Marlene Dietrich in her breakout role, as well as Peter Lorre, Emil Jannings, and Brigitte Helm. Link
SYMPOSIUM: Realism and Modernism: Concerning the International Context of New Objectivity
Highly respected scholars gather at LACMA to explore the exhibition’s themes in a wider context. Among those speaking are Hal Foster, Princeton University; Andrew Hemingway, University College, London; George Baker, UCLA; and Romy Golan, Graduate Center, City University of New York. Also participating are the exhibition’s curator, LACMA’s Stephanie Barron, and Sabine Eckmann, William T. Kemper Director and Chief Curator, Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis and co-editor of the exhibition’s catalogue New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. Together, they will explore the transnational character of New Objectivity. Link
The exhibition is supported in part by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Philippa Calnan and Suzanne Deal Booth. Additional support provided by Margo Leavin and Wendy Stark.