21
Nov
13

Exhibition: ‘Nude in Public: Sascha Schneider, Homoeroticism and the Male Form circa 1900’ at The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, New York City

Exhibition dates: 20th September – 8th December 2013

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*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART WORK OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

Many thankx to The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. More images and information can be found on the exhibition web pages.

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“Schneider was born in Saint Petersburg in 1870. During his childhood his family lived in Zürich, but following the death of his father, Schneider, moved to Dresden, where in 1889 he became a student at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts (Kreuzgymnasium). In 1903 he met best-selling author Karl May, and subsequently became the cover illustrator of a number of May’s books including WinnetouOld SurehandAm Rio de la Plata. A year later in 1904, Schneider was appointed professor at the Großherzoglich-Sächsische Kunstschule Weimar.

During this period Schneider lived together with painter Hellmuth Jahn.  Jahn began blackmailing Schneider by threatening to expose his homosexuality, which was punishable under §175 of the penal code. Schneider fled to Italy, where homosexuality was not criminalized at that time. In Italy, Schneider met painter Robert Spies, with whom he traveled through the Caucasus Mountains. He then traveled back to Germany, where he lived for six months in Leipzig before returning to Italy, where he resided in Florence. When the First World War started, Schneider returned to Germany again, taking up residence in Hellerau (near Leipzig). After 1918, he co-founded an institute called Kraft-Kunst for body building. Some of the models for his art works trained here.

Schneider, who suffered from diabetes mellitus, suffered a diabetic seizure during a ship voyage in the vicinity of Swinemünde. As a result he collapsed and died in 1927 in Swinemünde. He was buried in Loschwitz Cemetery, Germany.”

Text from Wikipedia, where a good gallery of further work by Schneider can be found.

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Sascha Schneider. 'Patriarch' 1895

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Sascha Schneider
Patriarch
1895
Oil on canvas
40.15 x 58.26 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Images of rulers, emperors, and patriarchs [are] a reminder that Schneider was born into an imperial political system. But like the Babylonian figure of Growing Stronger, this large patriarch isn’t a figure of contemporary life, but an echo of a resurgent classicism. Schneider’s fascination with authoritarian masculinity bookends his interest in male youth, a parallel itself rooted in classical ideals. (Text from the exhibition web page)

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Sascha Schneider. 'Mammon and his Slave' c. 1896

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Sascha Schneider
Mammon and his Slave
c. 1896
Wood engraving, published by J. J. Weber, Leipzig
9.44 x 12.59 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Triumph of Darkness' 1896

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Sascha Schneider
Triumph of Darkness [Der Fürst der Verdammten (Prince of the Damned)]
1896
Mixed media
62.99 x 106.29 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Untitled (study of a reclining male nude with tucked up legs)' 1894

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Sascha Schneider
Untitled (study of a reclining male nude with tucked up legs)
1894
Pencil and charcoal with white highlights on grey paper
20.07 x 15.74 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'War Cry' 1915

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Sascha Schneider
War Cry
1915
Charcoal on paper
19.68 x 17.17 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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“The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art will kick off its autumn 2013 season by exploring the German painter Sascha Schneider (1870-1927). At the beginning of the 20th Century, Schneider was elevated to a prestigious post at a German university and was one of the most well-known and well-respected public artists of his time. Only a generation later, he was largely relegated to obscurity. This exhibit examines not only Schneider’s art, but the strange cultural phenomenon that caused his dramatic rise and fall. Curated by Jonathan David Katz, this will not only be the single most extensive one-person exhibition of Sascha Schneider’s art ever mounted since his premature death, but the very first exhibition of Sascha Schneider’s art in the U.S.

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A Strange Historical Interval 

While the history of art is overwhelmingly a history of imaging the female nude, for a brief moment – and in Germany above all – it is instead a history of the male nude. Sascha Schneider was product and beneficiary of this unusual historical moment, one of the most fraught, contradictory and unresolved periods in the modern history of sexual regulation.

This strange historical interval, more developed in Germany in the early 20th century than anywhere else, goes by the English name of the Health and Hygiene Movement. In part a response to rapid industrialization, urban crowding, and the fear that modern life was weakening the inherent strength and drive of Germany’s youth, this reformist movement proposed a bold solution, at once forward and backward looking: it advocated a return to a classical conception of the gymnasium – of training the body as well as the mind through youthful exercise outdoors, preferably in the nude, all in pursuit of a natural health and vitality. Conjoining an idealized youthful beauty, sport and bold nudity, Freikörperkultur (which literally means free body culture) made paintings, photographs, sculptures, and especially public murals that today look strikingly homoerotic, merely part of the visual landscape of early twentieth-century Germany.

Adherents of the movement claimed that only through the confident and shameless exposure of strong, beautiful, male bodies, would young German men throw off the enervating effects of modern life and return to their natural vitality. The emphasis on male nudity had a simple rationale: not only had modern life ostensibly put the German ideal of “manliness” under pressure – a dynamic that would have tragic repercussions with the rise of the Nazis – but since the erotic dimension of female nudity was widely acknowledged, male nudity was paradoxically framed as inherently purer and untainted by eros, as an image of German manhood and its strength and power without any admixture of desire.

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The Cultural Conflict 

Yet at the same exact moment that Freikörperkultur made the sight of handsome nude young men ubiquitous in public spaces as diverse as stadiums and opera houses, another movement was brewing – the very first modern gay-rights movement. Led by such pioneering figures as Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the Institute for Sexual Research (which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933), this new political movement sought to make same-sex relationships entirely legal, in part through claiming that gay people were born gay, that same-sex desire was as natural to some as heterosexuality was to others. But whereas Freikörperkultur sought to generalize an (unacknowledged) homoerotic sensibility across all of German culture, this new politics essentially set up the first self-described homosexual minority in history. Thus a collision was set in motion between those who worked to make homosexuality more tolerable by generalizing a gay aesthetic (though distinctly not a gay politics) across the culture at large and those who named their homosexuality, who specifically sought civil rights under the guise of inborn and natural difference.

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Caught in the Conflict 

Schneider, who emblematized Freikörperkultur in almost every work he ever did, nonetheless came to understand the limits of a social world that accepted homoeroticism but not homosexuals. He was forced to resign from his prestigious post at Weimar University and flee to Italy.

Schneider’s fortunes as an artist were so intimately bound up with this historical interlude and its inherent contradictions that his career couldn’t survive its passing. When he died at age 57 in 1927, of complications from diabetes, his star was already dimming. By the end of World War II, he was largely forgotten. But through the efforts of one man, the German collector Hans-Gerd Röder, who became fascinated by this unknown figure while still in his twenties and began to seek out every work by Schneider he could find, a tattered reputation in modern art history has been painstakingly restored. Mr. and Mrs. Röder and their family have generously agreed to lend their collection of masterworks to the Leslie-Lohman Museum.

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The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first and only dedicated gay and lesbian art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve gay and lesbian art, and foster the artists who create it. The Museum has a permanent collection of over 22,000 objects, 6-8 major exhibitions annually, artist talks, film screenings, readings, THE ARCHIVE – a quarterly art newsletter, a membership program, and a research library. The Leslie-Lohman Museum is operated by the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1987 by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman who have supported gay and lesbian artists for over 30 years. The Leslie-Lohman Museum embraces the rich creative history of the gay and lesbian art community by informing, inspiring, entertaining and challenging all who enter its doors.”

Press release from The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

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Sascha Schneider. 'Hypnotism' 1904

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Sascha Schneider
Hypnotism
1904
Lithograph, published Breitkopf and Hartel, Leipzig
19.68 x 15.74 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'The Anarchist' 1894

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Sascha Schneider
The Anarchist
1894
Lithograph on paper
19.68 x 15.74 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Feeling of Dependency' 1894

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Sascha Schneider
Gefühl der Abhängigkeit (Feeling of Dependency)
1894
Chalk, charcoal and paints on cardboard
27.55 x 19.09 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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“Sascha Schneider (1870 -1927) was an artist who achieved mainstream critical and commercial success in turn-of-the-century Germany despite its striking homoeroticism. Appointed painting chair at the Weimar-Saxon Grand Ducal Art School, and a recipient of prestigious aristocratic commissions, Schneider was once a celebrated painter. Today he is practically unknown, even in Germany. If his name is mentioned at all, it usually is only as the illustrator of the hugely successful Karl May novels, a German adventure series set in the American West. This exhibition seeks to do more than resurrect a forgotten career. It asks why his art was less controversial a hundred years ago than it is today.

Turn-of-the-century Germany was a culture modeled on the classical past, reinvigorating classical ideals in art, architecture, and education. The Greek notion of the gymnasium, where young men developed both mind and body together, continues to be the German word for “high school” even today. Schneider, who actually built a body-building studio in his atelier, was an adherent of this classical ideal. And since this attitude toward mental and physical development was by no means an exclusively homosexual one, it was Schneider’s frank depiction of male beauty that made his art, paradoxically, so mainstream. This exhibition is dedicated to Hans-Gerd Röder, who has almost single-handedly safeguarded Schneider’s work. The art shown is from his collection.

Growing Stronger is a distillation of several of Schneider’s key themes. It features a bearded man whose face and pose are likely drawn from ancient Babylonian relief sculptures excavated by the Germans in the late 19th century and relocated to Germany. This quasi-Babylonian figure is depicted as warmly encouraging the strength of a nude youth. In its original early 20th century context, the image would have been seen as an example of the classical ideal of the gymnasium, where naked youth competed for glory. The paternalism evoked in the image, a celebration of masculine achievement, would have made it in no way controversial in Schneider’s time, when countless such images were painted and sculpted in public settings across the country.

In 1919 Schneider convinced the owner of a Dresden department store to let him have the top floor as a combined atelier and bodybuilding studio. Thus was born Schneider’s Kraft-Kunst-Institut (literally, strength-art-institute). The studio contained a complete gymnasium and some of the participants became models for his art. Privately, Schneider complained that the Institute’s recruits who could afford tuition were not the youthful types he desired.

From the spooky Oak Forest on Ruegen Island to the explicit War Cry, Schneider’s work reflects the tumultuous times in which he lived. Born a year before the unification of Germany in 1871, he saw its defeat in World War I and the onerous peace treaty Germany was forced to sign. Images of death, war, and foreboding are constant throughout his long career.

The image of an ephebic youth, poised at the brink of manhood, as the ideal figure of the classical past, became familiar throughout Germany in the early 20th century. This image of youth was also more broadly associated with modernity and change – the German variant of Art Nouveau. Strong and healthy, lifting weights, these youths were available as a virile, nationalistic metaphor for Germany itself carrying a range of associations, not all of them erotic.

Young men had been familiar subjects in Western art, ranging from Renaissance putti to revelers splashing at beaches or swimming holes in the early 20th century, and as such Schneider’s art reflects a much less guarded ethic governing the representation of youth than we see today. But notably, his subjects are not the realist nudes of an earlier era. Simplified, made over into a repetitious pattern, the body here is an exercise in modernity, in formal patterning and aestheticized contours. Whereas French modernism was generally built over the figure of the nude female, German modernity tended to instead invoke the body of a young man.”

Text from the exhibition web page

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Sascha Schneider. 'Athlete in Basic Position' 1907

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Sascha Schneider
Athlete in Basic Position
1907
Chalk on paper relined on canvas
83.85 x 42.91 in.
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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Sascha Schneider. 'Rear View of Nude with Towel' c. 1920

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Sascha Schneider
Rear View of Nude with Towel
c. 1920
Oil on canvas
40.15 x 14.56 in
Collection of Hans-Gerd Röder

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The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
26 Wooster Street, Soho, New York City
T: 212-431-2609

Opening hours:
12pm-6pm Tuesday through Sunday.
The Museum is closed Monday and all major holidays.
Admission is free.

Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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