Posts Tagged ‘Weimar Republic

13
Oct
17

Exhibition: ‘Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933’ at Tate Liverpool

Exhibition dates: 23rd June – 15th October 2017

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha' 1925-6, printed 1991

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha
1925-6, printed 1991
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
205 x 241 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Hugo Erfurth with Dog' 1926

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Hugo Erfurth with Dog (Bildnis des Fotografen Hugo Erfurth mit Hund) 
1926
Tempera and oil paint on panel
800 x 1000 mm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
© DACS 2017. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

 

 

Writing sociology: picturing an uncertain cultural landscape

There is something completely unexpected in the strange correlation and synergy between the work of these two artists.

While it is inadvisable to compare and contrast (why pick those particular images out of thousands!), I have paired several images from the exhibition together in this posting. Let’s look at the pairing above.

Technically, Sander’s photograph of The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha (1925-6) evidences a slightly flattened perspective especially in the “face on” aspect of the androgynous woman – but the photograph also possesses a surreal air, the silhouette of the woman’s hair contrasting with the swept back slickness of the man and his jutting, three-quarter profile. The unusual space between them adds admirably to the overall frisson of the photograph, it’s non/objectivity and performativity. In Dix’s painting Hugo Erfurth with Dog (1926) a greater distortion of perspective is in evidence. The mythic dog is painted as if photographed using a telephoto lens, while the man’s face is all over the place… the jaw elongated as if by using a wide angle lens, the front of the face flattened in an earnest manner. This is what painting can do, and is allowed to do, that photography can never match. But it doesn’t have to. It does it in a different way.

Here we need to excavate – that’s a good word for this investigation – we need to excavate the ethos in the zeitgeist. We need to understand the attitudes and aspirations of the cultural era in which these artists lived in order to comprehend the defining spirit of the period, as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time. These artists emerge out of the same society, they inhabit the spirit of the age – those interwar years of the avant-garde, speed, and change; of poverty, postwar realities and politics; of The Great Depression, disfiguration and disenfranchisement.

I look at the obscurity of faces in Dix’s Assault Troops Advance under Gas (1924) and then adjust to the pensiveness of hand, pose and gaze in Sander’s Working Students (1926) … and then mentally add in Avedon’s later portraiture. Interesting. I look at Sander’s National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture (c. 1938) and note the “exemplary mastery of illumination”, but just as distinctively the averted gaze, the line on head where the unnamed man (who is he? what was his name?) had just taken his cap off. Just below is Dix’s Self-Portrait with Easel (1926) with three-quarter profile, piercing stare, bent finger. Who is capturing reality here? No body.

In his own way, Sander plays with the reality of time and space just as much as Dix. In my mind, Sander’s “staged performativity and the artifice of construction [which] is paramount to the surreal effects created,” are no less un/real than the paintings of Dix. There are things that just don’t fit. The strangeness of the era, the creation of these non/objective environments, cause an alignment of the stars between both artists. This is inspired curating, to bring these two extra-ordinary talents together.

These artists walked the same streets, they breathed the same air. They excavated the spirit of the age. And in so doing, their art becomes impervious to time.

Marcus

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Many thankx to Tate Liverpool for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“We want to see things completely naked, clear, almost without art. I invented the New Objectivity.”

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Otto Dix, 1965

 

German artist Otto Dix was a committed painter of portraits. At a time when photography had diminished portraiture’s importance and the genre was seen as a deeply unfashionable pursuit for so-called serious artists, he was making a living – and cementing his reputation – out of exactly that. He commented:

“Painting portraits is regarded by modernist artists as a lower artistic occupation; and yet it is one of the most exciting and difficult tasks for a painter.”

 

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin' 1927

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin (Liegende auf Leopardenfell) 
1927
Oil paint on panel
680 x 980 mm
© DACS 2017. Collection of the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. Gift of Samuel A. Berger

 

 

Dix was a key supporter of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement, a name coined after an exhibition held in Mannheim, Germany in 1925. Described by art historian G.F. Hartlaub, as ‘new realism bearing a socialist flavour’, the movement sought to depict the social and political realities of the Weimar Republic.

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Bohemians [Willi Bongard, Gottfried Brockmann]' c. 1922-5, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Bohemians [Willi Bongard, Gottfried Brockmann]
c. 1922-5, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
189 x 250 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

Tate Liverpool presents the faces of Germany between the two World Wars seen through the eyes of painter Otto Dix (1891-1969) and photographer August Sander (1876-1964). Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933 brings together two artists whose works document the glamour and misery of the Weimar Republic, a time of radical extremes and political and economic upheaval.

Portraying a Nation, which exhibits Dix and Sander as a pair for the first time, reflects a pivotal point in Germany’s history, as it introduced democratic rule in the aftermath of the First World War. The period was one of experimentation and innovation across the visual arts, during which both artists were concerned with representing the extremes of society, from the flourishing cabaret culture to intense poverty and civilian rebellions.

Featuring more than 300 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, Portraying a Nation unites two complementary exhibitions. Otto Dix: The Evil Eye explores Dix’s harshly realistic depictions of German society and the brutality of war, while ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander presents photographs from Sander’s best known series People of the Twentieth Century, from the ARTIST ROOMS collection of international modern and contemporary art.

The exhibition focusses on the evolution of Dix’s work during his years in Düsseldorf, from 1922 to 1925, when he became one of the foremost New Objectivity painters, a movement exploring a new style of artistic representation following the First World War. Dix’s paintings are vitriolic reflections on German society, commenting on the country’s stark divisions. His work represents the people who made up these contradictions in society with highlights including Portrait of the Photographer Hugo Erfurth with Dog 1923, Self-Portrait with Easel 1926, as well as a large group of lesser known watercolours. Dix’s The War 1924 will also form a key element of the exhibition, a series of 50 etchings made as a reaction to and representation of the profound effect of his personal experiences of fighting in the First World War.

Sander’s photographs also observe a cross-section of society to present a collective portrait of a nation. Sander commenced his major photographic project People of the Twentieth Century in 1910, an ambitious task that occupied him until the 1950s. The project resulted in more than 600 images in which people were categorised into what he described as ‘types’, including artists, musicians, circus workers, farmers and, in the late 1930s, images of Nazi officers. More than 140 photographs from the ARTIST ROOMS collection will be displayed to create a large-scale timeline of Weimar Germany, placing individual subjects against a backdrop of the era’s tumultuous cultural and political history.

Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919-1933 is made up of Otto Dix: The Evil Eye, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf and ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander, an exhibition of works from the ARTIST ROOMS collection of international modern and contemporary art.

The ARTIST ROOMS collection is jointly owned by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate on behalf of the public, and was established through The d’Offay donation in 2008 with the assistance of the Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and the Scottish and British governments. It is shared with UK museums and galleries including Tate, National Galleries of Scotland and a network of Associate venues through ARTIST ROOMS On Tour, which is a partnership until 2019 with lead Associate Ferens Art Gallery, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Art Fund and the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.

Otto Dix: The Evil Eye is curated by Dr Susanne Meyer-Büser, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Francesco Manacorda, Artistic Director and Lauren Barnes, Assistant Curator, Tate Liverpool. ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander is curated by Francesco Manacorda, and Lauren Barnes, Assistant Curator, with the cooperation of ARTIST ROOMS and the German Historical Institute.

Press release from Tate Liverpool

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor) '1924

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor)
1924
© DACS 2017
Image: Otto Dix Stiftung

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Working Students' 1926, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Working Students
1926, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

Seen together, Sander’s images form a pictorial mosaic of inter-war Germany. Rapid social change and newfound freedom were accompanied by financial insecurity and social and political unrest. By photographing the citizens of the Weimar Republic – from the artistic, bohemian elite to the Nazis and those they persecuted – Sander’s photographs tell of an uncertain cultural landscape. It is a world characterised by explosions of creativity, hyperinflation and political turmoil. The faces of those he photographed show traces of this collective historical experience. Alfred Döblin, author of the 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz said:

“Sander has succeeded in writing sociology not by writing, but by producing photographs – photographs of faces and not mere costumes.”

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Argentinian Venomous Scorpion' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Argentinian Venomous Scorpion (Argentinischer Gift-Skorpion) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
134 x 217 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

 

Dix served in the First World War from 1915, fighting on the Western front in the Battle of the Somme. Although an enthusiastic soldier – his service earned him the Iron Cross (Second Class) – Dix’s experiences affected him deeply. He marked the war’s 10th anniversary with a group of etchings entitled Der Krieg (The War), leaving few of the horrors of the front line to the imagination. Commenting later, he said:

“For years, [I] constantly had these dreams in which I was forced to crawl through destroyed buildings, through corridors through which I couldn’t pass. The rubble was always there in my dreams.”

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Butterfly' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Butterfly (Schmetterling) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
217 x 135 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Giant Snake' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Giant Snake (Riesenschlange) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
135 x 217 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Mask Fish' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Mask Fish (Maskenfisch) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
217 x 135 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Tibetan Turkey Vulture' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Tibetan Turkey Vulture (Tibetanischer Truthahngeier) 
1922
Graphite on found paper
135 x 217 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Vulture Skull' 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Vulture Skull (Totenkopfgeier)
1922
Graphite on found paper
217 x 135 mm
Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf
© DACS 2017. Galerie Remmert und Barth, Düsseldorf

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture' c. 1938, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture
c. 1938, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
260 x 192 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969) 'Self-Portrait with Easel' 1926

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Self-Portrait with Easel (Selbstbildnis mit Staffelei)
1926
800 x 550 mm
Leopold-Hoesch-Museum & Papiermuseum, Düren
© DACS 2017. Leopold-Hoesch-Museum & Papiermuseum Düren. Photo: Peter Hinschläger

 

 

From the early 1920s, he devoted himself to the study of old master painting techniques, using a layering effect, produced first with egg tempera and, later, finished with oils. This moved his contemporary George Grosz to jokingly call him ‘Otto Hans Baldung Dix’ (after the German old master Hans Baldung Grien). Later, Grosz would write:

“Dix did all the drawing in a thin tempera, then went over it with thin mastic glazes in various cold and warm tones. He was the only Old Master I ever watched using this technique.”

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne' 1931, printed 1992

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne
1931, printed 1992
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
260 x 149 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

Otto Dix. 'The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall)' 1923

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall
1923
Kunst- und Museumsverein im Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal
Photo: Antje Zeis-Loi, Medienzentrum Wuppertal
© DACS 2017

 

 

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Dix was dismissed from his professorship teaching art at the Dresden Academy, where he had worked since 1927. The reason given was that, through his painting, he had committed a ‘violation of the moral sensibilities and subversion of the militant spirit of the German people’.

In the years following, some 260 of his works were confiscated by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry. Several of these works, including The Jeweller Karl Krall 1923 (which features in the Tate Liverpool exhibition Portraying a Nation), appeared in the Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) exhibition of 1937-8. The exhibition was staged by the Nazis to destroy the careers of those artists they considered mentally ill, inappropriate or unpatriotic.

 

August Sander. 'Victim of Persecution' 1938, printed 1990 by August Sander 1876-1964

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Victim of Persecution
c. 1938, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

In the mid-1920s, Sander began his highly ambitious project People of the 20th Century. In it, Sander aimed to document Germany by taking portraits of people from all segments of society. The project adapted and evolved continuously, falling into seven distinct groups: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’. Sander once said ‘The portrait is your mirror. It’s you’. He believed that, through photography, he could reveal the characteristic traits of people. He used these images to tell each person’s story; their profession, politics, social situation and background.

Sander did not use the newly invented Leica camera. Instead he remained devoted to an old-fashioned large-format camera, glass negatives and long exposure times. This allowed him to capture minute details of individual faces. Sander prized the daguerreotype, a photographic process introduced in the previous century, of which he said: ‘it cannot be surpassed in the delicacy of the delineation, it is objectivity in the best sense of the word’. Allied to this, his portraits were anonymous. Shot against neutral backgrounds and titled more often than not by profession alone, he let the images – and the faces in them – speak for themselves.

The ambition and reach of People of the 20th Century (both in terms of the quality of his photography and in his representation of a cross-section of society) made him a monumental figure of twentieth century photography. The likes of American social realist photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange (whose works became iconic symbols of the depression), and later photographers such as Diane Arbus, each owe a debt to the trailblazing Sander. More recently, the work of conceptual artists such as Bernd and Hilla Becher (known for their typologies of industrial buildings and structures) and Rineke Dijkstra, whose photography is infused with psychological depth and social awareness, resonates with the influence of August Sander’s career-long project.

Text from the Tate Liverpool website

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Turkish Mousetrap Salesman' 1924-30, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Turkish Mousetrap Salesman
1924-30, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
260 x 191 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

August Sander (1876-1964) 'Photographer [August Sander]' 1925, printed 1990

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Photographer [August Sander]
1925, printed 1990
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Anthony d’Offay 2010
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur – August Sander Archiv, Cologne; DACS, London, 2017

 

 

Tate Liverpool
Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront,
Liverpool L3 4BB

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Tate Liverpool website

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13
Aug
17

Exhibition: ‘Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class’ at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Exhibition dates: 27th April to 13th August 2017

Curator: Dr Martin Engler, Head of the Collection of Contemporary Art, Städel Museum
Co-curator: Dr Jana Baumann, Städel Museum

Artists: Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich

 

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet' 1963

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Gutehoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, Ruhrgebiet
1963
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
75.3 x 91.4 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

The Bechers depict the half-timbered houses from the Siegerland in a sober and restrained fashion. The picture removes the buildings from their original context. One view follows the next. Thus the form of the single building becomes more important than its function. In the photographs the half-timbered houses become aesthetic objects with a sculptural character. Bernd and Hilla Becher do not present their images individually, but in a grid. Not the single photo is the work, but the total of the typology is.

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015) 'Half-Timber Houses' (detail) 1959-61/1974

 

Bernd Becher (1931-2007) and Hilla Becher (1934-2015)
Half-Timber Houses (detail)
1959-61/1974
Silver gelatine print on baryta paper
152.4 x 112.5 cm
Sammlung Deutsche Bank
© Estate Bernd & Hilla Becher

 

 

 

“What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.” (Press release)

WHAT ABSOLUTE RUBBISH – the second sentence, that is!

Just look at the photographs as pictures.

The Bechers and their students’ photographs might invoke a new concept of the pictorial but that does not mean the death of photography far from it. In fact, this conceptualisation opens up an expanded terrain of becoming for photography (continuing the theme of the last post on the work of Walker Evans). In this sense, the work of these artists is vital to an understanding of the place of photography within the observation, construction and taxonomy of contemporary culture and its pictorial representation.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Städel Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. For more information please see the interactive website.

 

One of the most radical changes in art’s relation to its aesthetic, media, and economic contexts is closely associated with the students of the first Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy – but even more so with the names of their teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher. The exhibition brings together 200 major works, some in large format, by these important artists, as well as a selection of their early works.

 

 

Candida Höfer (*1944) 'Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977' 1977 (2013)

 

Candida Höfer (*1944)
Weidengasse Cologne VIII 1977
1977 (2013)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
42.6 x 36.7 cm
Loan from the artist
© Candida Höfer, Köln; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Volker Döhne (*1953) 'Untitled (Colourful)' 1979 (2014)

 

Volker Döhne (*1953)
Untitled (Colourful)
1979 (2014)
Colour print from colour transparency
37 x 47 cm
Private collection
© Volker Döhne, Krefeld 2017

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958) 'Interior 1 D' 1982

 

Thomas Ruff (*1958)
Interior 1 D
1982
Chromogenic colour print
47 x 57 cm
Loan from the artist
© Thomas Ruff; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955) 'Doorman, Passport Control' 1982 (2007)

 

Andreas Gursky (*1955)
Doorman, Passport Control
1982 (2007)
Inkjet print
43.2 x 52.5 cm
Loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers
© Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017 / Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Moedling House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Moedling House
1982-1984
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan from the artist
© Axel Hütte

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954) 'Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy' 1989

 

Petra Wunderlich (*1954)
Fossa Degli Angeli, Italy
1989
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
61 x 75,2 cm
Private collection
© Petra Wunderlich; VG Bild-Kunst 2017

 

 

From 27 April to 13 August 2017, the Städel Museum is staging a comprehensive survey on the Becher Class at the Düsseldorf art academy and the major paradigm shift in the medium of artistic photography with which the Bechers and their students are associated. With the aid of some 200 photographs by Volker Döhne, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, Tata Ronkholz, Thomas Ruff, Jörg Sasse, Thomas Struth and Petra Wunderlich – a group of whom some enjoy international renown and others are due for rediscovery – the exhibition will examine the influence exerted by Bernd and Hilla Becher on their students at the Düsseldorf school. What unites the students’ works with those of their teachers? How do they differ? Is there really such a thing as the “Becher School” or is it ‘merely’ a matter of several highly successful photographers who happened to be studying at the ‘right place’ at an especially propitious moment in history? And how have those artists influenced our present conception of what a picture is? Taking the artist duo’s work as a point of departure, the exhibition “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class” will acquaint viewers with the radical changes in the medium of artistic photography that became manifest in the works of the Becher pupils in the eighties and above all the nineties, and investigate the art-historical impact of this development up to the very present. It will feature major large-scale works as well as key early endeavours by the members of what is presumably the most influential generation of German photographers in the field of fine art.

The students of the first in a long line of Becher Classes at the Düsseldorfer art academy introduced elementary changes to contemporary art’s aesthetic, media and economic contexts. They not only contributed decisively to shaping international photography in the 1990s, but also fundamentally redefined the status and perception of artistic photography in general. Their works can be considered as one of the most self-confident emancipations of photography as art in the mediums history, while at the same time reflecting the (not merely digital) moment when the boundaries between the media dissolve.

“Bernd and Hilla Becher’s first – meanwhile world-famous – students played a tremendously important role in establishing photography as an expressive medium on a par with other art forms. The nine artists featured in our show occupy a realm where the distinction between painting and photography is no longer clear. The permeability of the boundary between the media is deliberate in their work, and in that respect they mirror one of the key focuses of the Städel Museum’s collection of contemporary art,” observes Städel director Dr Philipp Demandt. And exhibition curator Dr Martin Engler adds: “What the teachings of Bernd and Hilla Becher sparked off – and their students developed further – is a new conception of the artwork according to which the boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography dissolve in terms of media and aesthetics alike. In other words, in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.”

The founding of a chair for artistic photography at the Düsseldorf art academy in 1976 provided perhaps the single most important impulse for a change in how the medium of photography was perceived. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla Becher, Bernd Becher held that chair until 1996. Even before their appointment to the Düsseldorf school, the Bechers had been taking pictures of historical industrial architecture, subscribing to a work concept that exceeded the scope of a common documentary approach in photography. They portrayed mining headframes, blast furnaces, gas tanks, water towers and other testimonies to a vanishing industrial culture – frontally, in central perspective, with fascinating depth of field, and where possible before the backdrop of a uniformly grey sky. They arranged the individual shots in grids to form large-scale tableaus they called typologies. The concern here was no longer merely the illustration of reality, but its perception. Reality could no longer be depicted singly, but only in a multiplicity of simultaneous images. From the formal aesthetic point of view, the staging of the pictorial subjects was now far more than documentary in nature. The affinity to minimal and concept art – evident in the rigour of the pictorial vocabulary, the industrial aesthetic and the new perception of a work in stages – is unmistakable.

Especially in their early work, the students of the first Becher Class explored their teachers’ artistic strategy with great intensity. Yet as they continued to pursue it in the nineties, they did so ever more independently, and in their own highly individual styles. With the aid of various strategies in terms of scale, presentation and motif, and not least of all with abstract pictorial inventions provoked by digital image techniques, they took the interpenetration of the mediums of painting and photography to an extreme. The result was a new concept of the picture that blurs aesthetic and media distinctions. “The dissolution of media boundaries, but also the use of technical innovations, are characteristic of the works of the first Becher Class. It is here that the impact of a changing media culture is felt,” explains Dr Jana Baumann, the co-curator of the exhibition.

A show devoted to such a complex phenomenon on the one hand, and such productive teaching activities on the other, must inevitably be limited in scope. “Photographs Become Pictures” concentrates deliberately on the students of the early years of the Becher Class, beginning with Höfer, Döhne, Hütte and Struth in 1976 and ending with the completion of Gursky’s and Sasse’s studies in 1987/1988. In retrospect, it is precisely in the heterogeneity of the first Becher Class – with its wide range of approaches that have influenced our present-day understanding of the pictorial image – that the success of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s teachings is evident.

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) is known above all for her pictures of public interiors such as libraries, universities, museums and waiting rooms. Nevertheless, the purely documentary aspect is ultimately of secondary importance to her, as is also true of her teachers. Particularly when she turned to colour photography, she began producing iconically clear shots of meaning-charged interiors extremely striking in their rigorous aesthetic. In composition, repetition and rhythm as well as the sculptural emphasis, Höfer’s formal staging of her interiors is reminiscent of the Becher typologies.

A distinct affinity to the typologies is also evident in early street shots by Thomas Struth (b. 1954), such as West Broadway, Tribeca, New York (1978) or Sommerstrasse, Düsseldorf (1980). He proceeded in a manner similar to his teachers, but broadened his spectrum of motifs. He is concerned in his work with cultural structures; in addition to streets he also depicts museums or religious cult sites and portrays families. With the aid of social and ethnological allusions he reveals orders and interrelationships, thus achieving a universal survey of human and their lifeworld in imagery.

Petra Wunderlich‘s (b. 1954) black-and-white series depict details of churches or quarries that the artist has introduced to a new, abstract compositional framework. By this method she reduces architecture visually to its stereometric tectonics in such a way that elementary architectonic forms unexpectedly emerge from the “broken” surfaces of nature. Wunderlich’s photographs, like those by the Bechers, can be read as sociological and historical testimonies.

The workgroups of Volker Döhne (b. 1953) closely resemble Bernd and Hilla Bechers’ typologies with regard to concept and motif alike. He developed series such as Small- Scale Iron Industry (1977/78) or Small Railway Bridges and Underpasses in the Bergisches and Märkisches Land (1979). With his experimental Colour (1979) series, he then emancipated himself from his teachers.

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) was interested primarily in factory gates, shop windows, beverage kiosks and snack bars, which she photographed in the even light of grey days. Many aspects of these works are strongly reminiscent of the Becher photographs: the consistent placement of the subject at the pictorial centre, the unchanging size of the prints, but also the serial, typologically comparative approach.

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) is likewise deeply indebted to his teachers’ serial method, which we encounter in his work in ever-different formulations. His portraits as well as the strongly enlarged nocturnal shots of, in part, found material, convey his fundamentally sceptical attitude towards photography’s claim to truth and documentation. His persistent investigations of new pictorial sources and technologies are perhaps the most impressive demonstrations of the manner in which Ruff continues the approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

Axel Hütte‘s (b. 1951) early architectural details investigate social situations using a mode of photographic expression distinguished by distance and anonymity. Within this context, he devotes himself as much to spoiled landscapes as to supposedly untouched nature which nevertheless has always been formed by human intervention. A conspicuous aspect of his work is the strong reference to historical landscape painting, whose formal compositional principles he both copies and deconstructs. Whereas the Bechers directed their attention to the sculptural or conceptual potential of their pictures, Hütte focusses on painting as the leading medium of modern art.

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) initially devoted himself to highly artificial and at the same time prosaic arrangements of petit-bourgeois domestic culture. His later “tableaus” represent a virtual antithesis to the reductive rigour of these early works. Using digital and analogue techniques alike, he began processing found pictures as well as images of his own making, in which context he blurred the distinction between painting and photograph beyond recognition.

Andreas Gursky‘s (b. 1955) early photographs are likewise characterised by a keen interest in everyday surroundings – the private as well as the public sphere, the context of work as well as leisure time. Like Sasse, he investigates the aesthetic boundary between photographic and painterly image production. By means of digital manipulations he uses to duplicate and mount the pictorial motif to the point of abstraction, he creates perplexing pictorial architectures that merge construction and reality in large-scale colour prints.

The development of the Becher Class shows how concept art’s expanding notion of the artwork led to a new concept of the pictorial including photography. What the teachers introduced in rudiments was taken by their students and the following generation of artists to a momentous change in the picturing of reality. The realisation that photography cannot reproduce reality impartially does not detract from the medium. On the contrary, it means an enhancement in terms of artistic potential. What is more, the lack of focus in the portrayal of reality – in the literal and figurative sense alike – enriches photography’s complexity. It is not least of digital changes that enables innovative pictorial invention. Yet the boundaries of the photographic image also became fluid in the development from individual work to typology and series, and from detail to overall image. The answer to all questions about the significance, classification, doctrine and conception of what we refer to as the “Becher School” can thus be found in an insight as simple as it is surprising: in the very moment in history when photography emancipated itself to become an independent medium, it sounded its own death knell.

Press release from the Städel Museum

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

At left, Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail) 1988 (2003)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Candida Höfer (left) and Thomas Struth (*1954) Louvre 3, Paris 1989 1989 (2012) (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) Paradiese 09 Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Paradiese 09' 1999

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Paradiese 09
Xi Shuang Banna, Provinz Yunnan, China, 1999

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) with House No. 1 I 1987 (right)

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Axel Hütte (*1951)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951) 'Castellina' 1992 (2015)

 

Axel Hütte (*1951)
Castellina
1992 (2015)
Chromogenic colour print
98.4 x 120.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung © Axel Hütte

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Thomas Struth (*1954) The Consolandi Family, Mailand, 1996 (2014) (left)

 

Exhibition views “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

 

The Bechers

For their photographs Bernd and Hilla Becher are awarded the “Golden Lion” in the category of “sculpture” at the Venice Biennale in 1990. How is that possible? Surprisingly at the time there was no separate category for photography at the Biennale. But this is not the real reason. Already in 1969 the first larger exhibition of the Bechers is called “Anonymous Sculptures”, just like their first volume of photographs. The artists very consciously link the genres of photography and sculpture. This idea informs their entire oeuvre.

Bernd Becher and Hilla Wobeser begin to collaborate in 1959. At the time both study at the art academy Düsseldorf. Two years later they marry. During the following five decades the artist couple produces mostly tableaus of several parts – consisting of three, nine, twelve or more photos; they call them typologies. Their subjects are disused headstocks, furnaces, oil refineries, water reservoir towers, grain silos, gasometres or even half-timbered houses in former workers’ settlements – all of them testimonies of a declining industrial culture.

 

An Overall Concept

When Hilla and Bernd Becher presented their works at the Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in 1969, this coincided with an exhibition on US-American minimal art – a juxtaposition that was to prove programmatic. In 1972 the American sculptor Carl Andre mentioned the insightful connection of the Bechers’ works and the movements of minimal and conceptual art. This prominent, art-theoretical connection significantly contributed to the great international success of the Bechers. This is also why – especially in the USA – the two are considered concept artists more than photographers.

The Bechers’ method of working – ostensibly – is concerned with sobriety and anonymity, rigidity and objectivity. They work in series, where the whole and a part of this whole, total view and detail are balanced. Setting their photographs into the context of sculpture, they test the boundaries of the genres of photography and sculpture. Working and presenting their works in series, they move the photograph beyond the individual work: the viewer can never see everything at once; instead the eye oscillates between detail and general context.

The artist couple directs the attention to formal, creative aspects of the photographed edifices at the same time allowing them to disappear in the typology’s grid. The rigidity of their pictorial vocabulary and the interest in an industrial aesthetic evidences the close proximity of the Bechers’ creative work to minimal and concept art.

 

Photography in Germany

“In principle it [photography] was a fallow field, where nothing ‘noteworthy’ had taken place in the past fifty years. We saw us in the tradition of objective photography of the 1920s; Bernd and Hilla Becher were the first to reconnect to this. There was absolutely nothing that we could fight or needed to disengage with. We could start from scratch.” ~ Thomas Ruff

 

“New Objectivity” this was the motto of the 1920s – also in photography. It was no longer the pictorial language of painting, but precision, focus and truth to detail, characteristics of photography that had garnered the artists’ interest.

The photographer August Sander focused on the society of the Weimar Republic and created a typology: in 1925 his pictorial atlas People of the 20th Century, where he systematically assembled hundreds of portraits of stereotypes of people of the most diverse social backgrounds and occupations. All of his sitters are portrayed frontally, which makes the photographs comparable. Sander also engaged in the photography of landscapes, industrial sites and cities.

Two more representatives of the photography of New Objectivity are also worth mentioning here: Albert Renger-Patzsch recorded industrial buildings and machinery in a sober directness. Karl Blossfeldt adopted scientific standards and photographed plants – always before a neutral background, removed from their natural setting.

Bernd and Hilla Becher draw on these approaches and develop them in their works. With a few exemptions, photography was not considered an autonomous artistic medium in Germany. Still in the 1960s, photography in art predominantly served as a means of documentation of actions, happenings and performances. Yet painting and photography interact. The painter Gerhard Richter for example, used photos as templates for his paintings since the early 1960s. The Bechers in turn greatly contributed to the recognition of photography as autonomous artistic medium with their photographs.

 

The Becher Class: Adoption, Distinction

DÖHNE GURSKY HÖFER HÜTTE RONKHOLZ RUFF SASSE STRUTH WUNDERLICH

These are the students of the first Becher class. In 1976 Bernd Becher is appointed first professor for photography at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In close cooperation with his wife Hilla he teaches there for twenty years. Their first students become artists, who will have a formative influence on photography in the 1980s and the 1990s internationally. The Becher students intensely study their teachers’ work. Especially in their early works comparable approaches develop: a distanced perspective, an interest in architecture and striving for technical precision.

The Bechers are preoccupied with an industrial architecture in decline, representative also of the social changes affecting the respective region. Taking this as a starting point, their students consider their direct surroundings and social contexts. They seek to identify systems of classification and in their photographs investigate the relationship of individual work and series. In the process the Becher students adopt their own positions. They discover new themes, techniques and creative strategies. Regardless of the distinctions they are indebted to the conceptual approach of their teachers, which they then developed in their individual ways.

In their teaching and their work Bernd and Hilla Becher explore a concept of the image, where medial and aesthetic distinctions of sculpture, painting and photography dissolve. Their students continue this work in very different ways. In the 1980s and 1990s their enquiries lead to a critical reflexion of the possibilities of representing reality. The lack of focus in the depiction of reality – literally and figuratively – represent an increase in artistic complexity. Innovative pictorial creations were now possible by way of digital intervention.

The borders of the photographic image blur at the stage between single work and typology and series. The alternation of perception, oscillating between detail and total image extend the possibilities of photography. The meaning of what is called “Becher school” can be summarised in a simple and surprising statement: at the historic moment, when photography becomes an independent medium, it also realises its potential and explores its limits. Photography reaches its limits, transgresses it and thus ultimately questions its existence.

 

Kiosks and Streets

The developments in American photography are also important to the Becher-students: Ed Ruscha, whose photos show everyday subjects, is one of their role models. In 1966 he creates Every Building on the Sunset Strip. With a simple handheld camera Ruscha photographs every building on the Los Angeles boulevard of that name; he presents his pictures in a fanfold or an artist’s book. This quickly reveals the serial principle behind the work. Volker Döhne’s approach in Reconstruction II is similar. He, too, documents the commercial architecture, largely determining the surrounding.

Ice cream parlour, garage, drug store, stationers, dwelling house, shoe shop – nicely aligned. Volker Döhne focuses on the urban space dominated by nondescript post war architecture and empty sites. Other than his American colleague Ed Ruscha, Döhne always positions his camera head-on in the same angle. Surprisingly this emphasises the buildings’ volume. Like his teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher he emphasises the three-dimensional, sculptural aspect of buildings and pursues a concept that he determined before he began to photograph.

The Bechers assemble identical, yet different photographs to a static tableau. Döhne on the other hand, required the viewer to move along the strip and proceed down the row of photographs. Above all the viewer must add together the photos of the Krefelder Straße by himself: the work forms as a result of the viewer’s active viewing and perception.

 

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Ostwall corner Rheinstraße, (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 82 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 84 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 86 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953) 'Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)' 1990 (1992)

 

Volker Döhne (b. 1953)
Krefeld, Rheinstraße 88 (Reconstruction II)
1990 (1992)
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
47 × 37 cm
Private collection

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Beverage kiosk, Düsseldorf, Hermannstraße 31
1978
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
41.2 x 51.2 cm
Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur, Köln/Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn
© Tata Ronkholz, Nachlassverwaltung Van Ham Art Estate 2017

 

 

Cigarette and gumball machines are fixed to exterior walls. Advertising posters overlap. Beverages, magazines and sweets are visibly lined up behind glass. It is Tata Ronkholz’ serial presentation that enables the comparison of the kiosks and their study as a social phenomenon in urban contexts.

Kiosks are everyday meeting points and the setting for social life. At the same time their role fundamentally changed in the past decades. Ronkholz photographs kiosks as socially grown places. She positions them centrally in their architectural environment – people are absent. This is what the photos have in common with Becher-photographs. Like her teachers, Ronkholz is committed to the conservation and archiving of a changing urban culture.

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107' 1977

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Dusseldorf, Sankt-Franziskusstraße 107
1977
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Without title' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Without title
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Foundation Culture, Cologne / Dauerleihgabe der Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997) 'Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85' 1978

 

Tata Ronkholz (1940-1997)
Düsseldorf, Germany, Konkordiastraße 85
1978
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
41.2 × 51.2 cm
Courtesy The Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Cologne / Permanent Loan of the Sparkasse KölnBonn

 

 

PICTURE PARALLELS

Bernd and Hilla Bechers students are linked to the work of their teachers in many ways. And yet they devote themselves, in part, to new motifs, subjects, and picture formats during their studies. In addition to architecture, they also photograph interiors, simple everyday objects or people.

In the early 1980s the Becher-students Axel Hütte and Thomas Ruff turn to portrait photography practically at the same time. They capture their models with neutral facial expressions, generally head-on before a monochrome background. The extreme setting makes the individual recede while the surface of the background dominates. In the series the single faces turn into an interchangeable motif somewhere between person and typology.

 

From Near and Far

The directions of the persons’ gazes differs. Nothing distracts from their faces. The neutral background and the close details are reminiscent of giant passport photographs. One almost overlooks that some of the sitters are famous artists today.

Axel Hütte’s portraits with their conscious play with blurring and sharpness are irritating: some areas in the photo show up the slightest detail, while others are slightly blurred – a conscious reference to the Bechers’ works, characterised by their extreme depth of focus. When observing Hütte’s works from close-up the face becomes a surface of structures. If one wants to see it in focus, one needs to distance oneself. Thus the viewer is kept at bay and always in motion.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) '15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner)' (detail) 1988 (2003)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
15 artists USA (David McDermott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Peter McGough, David McDermott, Doug Starn, Mike Starn, Jeff Koons, Haim Steinbach, Ross Bleckner) (detail)
1988 (2003)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper
113 x 91 each cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

PICTURES GENERATION

Thomas Ruff explores the gap between reality and image. This is something he shares with the American artists of the so-called “Pictures Generation” from the 1970s and 1980s. This informal group of artists, among them Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and Richard Prince, grew up with a flood of pictures in cinema, television and the print media. Their works show distrust for the media, as well as a fascination with it. The artists make use of existing images from film, advertising and art. They copy, quote and redesign this material – more subtly than the artists from American Pop Art in the 1960s. Instead of working with found images in print, collage or painting, the artists of the “Pictures Generation” make small interventions. By introducing minor changes or by producing a practically identical copy of an image they very consciously play with conventional ways of perception. In their works they draw attention to mechanisms of picture production and the methods of artificial construction of reality through pictures.

 

Photos of Faces

Like Axel Hütte, Thomas Ruff does not believe in an image of human character. He is convinced that only the exterior reality – the appearance – can be represented. In this sense Ruff’s portraits are photos of faces that resemble expressionless surfaces. The monochrome background hides any hint at a recognisable location.

The face becomes a surface and thus resembles a projection screen for an advertising message. The serial juxtaposition turns the individual in Ruff’s photographs into a type that also represents a particular generation. The stereotypes communicated by mass media and the influence of images on individual and collective opinion-forming are being questioned.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Portrait (G. Benzenberg)' 1985

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Portrait (G. Benzenberg)
1985
Chromogenic colour print
41 × 33 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

“Looks good. Continue in colour.”

The bed, bath and living rooms, the kitchen unit and the furniture of the 1950s and 1970s, Thomas Ruff finds at the homes of relatives and friends in the Black Forest, where he comes from. Bernd and Hilla Becher preferably work in black and white. Ruff on the other hand starts experimenting with colour photography early on during his studies:

“At some point I started, making use of the colour practice, which I […] had developed, in my interiors, and I thought this looked better than in black and white photos. The colleagues said, you cannot do this. Then I also asked Bernd Becher and he said: “Looks good. Continue in colour.”

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'Interior 3 A' 1979

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
Interior 3 A
1979
Chromogenic paint removal
45.7 x 39.4 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

A Question of Mise-en-Scène

The two clips on yellow ground look like two flies. The bright background emphasises the form of the represented objects. Their original function becomes secondary. The simple stationary objects become worthy of the photographer’s meticulous attention. Jörg Sasse uses and parodies the strategies of advertising photography, ever concerned with presenting an object as something special.

From the start, Sasse’s work shows a painterly tendency as well as a penchant for abstraction. This is also apparent in a sequence of still lives with reduced colour and shapes. In his early work Sasse is interested in his immediate environment. He seeks to capture the unusual in the everyday. This links his work with the typologies of his teachers. Other than they do, Sasse does not give titles to his works; instead he gives them random numbers. This allows him to remove the represented object even further from its original context without offering a new interpretation.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'ST-84-12-06' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
ST-84-12-06
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
18 × 24 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Kitchen, Bath Room and Living Room

Almost in symmetry Jörg Sasse’s photo shows a light blue jug and a glass jug on two hobs. It belongs to a series, which Sasse dedicated to modest interiors between the post war years and the economic miracle. Sometimes the photos show individual objects, sometimes a combination of two or three objects. They capture details of tiles, furniture or floors.

They give the impression as if the objects were arranged by coincident or as if the inhabitants had left them behind like this. At the same time the scenes appear to be very artificial. Sasse transforms colour, shape and structure of the interior settings into individual, abstract compositions. He focuses on formal contrasts, sequences and similarities. According to the artist it is “not the preoccupation with interiors but with the picture.” The photographer is more interested in the painterly composition than in the representation of reality.

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 'W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf' 1984

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
W-84-02-13, Dusseldorf
1984
Chromogenic paint removal
57.2 × 67.6 cm
Courtesy Gallery Wilma Tolksdorf

 

 

Courtyards and Street Canyons

The artists Axel Hütte and Thomas Struth share an interest in urban non-spaces, indistinct streets or architectures.

In the 1980s modernist residential dwellings like the brutalist, square James Hammett House in London, become increasingly less popular and are turned into social housing. The raw concrete façade of the London block of flats spreads across almost the entire picture. The empty square in front of it is abandoned. There is no sign of inhabitants: a forbidding place.

Like Bernd and Hilla Becher in their pictures of industrial buildings, Axel Hütte emphasises the angular and unwieldy shapes of the architecture in his London series. From a distance the sad, functional façade appears to be an abstract pattern of rhythmically changing shades of grey, behind which the architecture recedes.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'James Hammett House' 1982-1984

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
James Hammett House
1982-1984
Silver gelatin print on baryte paper
66 x 80 cm
Loan of the artist

 

 

In the Street

The row of houses on New York’s 21st Street seems never ending. Old houses and modern high rises alternate and form a sequence of textures and geometric forms rich in contrast. Thomas Struth was struck by the deep street canyons of the metropolis. He took his photos from the middle of the street, positioning the camera at eye-level – a method that resembles that of his teachers. It is an unusual perspective unfamiliar to both pedestrians and drivers.

Struth begins capturing urban spaces already when in Cologne and Düsseldorf. A stipend takes him to New York in 1978. His photographic approach offers a completely new view of the city’s urbanity and structure.

“I may very well stem from the legacy of documentary photography and do use its means and perspective, but my true concern exceeds this. […] To me the street is a space, where manifold influences and historical events convene and become apparent. The public space has a subconscious language, addressing us continuously.”

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York' 1978 (1987)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
West 21st Street, Chelsea, New York
1978 (1987)
Gelatine silver print on baryta paper
66 x 84 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Thomas Struth

 

 

VARIETY

Landscapes, families, places of leisure, libraries, museums – the subjects of the Becher-students are equally as varied as their approach to photography. Their own positions develop more and more, while shared characteristics with their teachers’ oeuvre become apparent.

“Not the subject, but the representation of a landscape is what matters to me.” ~Axel Hütte

Almost two thirds of the picture are concealed by thick fog. The rocks in the foreground, however, are razor sharp. In Furka Axel Hütte plays with the contrast of diffusion and focussed parts of the picture. He explores landscape photography and thus consciously enters into competition with the genre of painting.

Foggy landscape is of great importance in the paintings of German Romanticism. This art movement, which began in the late 19th century, is characterised by mystic nature, where religious ideas are intertwined with subjective sentiment. Caspar David Friedrich is recognised as one of the most important representatives of Romanticist landscape painting. To him nature mirrored the human soul. In his painting Mountains in the Rising Fog, which he painted around 1835, the hills are veiled and only the outlines can be made out. In his photographs, Hütte refers to this tradition and employs similar techniques to guide the viewer’s gaze and to compose the picture. The landscape can be sensually grasped. The atmosphere and the subjective experience come to the fore. While his teachers sought the proximity to sculpture, Hütte’s work reflects the strategies of painting.

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951) 'Furka' 1994 (2012)

 

Axel Hütte (b. 1951)
Furka
1994 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
56.7 × 65.7 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung

 

 

The Silence Beside the Storm

Andreas Gursky’s works are dedicated to traffic hubs, mass events, economic centres, transit zones or places of leisure. Gursky’s focus is always on the common denominator and questions the relationship of man with nature and society. The photograph Teneriffa, Swimming Pool shows a holiday resort from a bird’s eye perspective that makes the tiny holidaymakers almost disappear. The force of nature represented by the foaming sea is in stark contrast with the artificial silence of the adjacent pool.

Like his teachers, Gursky keeps a distance to his subject. But unlike them he does not work in series and concentrates on single works. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s compositions are always about one centrally positioned object. Gursky’s images on the other hand are rich in detail and the motives are spread across the picture plane in captivating sharpness – he plays with visual challenge.

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Teneriffa, Swimming Pool' 1987

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Teneriffa, Swimming Pool
1987
Chromogenic colour print
104.5 × 127 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Own Vantage Points

Candida Höfer too, photographs public spaces. Her photographs follow the architecture of the buildings she finds. At the same time she chooses unusual positions for her camera and thus resists the symmetries or views prescribed by the spaces. Her photos defy architectural hierarchies and structures and thus communicate the spatial experience in a particular way.

Waiting Room Cologne III 1981 is an early example of Höfer’s artistic method. The furniture reaches diagonally into the space, a dynamic underscored by the pattern of the parquet flooring. The row of tables and chairs in the bottom corner is cut off by the edge. Instead of creating a balanced symmetrical composition, she works with alternative vantage points.

This allows Höfer to emphasize her personal view of the interior architecture. Concurrently she is enquiring how the architectural space is influenced by the way people use it in the course of time. The Waiting Room with Neo-Baroque décor dating from the second half of the 19th century forms a stark contrast to the simple furniture that is easily 100 years less old.

“By means of the print I then create my own space once again. It is not my intention to show the space in a manner as realistic as possible.”

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Waiting Room Cologne III 1981' 1981

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Waiting Room Cologne III 1981
1981
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 155 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

Libraries as Brand

Above all Candida Höfer is famous for her large-scale interior views of libraries devoid of people. The workspaces in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris are lined up like books in libraries. The artist frequently focuses on places that preserve and order knowledge and culture. Apart from libraries she also worked on museums or operas. She is interested in how humans influence architecture through their culture. Her photos are always determined by a cool sobriety. This is what they have in common with the photographs of the Bechers. However, Höfer always works with the light and the space present in each situation. She strives to capture the atmosphere and aura of a space.

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944) 'Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998' 1998

 

Candida Höfer (b. 1944)
Bibliothèque Nationale de France Paris XIII 1998
1998
Chromogenic colour print
155 × 215 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

The Picture in the Picture

In his series Museum Photographs Thomas Struth focuses on imposing interior spaces such as the gallery at the Louvre in Paris – unlike Höfer, he always shows the visitors, too. They become a multifaceted continuation of the figures in the paintings on the wall. Through the photograph Struth establishes a connection of pictorial space and real space, the painterly and photographic space. Here, the formerly competing media painting and photography enter into a dialogue as equals.

Simultaneously the viewer is confronted with different levels of viewing: those who contemplate Struth’s photos inevitably also observe the visitors at the Louvre contemplating the art works there. Thus the artist prompts a reflection on how we deal with art and its history, with seeing and being seen. Struth does not influence the positions of the visitors in his Museum Photographs. He waits for situations that can serve as the basis of his compositions. Struth merely decides on the space and the visual angle he takes.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'Louvre 3, Paris 1989' 1989 (2012)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
Louvre 3, Paris 1989
1989 (2012)
Chromogenic colour print
152.2 × 168.3 cm
DZ BANK Kunstsammlung im Städel Museum, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

 

 

Family Relations

The photo The Consolandi Family, Milano by Thomas Struth belongs to the series Family Portraits, which shows relationships that are complex and full of tension. The viewer is challenged to explore the connections of the family, reflected in subtle looks, mimics or posture.

The Family Portraits evolved from an unpublished project, which Struth and a friend of his, a psychoanalyst, pursued in the early 1980s. Patients were asked to submit a couple of photographs that were typical of their families, which Struth then combined in a portfolio. Drawing on this project, the photographer began to work with family portraits he took. He photographed people he knew in their homes. The individuals were asked to choose their position in a space that the artist had selected. Struth’s psychological interest in the family as a social fabric is evident. The order resembles a sociagram after all.

Like the Bechers’ works, Struth’s photographs are determined by an intrinsic dynamic full of tension. While his teachers work with industrial fields of force, he balances psychological energies. This results in an alternation of perception – the eye sways between single pictorial elements and the total composition.

 

Thomas Struth (*1954) 'The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996' 1996 (2014)

 

Thomas Struth (*1954)
The Consolandi Family, Milan 1996
1996 (2014)
Chromogenic colour print
178 × 214.2 cm
Art Collection Deutsche Börse, Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation

 

 

PICTURE EDITING

In February 1982 the first great scandal about a digitally edited press picture occurs: for the title of the periodical National Geographic – actually indebted to scientific exactitude – the pyramids at Gizeh have been pushed closer together so they would fit the portrait format. This represents a fundamental shift in photo and media culture that also affects the work of the Becher students.

Ruff, Sasse and Gursky especially, develop their works digitally. This inevitably distances them from their teachers’ documentary approach more and more. The artists do not depict reality they create their own reality. This results in photographs that cannot be explained through analogue camera technology. The truth in the pictures is questioned, just like the viewer’s perception. In nascent form this approach is already present in the typologies created by the Bechers.

 

Digital interventions

This photo of an average residential block from 1987 marks a turning point in Thomas Ruff’s oeuvre. Things – namely a tree and a street sign – are missing. Ruff decided to have these details erased. He also retouched an opened skylight. This is one of the first digitally edited pictures in the circle of the Becher students. Ruff’s idea is to emphasise the symmetrical appearance and the hermetic quality of the building. Still, he is not really meddling with the picture’s structure of reality.

Ruff’s photos of the House Series confront the viewer with urban banality. The enormous scale of the works, measuring nearly 2 x 3 metres exaggerates the uneventfulness as a crucial characteristic of this architecture. From the 1980s the Becher students increasingly use large formats. They become a trademark of the group. Mostly presented with a wooden frame the artists elevate the photos to the level of paintings. Like the Bechers, Ruff worked in series, but no longer arranged his works in typologies. His series preserve the suspicion of a single image that might represent the world.

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958) 'House No. 1 I' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (b. 1958)
House No. 1 I
1987
Chromogenic colour print
179 × 278 cm
Loan from the artist

 

 

Giant Grid

In photos like Paris, Montparnasse Andreas Gursky enlarges the image to a monumental scale of over four metres in width. He, too, relies on digital editing. The frontal view of the residential block is presented in strictly right-angular lines. The building is so wide that it would be impossible to capture it in a single photo. Hence, Gursky used two photos and joined them on the computer.

From a distance, the geometrical grid of the building looks abstract. The skeleton structure of the block also means that the windows offer hundreds of single images. However, it is impossible to simultaneously perceive the detail as well as the overall structure. Gursky requires the viewer to constantly alternate his focus between close-up and distance.

“My pictures are always composed for two aspects […]. The smallest detail can be read from close up. From afar they are mega-signs.”

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

 

Exhibition view “Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class”
Photo: Städel Museum

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955) 'Paris, Montparnasse' 1993 (before 2003)

 

Andreas Gursky (b. 1955)
Paris, Montparnasse
1993 (before 2003)
Chromogenic colour print
207 × 422 cm
On loan from the artist / Courtesy Sprüth Magers

 

 

Pixel and Pixel and Pixel

Sasse’s work 1546 (1993) also plays with perception at the border of abstraction. The single pixels as a trace of the digital reworking are immediately visible. The realistic representation of a curtain is ruptured. Instead pixel and square colour fields become the focus, while the original sense of space is lost. The photo appears two-dimensional.

Sasse takes up a basic issue with the illusion of space that has a long art historic tradition. Already in early Renaissance the artist and scholar Leon Battista Alberti considers painting as a window to the world. He considered it important for an illusionist way of painting to conceal the two-dimensionality of the canvas. In his oeuvre Sasses draws on this issue. He questions photography and painting’s claim to realism and questions the possibility of pictorially representing reality at all.

 

Exhibition view "Photographs Become Pictures. The Becher Class"

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) 1546, 1993 (centre) and Jörg Sasse (*1962) 7341, 1996 (right)

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962) '1546' 1993

 

Jörg Sasse (b. 1962)
1546
1993
Chromogenic colour print
137 × 200 cm
Private collection

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962) '7341' 1996

 

Jörg Sasse (*1962)
7341
1996
Chromogenic colour print
93 x 150 cm
DZ BANK art collection at the Städel Museum
© Jörg Sasse; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017

 

 

Städel Museum
Schaumainkai 63
60596 Frankfurt

Opening hours:
Tuesday, Friday – Sunday 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
Wednesday and Thursday 10.00 am – 9.00 pm

Becher Class at the Städel Museum website

Städel Museum website

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14
Jan
16

Exhibition: ‘New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 4th October 2015 – 18th January 2016

 

 

If I had to nominate one period of art that is my favourite, it would be European avant-garde art between 1919 – 1939. The sense of renewed creativity, inventiveness, and sustained enquiry into the nature of things by artists, this texture of reality, just fascinates me. A hyper-sensory, objective sobriety, yes, but more – an opposite, apposite expression of critical, cultural opprobrium that sticks its proboscis into mental and machinic spaces.

The relations between the physical and the psychic are evidenced during this period “as a general movement and multiplicity, rather than just a series of mechanisms.” What surrounds the metaphysical body, its environment, is enacted as a performance upon the body through a “continuous set of relations, multiplicities, speeds, connections. Bodies are only distinguished by certain singularities, which are clarifications of expression drawing together certain multiplicities, under the aegis of an event.” Bodies are (en)acted upon. Conversely, “Just as bodies can be seen as machinic, so too does the machinic depend upon bodies wrought out of vibration [of energy, of ideas] by clarity of expression of events.” They are folded and refolded into each other, in a series of multiplicities and intensities – of architecture and art, of sex and gender, of flagellation and flight – so that  there is a ‘synthesis of heterogeneties’, or hetero(gene)ties that evidence the DNA of our becoming, our diverse difference, our heterogeneic alterity. This folding, this vibration of energy, these clear zones of expression and performance produce this dazzling, de(gene)rate art.1

In this huge posting I have tried to sequence the machinic (the spelling auto correct keeps changing it to “mechanic” which is quite ironic) with the figurative, the painting of architecture with the architectural photograph; the photograph of the sewing machine with the painting of the Paper Machine; the distorted, etched face with the photographic war damaged face; the Modernist housing estate with the alienation of the Picture of Industry. You get the picture. One is folded into the other as performance, as vibration of energy, as (destructive, or creative) ritual of re/production. And there we have the gay lovers, the first transgender woman who dies after operations on her body, the climax – in an erotic sense – of the scar on the woman’s leg in Friedrich Seidenstücker’s Untitled (c. 1930, below) or the blood lines of the eyeball in Herbert Ploberger’s Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (c. 1928-30, below). Or the cool objectiveness of Sander’s photographs – Coal Carrier, Painter’s Wife, The Architect – against the detached titles (The Jeweller, Portrait of a Lawyer, Portrait of an Architect, name of person secondary) but outrageous colours and distortions/elongations of the painted portraits. Fascinating archetypal, subjective/objective correlation.

This is a mad, dangerous, exciting world in which these artists lived, which they mapped and depicted in all its glorious intensity. Flowering one minute, dead the next.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Further reading: New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 (135kb pdf)

  1. Some of these ideas came from Murphie, Andrew. “Computers are not theatre: the machine in the ghost in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s thought,” in Genosko, Gary (ed.,). Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers. London, Routledge, 2001, pp. 1311-1312

 

 

“German Expressionism is an art which above all, celebrated, inwardness.”

“There’s no contradiction between being a Fascist and being an artist… I’m sorry but there isn’t. It happens that not very many good artists have been Nazis.”

.
Robert Hughes

 

 

Georg Scholz Industrial Peasants (Industriebauern), 1920

 

Georg Scholz (1890-1945)
Industrial Peasants (Industriebauern)
1920
Lithograph on wove paper
15 1/2 × 19 in. (39.4 × 48.3 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Beverly Hills, CA, and the Modern Art Deaccession Fund
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, photo
© Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Otto Dix Sex Murder (Lustmord), 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Sex Murder (Lustmord)
1922
Etching
10 7/8 x 13 5/8 in. (27.5 x 34.6 cm)
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin

 

Otto Dix 'Card Players' (Kartenspieler), 1920

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Card Players (Kartenspieler)
1920
Drypoint
19 7/8 × 13 1⁄16 in. (50.5 × 32.5 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Beverly Hills, CA, and Helgard Field-Lion and Irwin Field
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Facial reconstruction WW1

 

Willie Vicarage, suffering facial wounds in the Battle of Jutland 1916 Naval Battle was one of the first men to receive facial reconstruction using plastic surgery. Doctor Harold Gillies created the “tubed pedicle” technique that used a flap of skin from the chest or forehead and swung it into place over the face. The flap remained attached but was stitched into a tube, keeping the original blood supply intact and dramatically reducing the infection rate.

 

 

This photograph is not in the exhibition, but I have included it to show an actual case study of facial reconstruction during WW1. While there were few books in Britain about the war, soldiers injuries and facial reconstruction, Otto Dix produced his seminal portfolio Der Krieg [War] (below).

“Otto Dix was born in 1891 in Untermhaus, Thuringia, the son of an ironworker. He initially trained in Gera and at the Dresden School of Arts and Crafts as a painter of wall decorations and later taught himself how to paint on canvas. He volunteered as a machine-gunner during World War I and in the autumn of 1915 he was sent to the Western Front. He was at the Somme during the major allied offensive of 1916.

After the war he studied at the academies of Dresden and Dusseldorf. Together with George Grosz, he was one of the leading exponents of the artistic movement Die Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity], a form of social realist art which unsentimentally examined the decadence and underlying social inequality of post-war German society. With the rise of the National Socialists in 1933, Dix was dismissed from his teaching post at the Dresden Academy. He moved south to Lake Constance and was only allowed to continue practising as an artist after he agreed to relinquish overtly political subject matter in favour of landscape painting. Dix was conscripted into the army during World War II and in 1945 was captured and put into a prisoner of war camp. He returned to Dresden after the war where his paintings became more religiously reflective of his war-time experiences. He died in 1969.

Der Krieg [War] 1924 arose out of Dix’s own experiences of the horrors of war. As outlined above, he had volunteered for service in the army and fought as a machine-gunner on the Western Front. He was wounded a number of times, once almost fatally. War profoundly affected him as an individual and as an artist, and he took every opportunity, both during his active service and afterwards, to document his experiences. These experiences would become the subject matter of many of his later paintings and are central to the Der Krieg cycle.

Der Krieg itself, as a cycle of prints (51 in total), is consciously modelled on Goya’s [1746-1828] equally famous and equally devastating Los Desastres de la Guerra [The disasters of war]. Los Desastres detailed Goya’s own account of the horrors of the Napoleonic invasion and the Spanish War of Independence from 1808 to 1814. Goya’s cycle of 82 etchings, which he worked on for a decade after the Spanish War of Independence were not, however, published until 1863, long after his death.

Like Los Desastres, Der Krieg uses a variety of etching techniques and does so with an equally astonishing facility. Similarly, it exploits the cumulative possibilities of a long sequence of images and mirrors Goya’s unflinching, stark realism in terms of its fundamental presentation. GH Hamilton describes Dix’s cycle as ‘perhaps the most powerful as well as the most unpleasant anti-war statements in modern art… It was truly this quality of unmitigated truth, truth to the most commonplace and vulgar experiences, as well as the ugly realities of psychological experience, that gave his work a strength and consistency attained by no other contemporary artist, not even by [George] Grosz…’ It has become a commonplace to see this cycle as an admonition against the barbarity of war. And there is no doubt that as a human document it is a powerful cautionary work. At a psychological level, however, its truth goes deeper than this. Dix was both horrified and fascinated by the experience of war…

This nightmarish, hallucinatory quality pervades all of the Der Krieg images. Paradoxically, there is also a quality of sensuousness, an almost perverse delight in the rendering of horrific detail, which indicates that there was perhaps, in Dix’s case, an almost addictive quality to the hyper-sensory input of war. In terms of the general corpus of Dix’s work, Der Krieg occupies a central place amongst the large number of paintings and works-on-paper devoted to the theme of war. The work is astonishingly powerful and, as stated above, it remains one of the most powerful indictments of war ever conceived. It is universally regarded as one of the great masterpieces of twentieth century. Dix’s oeuvre as a whole, and Der Krieg in particular, was hugely influential on a number of other twentieth century artist such as Ben Shahn, Pablo Picasso and Robert Motherwell.”

Mark Henshaw. “The Art of War: Otto Dix’s Der Krieg [War] cycle 1924,” on the National Gallery of Australia website [Online] Cited 07/01/2016

 

Otto Dix Skin Graft (Transplantation) from the portfolio War (Der Krieg), 1924

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Skin Graft (Transplantation) from the portfolio War (Der Krieg)
1924
Etching with aquatint on copperplate paper
18 11/16 x 13 7/8 in. (47.5 x 35.2 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

 

“The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, 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, many of whom are little known in the United States. Key figures – Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad, August Sander, and Max Beckmann – whose heterogeneous careers are essential to understanding 20th century German modernism, are presented together with lesser known artists, including Herbert Ploberger, Hans Finsler, Georg Schrimpf, Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, Carl Grossberg, and Aenne Biermann, among others. 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.

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.

Germany’s financial, sociopolitical, and emotional defeat in WWI 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…

 

Hans Finlser Eggs on a Plate (Eier auf Teller), 1929

 

Hans Finlser (1891-1972)
Eggs on a Plate (Eier auf Teller)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 9/16 x 6 13/16 in. (24.3 x 17.3 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© 2015 Finsler Estate, Stiftung Moritzburg Halle (Saale), Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt

 

Hans Finsler Electric Bulb with Parts of the Socket (Elektrische Birne mit Teilen der Fassung), 1928

 

Hans Finsler (1891-1972)
Electric Bulb with Parts of the Socket (Elektrische Birne mit Teilen der Fassung)
1928
Vintage print
8 5/8 x 5 7/8 in. (21.9 x 14.9 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© 2015 Finsler Estate, Stiftung Moritzburg Halle (Saale), Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt

 

 

Born in Munich, Hans Finsler was a gifted teacher of photography in Switzerland from the 1920s to the 1950s, where he taught students the vocabulary of modernism and its strength of vision. Finsler was also well-known for his stylish and innovative commercial work reflecting the contemporary Neue Sachlichkeit (New Vision) aesthetic of describing machinery, architecture and manufactured products with clarity and respect. His private work, however, was more profound and philosophical. He experimented tirelessly with simple and elemental forms, developing theories of motion and stillness with highlights and shadows, often using eggs as his principal subject matter. Finsler’s photographs were exhibited in the important exhibition Film und Foto in Stuttgart in 1929.

 

Carl Grossberg The Yellow Boiler (Der Gelbe Kessel), 1933

 

Carl Grossberg (1894-1940)
The Yellow Boiler (Der Gelbe Kessel)
1933
Oil on wood
37 x 29 in. (94 x 73.7 cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

Carl Grossberg The Paper Machine (Die Papiermaschine), 1934

 

Carl Grossberg (1894-1940)
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

 

Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski Sewing Machine (Nähmaschine), c. 1930

 

Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski (1870-1935)
Sewing Machine (Nähmaschine)
c. 1930
Photograph
7 7/16 x 5 5/16 in. (18.9 x 15.1 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch Flat Irons for Shoe Manufacture, Fagus Factory I (Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Fagus-Werk, Alfeld), 1926

 

Albert Renger-Patzsch
Flat Irons for Shoe Manufacture, Fagus Factory I (Bügeleisen für Schuhfabrikation, Fagus-Werk, Alfeld)
1926
Gelatin silver print
9 x 6 5/8 in. (22.9 x 16.8 cm)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
© 2015 Albert Renger-Patzsch Archiv/Ann u. Jürgen Wilde, Zülpich/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

We still don’t sufficiently appreciate the opportunity to capture the magic of material things. The structure of wood, stone, and metal can be shown with a perfection beyond the means of painting… …To do justice to modern technology’s rigid linear structure…… only photography is capable of that.

So wrote Albert Renger-Patzsch in 1927 about the camera’s innate ability to depict the Industrial Age. Here he studied the materials of identically shaped, finished wooden handles and industrially produced steel heads, while also representing the flatirons as an army of tools standing at attention like bowling pins. Renger-Patzsch’s photograph celebrates the beauty of the commonplace object. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

 

Renger-Patzsch was born in Würzburg and began making photographs by age twelve. After military service in the First World War he studied chemistry at Dresden Technical College. In the early 1920s he worked as a press photographer for the Chicago Tribune before becoming a freelancer and, in 1925, publishing a book, The choir stalls of Cappenberg. He had his first museum exhibition in 1927. A second book followed in 1928, Die Welt ist schön (The World is Beautiful). This, his best-known book, is a collection of one hundred of his photographs in which natural forms, industrial subjects and mass-produced objects are presented with the clarity of scientific illustrations. The book’s title was chosen by his publisher; Renger-Patzsch’s preferred title for the collection was Die Dinge (“Things”).

In its sharply focused and matter-of-fact style his work exemplifies the esthetic of The New Objectivity that flourished in the arts in Germany during the Weimar Republic. Like Edward Weston in the United States, Renger-Patzsch believed that the value of photography was in its ability to reproduce the texture of reality, and to represent the essence of an object. He wrote: “The secret of a good photograph – which, like a work of art, can have esthetic qualities – is its realism … Let us therefore leave art to artists and endeavor to create, with the means peculiar to photography and without borrowing from art, photographs which will last because of their photographic qualities.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Wilhelm Lachnit Worker with Machine (Arbeiter mit Maschine), 1924–28

 

Wilhelm Lachnit (1899-1962)
Worker with Machine (Arbeiter mit Maschine)
1924-28
Oil on wood
19 11/16 x 20 1/2 in. (50 x 52 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
© 2015 Estate of Wilhelm Lachnit
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen/Jörg P. Anders/Art Resource, NY

 

 

Lachnit was born in the small town of Gittersee; his family moved to Dresden in 1906. He studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule Dresden under Richard Guhr, and later at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, where he was acquainted with and influenced by Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller, and Otto Griebel. He joined the Communist Party of Germany in 1924 and was active in producing various forms of Agitprop throughout the 1920s. He co-founded the “Neue Gruppe” with Hans Grundig, Otto Griebel, and Fritz Skade; successful exhibitions in Paris, Düsseldorf, Ansterdam, and Dresden followed.

After the Nazis seized power in 1933, Lachnit’s work was declared “degenerate” and confiscated by authorities. During this period he was not allowed to make art and worked as an exhibition designer. Much of his confiscated work was destroyed during the February 1945 firebombing of Dresden. His 1923 watercolours Man and Woman in the Window and “Girl at Table” were found in the 2012 Nazi loot discovery. (Text from Wikipedia)

 

Hans Mertens Still Life with Household Appliances (Stilleben mit Hausgeräten), 1928

 

Hans Mertens (1906-1944)
Still Life with Household Appliances (Stilleben mit Hausgeräten)
1928
Oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 27 9/16 in. (65 x 70 cm)
Sprengel Museum Hannover
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Sprengel Museum/Aline Gwose/Art Resource, NY

 

Herbert Ploberger Dressing Table (Toilettentisch), 1926

 

Herbert Ploberger (1902-1977)
Dressing Table (Toilettentisch)
1926
Oil on canvas
17 11/16 x 27 9/16 in. (45 x 70 cm)
Private collection
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Bildrecht, Vienna
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

Arthur Köster St. Georgs-Garten Housing Settlement, Architect Otto Haesler (St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler), 1920s

 

Arthur Köster (1890-1960)
St. Georgs-Garten Housing Settlement, Architect Otto Haesler (St. Georgs-Garten Siedlung, Architekt Otto Haesler)
1920s
Vintage print
8 13/16 x 6 3/4 in. (22.4 x 17.2 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Karl Völker Picture of Industry (Industriebild), c. 1924

 

Karl Völker (1889-1962)
Picture of Industry (Industriebild)
c. 1924
Oil on canvas
36 5/8 x 36 5/8 in. (93 x 93 cm)
Kunstmuseum Moritzburg Halle (Saale)
© Klaus Völker
Photo: Klaus E. Göltz

 

Unknown photographer. 'Karl Völker' early 1930s

 

Unknown photographer
Karl Völker
early 1930s
Silver gelatin photograph

 

This photograph is not in the exhibition. It looks like the man at left in the painting above, possibly a self-portrait.

 

George Grosz Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel]), 1920

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Construction (Untitled) (Konstruktion [Ohne Titel])
1920
Oil on canvas
31 7/8 x 24 in. (81 x 61 cm)
Stiftung Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
Art © 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo: Walter Klein

 

In Grosz’s Germany, everything and everybody is for sale. All human transactions, except for the class solidarity of the workers, are poisoned. The world is owned by four breeds of pig: the capitalist, the officer, the priest and the hooker, whose other form is the sociable wife. He was one of the hanging judges of art.  – Robert Hughes

 

 

 

This is a documentary from 1993 by David Grubin (written, produced, and directed) about the art exhibit under the Nazi regime of what they considered to be the most corrupting and corrosive examples of what they called ‘Entartete Kunst’ or ‘Degenerate Art.’ The exhibit, which opened in July of 1937, was meant to be laughed at and despised. I ran across it in a class on Modernism and Post-Modernism. The film is not generally available at the time of this writing (other than on VHS). Personally, I could think of no better backdrop for the ideas and pathos of expressionist art than Nazi Germany, shown by a great deal of actual footage (most provided by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – they had an exhibit of their own based on the event that same year). The music is similarly striking, including Schoenberg, Hindemith, and Wagner.

“You know, one of the, most grotesque kind of, unintended results of this…. I remember seeing as a kid one of the newsreels of the liberation of the camps… I never forgot that shot of the bulldozer rolling the mass of starved corpses, the typhoid dead, the murdered, into this mass grave… and it always comes back to me strangely enough when I look at the distortion and elongation in German, in certain German expressionist pictures… as though the, uh, the aesthetic distortions of expressionism had been made real, absolute and concrete on the real suffering human body by the Nazis, you know as though this was some kind of climactic work of art which ended up mimicking what they had attempted to suppress.  This is a very superficial way of looking at it, I know, because it leaves out the actual content of the suffering, but for a, a gentile boy seeing that in Australia, forty-some years ago… uh, on a grainy movie – I compare the two images and I can’t help thinking of it.” – Robert Hughes, 50:52

 

Anton Räderscheidt Man with Bowler (Mann mit steifem Hut), 1922

 

Anton Räderscheidt (1892-1970)
Man with Bowler (Mann mit steifem Hut)
1922
Oil on canvas
19 11/16 × 15 3/4 in. (50 × 40 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo © Rheinisches Bildarchiv

 

In 1934-1935 Räderscheidt lived in Berlin. He fled to France in 1936, and settled in Paris, where his work became more colorful, curvilinear and rhythmic. He was interned by the occupation authorities in 1940, but he escaped to Switzerland. In 1949 he returned to Cologne and resumed his work, producing many paintings of horses shortly before adopting an abstract style in 1957.

 

Werner Mantz Entrance to an Apartment Block in the Cologne–Kalkerfeld Housing Settlement (Eingang in einen Wohnblock in der Siedlung Köln–Kalkerfeld), 1928

 

Werner Mantz (1901-1983)
Entrance to an Apartment Block in the Cologne-Kalkerfeld Housing Settlement (Eingang in einen Wohnblock in der Siedlung Köln-Kalkerfeld)
1928
Gelatin silver print
15 3/16 × 8 3/4 in. (38.6 × 22.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Image copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image source: Art Resource, NY

 

During the 1920s and ’30s Mantz photographed functionalist architecture such as houses, factories, bridge constructions and motorways. The pictures are extremely detailed, and with their bold cropping and angles they profit from architecture’s geometric and modern idiom. Mantz later moved to the Netherlands where he set up a portrait studio.

 

Franz Radziwill The Handtowel (Das Handtuch), 1933

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Handtowel (Das Handtuch)
1933
Oil on canvas on wood
20 7/8 x 17 11/16 in. (53 x 45 cm)
Radziwill Sammlung Claus Hüppe, courtesy Kunsthalle Emden
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Fotostudio Blatterspiel & Haftstein, Wardenburg

 

Radziwill spent most of his life in the North Sea resort Dangast at Varel on Jadebusen. During the period of National Socialism he had repeatedly been banned from exhibiting, three of his early works were shown in the exhibition “Entartete Kunst”. Despite the exhibition ban he was committed to Nazism and was a functionary of the Nazi Party. He addressed the tension between art and nature.

 

Aenne Biermann Ficus elastic: Rubber Plant (Ficus elastic: Gummibaum), c. 1927

 

Aenne Biermann (1898-1933)
Ficus elastic: Rubber Plant (Ficus elastic: Gummibaum)
c. 1927
Gelatin silver print
18 2/5 x 13 3/4 in. (46.7 x 35 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Fotoarchiv

 

Biermann’s photographs of minerals transformed her practice from the early personal views of her children to the close-up, direct studies of form that would define her photographs of plants and people that followed and make her a central figure in New Objectivity photography. Thus 1926 began a period of intense productivity for Biermann that lasted until her untimely death, from liver disease, at the age of thirty-five, in 1933.

 

George Scholz Cacti and Semaphore (Kakteen und Semaphore), 1923

 

George Scholz (1890-1945)
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
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur (Westfälisches Landesmuseum), Münster/Rudolf Wakonigg

 

Franz Radziwill The Harbor II (Der Hafen II), 1930

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
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
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie/Klaus Goeken/Art Resource, NY

 

Franz Radziwill The Street (Die StrasseI), 1928

 

Franz Radziwill (1895-1983)
The Street (Die StrasseI)
1928
Oil on canvas
31 11/16 x 33 7/8 in. (80.5 x 86 cm)
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo © Rheinisches Bildarchiv

 

 

New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 is organized into five thematic sections: Life in Democracy and the Aftermath of the War examines both the polar conditions dividing Germany’s rising bourgeoisie and those who suffered most from the war’s aftereffects, including maimed war veterans, the unemployed, prostitutes, and victims of political corruption and violence; The City and the Nature of Landscape addresses the growing disparity between an increasingly industrialized urbanity and nostalgic longing for the pastoral; Still Life and Commodities highlights a new form of the traditional still life in which quotidian objects – often indicative of mass production – are staged to create object-portraits; Man and Machine looks to artists’ attempts to reconcile the transformative yet dehumanizing effects of rapid industrialization; and lastly, New Identities: Type and Portraiture showcases a new trend in portraiture in which subjects are rendered as social typecasts rather than individual subjects.

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.”

“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,” said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “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.”

Press release from LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, with photo mural showing the exterior of famous Berlin nightclub Eldorado, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 4, 2015 – January 18, 2016, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing photographs by Albert Renger-Patzsch (left), Aenne Biermann (centre top) and Hans Finsler (centre bottom), and Hans Finsler (right top) and Gerda Leo (bottom right), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 4, 2015 – January 18, 2016, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing photographs by August Sander.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933' at LACMA

 

Installation photograph, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, showing Aenne Biermann, Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel), c. 1928 at left, with photographs by Friedrich Seidenstücker (right top) and Franz Roh (right bottom)

 

 

Exhibition themes

New Objectivity is divided into five sections that address the competing and, at times, conflicting approaches that the adherents to this new realism applied to the turbulent and ever-changing Weimar years.

The first section, 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. 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.

In 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.

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.

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.

The final section of New Objectivity is dedicated to 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.” 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. 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.

Text from the LACMA press release

 

Die Insel (The Island), L–R: June 1928, July 1930, April 1931

 

Die Insel (The Island), L-R: June 1928, July 1930, April 1931
Schwules Museum, Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929

 

Die Freundin (The Girlfriend), September 1932, and Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), 1929
Spinnboden Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Lili Elbe. Ein Mensch wechseit sein Geschlecht (Man into Woman The First Sex Change), 1932, edited by Niels Hoyer

 

Niels Hoyer (editor)
Lili Elbe. Ein Mensch wechseit sein Geschlecht (Man into Woman The First Sex Change)

1932
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

 

Lili Ilse Elvenes, better known as Lili Elbe (28 December 1882 – 13 September 1931), was a Danish transgender woman and one of the first identifiable recipients of sex reassignment surgery. Elbe was born Einar Magnus Andreas Wegener and was a successful artist under that name. She also presented as Lili, sometimes spelled Lily, and was publicly introduced as Einar’s sister. After transitioning, however, she made a legal name change to Lili Ilse Elvenes and stopped painting.

Elbe met Gerda Gottlieb at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, and they married in 1904, when Gottlieb was 19 and Wegener was 22. The two of them worked as illustrators, with Elbe specializing in landscape paintings, while Gottlieb illustrated books and fashion magazines. They both traveled through Italy and France, eventually settling in Paris in 1912, where Elbe could live openly as a woman, and Gottlieb a lesbian. Elbe received the Neuhausens prize in 1907 and exhibited at Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling (the Artists Fall Exhibition), at the Vejle Art Museum, and in the Saloon and Salon d’Automme in Paris. She is represented at Vejle Art Museum in Denmark.

Elbe started dressing in women’s clothes one day filling in for Gottlieb’s absentee model; she was asked to wear stockings and heels so her legs could substitute for those of the model. Elbe felt surprisingly comfortable in the clothing. Over time, Gottlieb became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gottlieb’s depictions of petites femmes fatales was in fact Gottlieb’s spouse, “Elbe”.

In 1930, Elbe went to Germany for sex reassignment surgery, which was experimental at the time. A series of four operations was carried out over a period of two years. The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin. The rest of Elbe’s surgeries were carried out by Kurt Warnekros, a doctor at the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. The second operation was to implant an ovary onto her abdominal musculature, the third to remove the penis and the scrotum, and the fourth to transplant a uterus and construct a vaginal canal. At the time of Elbe’s last surgery, her case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. A Danish court invalidated the Wegeners’ marriage in October 1930, and Elbe managed to get her sex and name legally changed, including receiving a passport as Lili Ilse Elvenes…

In June 1931, Elbe had her fourth operation, which consisted of a uterus transplant and the construction of a vagina, both of which were new and experimental procedures at that time. She died three months after the surgery due to heart paralysis caused by the uterus transplant.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Der Eigene (The Unique), 1925

 

Der Eigene (The Unique)
1925
Schwules Museum, Berlin
Photo by Nana Bahlmann

 

Christian Schad Boys in Love (Liebende Knaben), 1929

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Boys in Love (Liebende Knaben)
1929
Silverpoint
11 13/16 x 9 1/4 in. (30 x 23.5 cm)
Museen der Stadt Aschaffenburg, Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg, Leihgabe der Kurt-Gerd-Kunkel Stiftung Aschaffenburg, MSA Dep. KGKS 1/1986
© 2015 Christian-Schad-Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Christian Schad Self-Portrait (Selbstbildnis mit Modell), 1927

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
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
© 2015 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Benjamin Hasenclever, Munich

 

 

Christian Schad (August 21, 1894 – February 25, 1982) was a German painter associated with Dada and the New Objectivity movement. Considered as a group, Schad’s portraits form an extraordinary record of life in Vienna and Berlin in the years following World War I.

Schad’s art was not condemned by the Nazis in the way that the work of Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, and many other artists of the New Objectivity movement was; this may have been because of his lack of commercial success. He became interested in Eastern philosophy around 1930, and his artistic production declined precipitously. After the crash of the New York stock market in 1929, Schad could no longer rely on his father’s financial support, and he largely stopped painting in the early 1930s. In 1937, unknown to him, the Museum of Modern Art showed three Schadographs, given by Tristan Tzara, in a show about Dada and Surrealism. The same year, Nazis included Schad in Great German Art, their antidote to the Degenerate Art show.

Schad lived in obscurity in Germany through the war and after it. After the destruction of his studio in 1943 Schad moved to Aschaffenburg. The city commissioned him to copy Matthias Grünewald’s Virgin and Child (Stuppach, parish church), a project on which he worked until 1947. Schad continued to paint in the 1950s in Magic Realist style and returned in the 1960s to experiments with photograms. Schad’s reputation did not begin to recover until the 1960s, when a couple of shows in Europe dovetailed with the rise of Photorealism. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Rudolf Schlichter Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (Zusammenkunft von Fetischisten und manischen Flagellanten), c. 1921

 

Rudolf Schlichter (1890-1955)
Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (Zusammenkunft von Fetischisten und manischen Flagellanten)
c. 1921
Watercolor on paper
17 5/16 x 10 3/4 in. (43.9 x 27.3 cm)
Private Collection
© Viola Roehr v. Alvensleben, Munich
Photo by Christian Wirth, Munich

 

Meeting of Fetishists and Maniacal Flagellants (1921) is a group fantasy of clothed males, half-naked women, old men masturbating and young women with knee-high boots flashing what Mick Jagger once called “far away eyes”.

 

Gert Wollheim Untitled (Couple) (Ohne Titel [Paar]), 1926

 

Gert Wollheim (1894-1974)
Untitled (Couple) (Ohne Titel [Paar])
1926
Oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. (100.3 x 74.9 cm)
The Jewish Museum, New York, gift of Charlotte Levite in memory of Julius Nassau, 1990-130
Photo: The Jewish Museum, New York/Art Resource, NY by John Parnell

 

Immediately after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 his works were declared degenerate art and many were destroyed. He fled to France and became active in the Resistance. He was one of the co-founders of the artists’ federation, the Union des Artistes Allemandes Libres, an organization of exiled German artists founded in Paris in autumn 1937. In that same year, he became the companion of the dancer Tatjana Barbakoff. Meanwhile, in Munich, three of his pictures were displayed in the defamatory Nazi exhibition Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) in 1937.

From Paris, he fled to Saarbrücken and later to Switzerland. He was arrested in 1939 and held in a series of labor camps in France (Vierzon, Ruchard, Gurs and Septfonds) until his escape in 1942, after which he and his wife hid in the Pyrénées with the help of a peasant woman. At war’s end in 1945 he returned to France, and in 1947 moved to New York and became an American citizen. He died in New York in 1974. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

 

Homosexuality Is a German Invention

Nana Bahlmann, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Exhibitions

December 14, 2015

Homosexuality was invented in Germany? While this might at first sound like a rather preposterous proposition, the idea of an identity based on a fixed sexual orientation did indeed originate in Germany. The public discourse and political movement supporting this idea also started in Germany, in Berlin in particular, and not, as one might assume, in London or New York. As Robert Beachy describes in his recent groundbreaking book Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity (2014), even the term HOMOSEXUALITÄT itself was a German invention, first appearing in a German language pamphlet in 1869. Although the origins of the movement date back to the 19th century, it was during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933), with its new social and democratic freedoms, that gay life experienced its unprecedented heyday. Despite the fact that sexual acts between men (women were simply not addressed) were still criminalized by Paragraph 175 of the penal code, homosexual men and women were able to express their identity more visibly than ever before. By the mid-1920s, around fifty thousand gays and lesbians lived in Berlin. With its countless nightclubs and meeting points for homosexuals, bisexuals, or transvestites, the city became a true “Eldorado” for this growing and vibrant community.

Our exhibition, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933 (on view until January 18, 2016), devotes a whole section to these new social identities of the Weimar Republic. Here you will find stunning paintings and photographs depicting the so-called New Woman, with her bob, monocle, cigarette, and overall masculine demeanor, next to striking renderings of even more androgynous types, whose gender identity is ambiguous and even inscrutable at times. Look at Gert Wollheim’s Couple (1926, above), for instance, who might have come straight out of the popular nightclub Eldorado. With its transvestite hostesses, the infamous establishment attracted an illustrious crowd from all over Europe and featured performances by the likes of Marlene Dietrich. A contemporary visitor described the clientele of the famous cabaret as follows: “… you had lesbians looking like beautiful women, lesbians dressed exactly like men and looking like men. You had men dressed like women so you couldn’t possibly recognize they were men (…) Then you would see couples dancing and wouldn’t know anymore what it was.”

Or look at Christian Schad’s extraordinary Boys in Love (1929, above). This exquisite silverpoint drawing is a rare rendering of male homosexuality. The tenderness of the embrace is astonishing and congruent with the delicate subject matter. The loving intimacy between men so sensitively represented here seems even more provocative than a more explicit depiction of homosexual acts.

To illustrate the vast and far-reaching discourse surrounding the new identities of the Weimar Republic and to introduce the main protagonists defining and steering the movement, we are presenting books, magazines, and other ephemeral objects alongside the artworks. The vitrines in the exhibition include publications by the influential physician and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, a pioneer and principal advocate of homosexual and transgender rights. The so-called “Einstein of Sex” founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, the first gay-rights organization and gathered more than five thousand signatures to overturn Paragraph 175. His prolific empirical research resulted in the publication of several anthologies examining gender and sexual identity and in the founding of the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, a museum, clinic, meeting point, and research center. There, in 1930, the first sex reassignment surgery in history was performed on Lili Elbe (previously Einar Wegener). This process is chronicled in the book Man into Woman, also displayed in the exhibition and the basis for the film The Danish Girl directed by Tom Hooper, which is currently playing in theaters across America.

Shining a light on the various publications – over thirty at the time – for homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals, and transvestites, a selection of the most important gay and lesbian magazines is also presented in these vitrines. They include Der Eigene (The Unique), the first gay journal in the world. Published from 1896 until 1932 by Adolf Brand, it featured texts about politics and homosexual rights, literature, art, and culture, as well as aesthetic nude photography. Der Eigene was followed by many other gay magazines like Friedrich Radzuweit’s Die Insel (The Island). Surprisingly, these publications were displayed publicly and sold at newsstands alongside other mainstream papers. They included advertisements and announcements for various kinds of nightspots and meeting points, catering to the respective preferences of their readers.

Throughout the 1920s, Radzuweit, who was also an important homosexual rights activist and author, established a publishing network for gay and lesbian magazines. In 1924 he issued Die Freundin (The Girlfriend: Journal for Ideal Friendship between Women), the first lesbian magazine, for instance, and later Das dritte Geschlecht (The Third Gender). After his death in 1932, his son Martin took over the business. Other lesbian magazines presented here are Liebende Frauen (Women in Love), and Frauenliebe (Women Love).

With Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, the vibrant movement came to an abrupt and brutal end. The Nazis immediately raided Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Research and burned its archives. Wisely, Hirschfeld had not returned from a speaking tour and remained in exile until his death in 1935. Gay publications and organizations were banned and homosexuals were incarcerated, sent to concentration camps, or murdered; the Nazis eradicated the achievements and memories of this pioneering movement in Germany. We are happy to bring it back to life here in our exhibition at LACMA.

Nana Bahlmann. “Homosexuality Is a German Invention,” on the LACMA website, December 14, 2015 [Online] Cited 06/02/2016.

 

Georg Schrimpf Reclining Girls in the Countryside (Liegende Mädchen im Grünen), 1930

 

Georg Schrimpf (1889-1938)
Reclining Girls in the Countryside (Liegende Mädchen im Grünen)
1930
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 × 39 3/4 in. (54 × 101 cm)
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
Photo © 2015 Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker Untitled, c. 1930

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966)
Untitled
c. 1930
Vintage print
6 15/16 x 5 1/16 in. (17.6 x 12.9 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882-1966) is noted for his atmospheric photographs of everyday life in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Thanks to his compassionate studies of animals, he has an almost legendary reputation among animal and zoo lovers, and his haunting pictures of Berlin in ruins are a precious source of material for historians. His images seem to be spontaneous, sympathetic examples of the kind of photography that excels at capturing the moment. They are free of any exaggeration or extravagance, and display a sense of humor rarely found in photography. His work is buoyed by a fundamental optimism, yet it does not ignore the harshness, poverty, and suffering that prevailed at that time.

 

Max Beckmann Paris Society (Gesellschaft Paris), 1931

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
Paris Society (Gesellschaft Paris)
1931
Oil on canvas
43 × 69 1/8 in (109.2 × 175.6 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York

 

 

“My pictures reproach God for his errors.”

“We have to lay our hearts bare, to the cries of people who have been lied to.”

Max Beckmann

 

Unlike several of his avant-garde contemporaries, Beckmann rejected non-representational painting; instead, he took up and advanced the tradition of figurative painting. He greatly admired not only Cézanne and Van Gogh, but also Blake, Rembrandt, and Rubens, as well as Northern European artists of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, such as Bosch, Bruegel, and Matthias Grünewald. His style and method of composition are partially rooted in the imagery of medieval stained glass.

Engaging with the genres of portraiture, landscape, still life, and history painting, his diverse body of work created a very personal but authentic version of modernism, one with a healthy deference to traditional forms. Beckmann reinvented the religious triptych and expanded this archetype of medieval painting into an allegory of contemporary humanity.

From his beginnings in the fin de siècle to the period after World War II, Beckmann reflected an era of radical changes in both art and history in his work. Many of Beckmann’s paintings express the agonies of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of his imagery refers to the decadent glamor of the Weimar Republic’s cabaret culture, but from the 1930s on, his works often contain mythologized references to the brutalities of the Nazis. Beyond these immediate concerns, his subjects and symbols assume a larger meaning, voicing universal themes of terror, redemption, and the mysteries of eternity and fate. (Text from the Wikipedia website)

 

Kurt Günter Portrait of a Boy (Knabenbildnis), 1928

 

Kurt Günther (1893-1955)
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
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie/Art Resource, NY

 

Herbert Ploberger Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (Selbstbildnis mit ophthamologischen Lehrmodellen), c. 1928-30

 

Herbert Ploberger (1902-1977)
Self-Portrait with Ophthalmological Models (Selbstbildnis mit ophthamologischen 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

 

August Sander Coal Carrier, Berlin (Berliner Kohlenträger), 1929

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
Coal Carrier, Berlin (Berliner Kohlenträger)
1929
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 6 in. (24.1 x 15.2 cm)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.126.52
© 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur-August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Sander’s Face of our Time was published in 1929. It contains a selection of 60 portraits from his series People of the 20th Century, and is introduced by an essay by Alfred Döblin titled “On Faces, Pictures, and their Truth.” Under the Nazi regime, his work and personal life were greatly constrained. His son Erich, who was a member of the left wing Socialist Workers’ Party (SAP), was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, where he died in 1944, shortly before the end of his sentence. Sander’s book Face of our Time was seized in 1936 and the photographic plates destroyed. Around 1942, during World War II, he left Cologne and moved to a rural area, allowing him to save most of his negatives. His studio was destroyed in a 1944 bombing raid. Thirty thousand of Sander’s roughly forty-thousand negatives survived the war, only to perish in an accidental fire in Cologne in 1946. Sander practically ceased to work as a photographer after World War II. He died in Cologne in 1964.

 

George Grosz Portrait of Dr. Felix J. Weil (Bildnis Dr. Felix J. Weil), 1926

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Portrait of Dr. Felix J. Weil (Bildnis Dr. Felix J. Weil)
1926
Oil on canvas
53 x 61 in. (134.6 x 154.9 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Richard L. Feigen in memory of Gregor Piatigorsky Art
© 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo © 2015 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

August Sander Painter’s Wife (Helene Abelen) (Frau des Malers Abelen), 1926

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
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)
© Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur-August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

August Sander The Architect (Hans Poelzig) (Der Architekt Hans Poelzig), 1928

 

August Sander (1876-1964)
The Architect (Hans Poelzig) (Der Architekt Hans Poelzig)
1928
Vintage print
11 7/16 x 7 11/16 in. (29.1 x 19.5 cm)
Galerie Berinson, Berlin
© 2015 Die Photographische Sammlung/SK Stiftung Kultur—August Sander Archiv, Cologne/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Photo: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

 

Otto Dix The Jeweller Karl Krall (Der Juwelier Karl Krall), 1923

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
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
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

Otto Dix Portait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons (Porträt des Rechtsanwalts Hugo Simons), 1925

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Portait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons (Porträt des Rechtsanwalts Hugo Simons)
1925
Tempera and oil on plywood
39 1/2 x 27 11/16 in. (100.3 x 70.3 cm)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, purchase, grant from the Government of Canada under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, gifts of the Succession J. A. DeSève, Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Andrea Bronfman, Mr. Nahum Gelber and Dr. Sheila Gelber, Mrs. Phyllis Lambert, the Volunteer Association and the Junior Associates of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Mrs. Louise L. Lamarre, Mr. Pierre Théberge, the Museum’s acquisition fund, and the Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn,
Photo: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Brian Merrett

 

Wilhelm Schnarrenberger Portrait of an Architect (Porträt eines Architekten), 1923

 

Wilhelm Schnarrenberger (1892-1966)
Portrait of an Architect (Porträt eines Architekten)
1923
Oil on canvas
34 1/4 x 23 1/16 in. (87 x 58.5 cm)
Städtische Galerie Karlsruhe, on loan from private collection
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo by Ernst Reinhold, Munich

 

Aenne Biermann Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel), c. 1928 Gelatin silver print; 7 1/4 x 5 1/5 in. (18.4 x 13 cm)

 

Aenne Biermann (1898-1933)
Woman with Monocle (Dame mit Monokel)
c. 1928
Gelatin silver print
7 1/4 x 5 1/5 in. (18.4 x 13 cm)
Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne
Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Fotoarchiv

 

Max Beckmann Self-Portrait in Tuxedo (Selbstbildnis im Smoking), 1927

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
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
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College

 

Christian Schad Agosta, “The Pigeon Chested Man,” and Rasha, “The Black Dove,” (Agosta, der Flügelmensch, und Rasha, die schwarze Taube), 1929

 

Christian Schad (1894-1982)
Agosta, “The Pigeon Chested Man,” 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
© 2015 Christian Schad Stiftung Aschaffenburg/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Jeanne Mammen Chess Player (Schachspieler), c. 1929–30

 

Jeanne Mammen (1890-1976)
Chess Player (Schachspieler)
c. 1929-30
Oil on canvas
27 9/16 × 31 11/16 in. (70 × 80.5 cm)
Berlinische Galerie, Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen The Profiteer (Der Schieber), 1920–21

 

Heinrich Maria Davringhausen (1894-1970)
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
© Renata Davringhausen
Photo © Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast-ARTOTHEK

 

Perhaps the best-known work from Davringhausen’s New Objectivity period is Der Schieber (The Black-Marketeer), a Magic realist painting of 1920-21, which is in the Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof. Painted in acidulous colors, it depicts a glowering businessman seated at a desk in a modern office suite that foreshortens dramatically behind him. Although Davringhausen rarely presented social criticism in his work, in Der Schieber “the artist created the classic pictorial symbol of the period of inflation that was commencing.”

 

Otto Dix To Beauty (An die Schönheit), 1922

 

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
To Beauty (An die Schönheit)
1922
Oil and collage on canvas
54 15/16 x 47 7/16 in. (139.5 x 120.5cm)
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo courtesy Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal, Germany

 

George Grosz Eclipse of the Sun (Sonnenfinsternis), 1926

 

George Grosz (1893-1959)
Eclipse of the Sun (Sonnenfinsternis)
1926
Oil on canvas
81 5/8 × 71 7/8 in. (207.3 × 182.6 cm)
The Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York, Museum, Purchase Art
© 2015 Estate of George Grosz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

Max Beckmann Dance in Baden-Baden (Tanz in Baden-Baden), 1923

 

Max Beckmann (1884-1950)
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
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Photo: bpk, Berlin/Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen/Art Resource, NY

 

 

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16
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Roman Vishniac Rediscovered’ at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

Exhibition dates: 4th April – 24th August 2014

 

ICP_Vishniac_pressimage_1-DETAIL

 

Roman Vishniac
Recalcitrance, Berlin (detail)
1926
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

It takes guts and moral fortitude to continue photographing the city that you live in even as the state that controls that city and country conspires against you. It takes talent to produce memorable images of urban poverty, to record for posterity communities that would soon vanish forever under the weight of a malignant form of madness, of genocide.

Vishniac was the only one not concerned with ego. He went out there and got the job done where no one else did. He produced thoroughly modern images of an ancient culture on the verge of destruction. He knew the danger and yet he still took the photos. Courage and fortitude, and in the end the luck to escape the Holocaust himself.

You can’t look at these images without a sense of regret and sadness – at the stupidity of humanity, of the egos of men, and the waste of millions of lives. One name says it all: Ernst Kaufmann. Standing on a pile of rocks, wearing wooden clogs, this man with the wavy hair looks down into the camera and he will ever be thus – young, handsome, alive in the moment that the photograph was taken.

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the Jewish Historical Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Lots more images can be found on the excellent Roman Vishniac Archive website.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]' late 1920s - early 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac
[Interior of the Anhalter Bahnhof railway terminus near Potsdamer Platz, Berlin]
late 1920s – early 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered brings together four decades of work by an extraordinarily versatile and innovative photographer for the first time. Vishniac (1897-1990) created the most widely recognised and reproduced photographic record of Jewish life in Eastern Europe between the two World Wars. These celebrated photographs were taken on assignment for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation, from 1935-38, yet this exhibition follows the photographer’s long and accomplished career from the early 1920s through the 1950s. Roman Vishniac Rediscovered introduces a radically diverse body of work – much of it only recently discovered – and repositions Vishniac’s iconic photographs of Eastern European Jewry within a broader tradition of 1930s social documentary photography.

More than any other photographer, Roman Vishniac’s images have profoundly influenced contemporary notions of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. Vishniac created the most widely recognized and reproduced photographic record of that world on the eve of its annihilation, yet only a small fraction of his work was published or printed during his lifetime. Known primarily for this poignant record, Vishniac was in fact a remarkably versatile and innovative photographer. His body of work spans more than five decades, ranging from early engagements with European modernism in the 1920s to highly inventive colour photomicroscopy in the 1950s and ’60s.

Born in 1897 to an affluent Russian-Jewish family, Vishniac was raised in Moscow, where he studied zoology and biology. He immigrated to Berlin in 1920 in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution. As an amateur photographer he took to the streets, offering witty and wry visual commentary on his adopted city while experimenting with new approaches to framing and composition. As Vishniac documented the Nazi rise to power, foreboding signs of oppression soon became a focal point of his work. In 1935, he was commissioned by the European headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) – the world’s largest Jewish relief organisation – to photograph impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Vishniac’s four years of work on the project yielded the celebrated images that have largely defined his photographic legacy.

Arriving in New York on New Year’s Day 1941, Vishniac opened a portrait studio, working to make ends meet by documenting American Jewish communal and immigrant life, while establishing himself as a pioneer in the field of photomicroscopy. In 1947, he returned to Europe and documented Jewish Displaced Persons’ Camps, the efforts of Holocaust survivors to rebuild their lives, emigration and relief efforts, and the ruins of Berlin.

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is a comprehensive reappraisal of Vishniac’s total photographic output, from his early years in Berlin through the postwar period in America. The exhibition is drawn from the Roman Vishniac archive at ICP and serves as an introduction to this vast assemblage comprising more than 30,000 objects, including recently discovered vintage prints, rare moving film footage, contact sheets, personal correspondence, and exhibition prints made from his recently digitized negatives.

 

Berlin Street Photography, 1920s-30s

Vishniac immigrated to Berlin in 1920, shortly after the formation of the Weimar Republic. He and his wife Luta settled in the Wilmersdorf district, home to a large community of affluent Russian-Jewish expatriates. Berlin in the 1920s was the epitome of a modern city: cosmopolitan, loud, vibrant, diverse, and full of recent immigrants. Already an accomplished amateur photographer, Vishniac joined several of the city’s ubiquitous camera clubs. Armed with his Rolleiflex and Leica, he took to the streets, creating astute, often humorous observations of his adopted city.

Vishniac’s interest in photography had begun during his childhood in Russia; many Russian Jews owned photography shops and studios, and Vishniac’s family encouraged his pursuits. In Berlin, his perspective as an outsider contributed to his inventive and dynamic images of life in the city, and marked his transformation from amateur hobbyist to accomplished street photographer. His best, most intimate photographs were often taken in his own neighbourhood, where he built a fully equipped photo-processing lab in his apartment.

Vishniac took full advantage of the city’s manifold resources, improving his technique and experimenting with modernist and avant-garde approaches to framing and composition – hallmarks of Weimar Berlin. This prodigious body of early work became increasingly influenced by European modernism as he captured the buzzing day-to-day life of the city: streetcar drivers, municipal workers and day laborers, marching students and children at play, bucolic park scenes and the intellectual café life of the bustling metropolis that was, in Vishniac’s words, “the world’s center of music, books, and science.”

 

Roman Vishniac. 'People behind bars, Berlin Zoo' Early 1930s (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
People behind bars, Berlin Zoo
Early 1930s (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

The oldest and most renowned zoo in Germany, the Zoologische Garten was a popular gathering place for Berlin’s middle- and upper-class Jewish community before World War II. Many affluent Jewish families, including the Vishniacs, were shareholders. Beginning in 1933, the zoo began to force out Jewish board members. In 1938, a sign reading “Juden unerwünscht” (Jews Unwanted) was displayed at the entrance to the zoo and in early 1939 Jews were denied entry entirely. In Vishniac’s photograph of the zoo’s famous polar bears, it appears that the visitors, and not the animals, are in a cage.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boys admiring a motorcycle, Brandenburg, outskirts of Berlin]' 1929 - early 1930s (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boys admiring a motorcycle, Brandenburg, outskirts of Berlin]
1929 – early 1930s (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Nazi Rise to Power in Germany, 1933-38

“I grew up in Berlin with a pervasive sense of danger and dread combined with a perceived obligation not to show fear. I was aware of personal danger and knew that whatever happened to me, my parents could offer no protection or help. That was everyday life.”

Mara Vishniac Kohn

 

Vishniac’s development as a professional photographer coincided with the Nazi rise to power and the establishment of the Third Reich. Widespread antisemitism and the implementation of increasingly restrictive measures against Jews became daily realities. Vishniac documented the ominous changes he encountered, photographing campaign posters, swastika banners, phrenology shops, and marching Nazi soldiers. Following Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in 1933, the government relentlessly pursued those artists and intellectuals not in line with the Reich’s values. Berlin’s cosmopolitan vivacity was soon drained of its intellectual and cultural capital. Once-vibrant neighbourhoods became ruled by fear; anyone considered an opponent of the Nazi government could be sent to Dachau, a concentration camp established in 1933 outside Munich.

Many photographers suffered from the Nazi policies; the Schriftgesetz (Editorial Act) of November 1933 forced anyone working in publishing – photographers included – to provide proof of Aryan heritage. In 1934, the Deutsche Presse (German Press) published a list of authorised Aryan photographers whose work aligned with the Nazi party. Jews were forbidden to take photographs on the street. In spite of these restrictions, Vishniac tenaciously documented Berlin’s rapid acclimation to Nazi policy. To avoid suspicion, he often used his young daughter Mara as a prop, snapping seemingly innocuous pictures of her in front of advertising columns and shop windows festooned with Nazi propaganda.

These symbols of oppression formed the quotidian backdrop of Vishniac’s Germany, a fact to which the ubiquity of Nazi flags, banners, and posters in his later Berlin photographs testify. Capturing the spread of Nazi ideology on Berlin’s streets, Vishniac’s images embodied his own marginalisation – and endangerment – as both a photographer and a Jew.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Recalcitrance, Berlin' 1926

 

Roman Vishniac
Recalcitrance, Berlin
1926
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Vishniac's daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads "The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights," Wilmersdorf, Berlin]' 1933

 

Roman Vishniac
[Vishniac’s daughter Mara posing in front of an election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler that reads “The Marshal and the Corporal: Fight with Us for Peace and Equal Rights,” Wilmersdorf, Berlin]
1933
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Street scene with a swastika flag on a storefront (at left), Berlin]' c. 1935-36 (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Street scene with a swastika flag on a storefront (at left), Berlin]
c. 1935-36 (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Vishniac often positioned himself in doorways or building foyers in his Berlin street photography, documenting daily life as a removed observer. This image reveals multiple layers of time in one shot: the car positioned alongside the horse-drawn wagon, bicyclists speeding by as pedestrians young and old navigate the cobblestones and pavement, against the backdrop of a rapidly modernising metropolis. Only upon closer examination do our eyes move to a swastika flag blowing in the wind above the horses, a common site on most Berlin streets by 1935.

 

 

German-Jewish Relief and Community Organizations, Berlin, mid- to late 1930s

Prior to Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, Jewish social service organisations in Germany primarily served Eastern European Jews, the majority of whom were less cosmopolitan, assimilated, and affluent than their German-born coreligionists. The Nazi regime recognised no such distinction, however, and their rise to power drastically affected almost every Jew living in Germany. As Germany’s Jewish population was gradually excluded from both social and economic life, many came to depend upon a Jewish social structure that was originally intended to look outward but quickly expanded to serve the growing needs of the community.

In 1933, German-Jewish groups unified into the Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden (Central Organization of German Jews), an umbrella organisation intended to ameliorate the effects of Nazi racial policy. Between 1933 and 1938, subsidiary and affiliate organisations created Jewish education and healthcare systems and instituted a welfare system for Jews facing impoverishment. Zionist and other youth organisations flourished under the exclusionary policies of the Nazis, helping would-be émigrés learn the agricultural and vocational skills needed to build new lives in Palestine and elsewhere. The Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Association) was established in response to restrictions placed on Jewish artists. Vishniac and his family were among its 70,000 members and regularly attended lectures and performances. Vishniac was also a member of T’munah, a Jewish photographic group founded in 1934 in response to the exclusionary policies of “Aryan” camera clubs.

As restrictions on photographers increased, Vishniac was commissioned to document the work of several Jewish community and social service organisations in Berlin. This fascinating body of work is largely unknown, but it helped establish his reputation in Jewish philanthropic circles, leading to major commissions from a wide range of Jewish relief and community organisations from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Drawer of freshly farmed eggs, Gut Winkel, a training farm for German-Jewish youth hoping to emigrate to Palestine, Spreenhagen in der Mark, Brandenburg, Germany]' c. 1938

 

Roman Vishniac
[Drawer of freshly farmed eggs, Gut Winkel, a training farm for German-Jewish youth hoping to emigrate to Palestine, Spreenhagen in der Mark, Brandenburg, Germany]
c. 1938
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Preparing food in a Jewish soup kitchen, Berlin]' mid- to late 1930s

 

Roman Vishniac
[Preparing food in a Jewish soup kitchen, Berlin]
mid- to late 1930s
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Jewish Life in Eastern Europe, c. 1935-38

In 1935, Roman Vishniac was hired by the European headquarters of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) to document impoverished Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. Photographic images offered limitless, affordable reproducibility, and could be used in slide lectures, brochures, appeals, and annual reports throughout America and Western Europe. Vishniac’s images played a crucial role in communicating the AJDC’s message, and they would ultimately become the last extensive photographic record by a single photographer of Jewish communities that had existed for centuries.

The majority of Vishniac’s published photographs of Eastern Europe depict privation. Many others illustrate the philanthropic activities of the AJDC such as children’s camps, free loan societies, soup kitchens, schools, and health organizations. And while Vishniac is often associated with images of rural villages and small towns, or shtetlach, most of his photographs record urban poverty in major cities like Warsaw, Krakow, and Lodz. His work for the AJDC echoes the contemporaneous projects of American photographers like Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Arthur Rothstein, and Walker Evans. In the same years that the Farm Security Administration sent photographers to the American South and West to document those affected by drought, depression, and migration, Vishniac was sent east by the AJDC. Today, his work stands alongside the best social-documentary photographers of his era. His unpublished work imparts a much more complex and nuanced perspective on Eastern European Jewish life, and reveals a much more versatile – and modern – artist.

That Vishniac was commissioned to document the most impoverished Jews is significant, as is the fact that he often chose the most traditional and observant Jews as subjects, to amplify the contrast between Ostjuden, or Eastern Jews, and the more assimilated Western Jews who would be viewing the images. It was only after the Holocaust, when the communities he had so poignantly depicted were annihilated, that his body of work came to symbolise the vanished world of Eastern Jewry.

 

Roman Vishniac. 'Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
Villagers in the Carpathian Mountains
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Jewish schoolchildren, Mukacevo]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Inside the Jewish quarter, Bratislava]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Eastern Europe]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Eastern Europe]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Eastern Europe]' (detail) c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Eastern Europe] (detail)
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boy with kindling in a basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boy with kindling in a basement dwelling, Krochmalna Street, Warsaw]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]' c. 1935-38

 

Roman Vishniac
[David Eckstein, seven years old, and classmates in cheder (Jewish elementary school), Brod]
c. 1935-38
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stenciled flowers above her head, Warsaw]' c. 1935-37

 

Roman Vishniac
[Sara, sitting in bed in a basement dwelling, with stenciled flowers above her head, Warsaw]
c. 1935-37
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Werkdorp Nieuwesluis Agrarian Training Camp, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands, 1939

As the plight of German Jews became increasingly dire throughout the 1930s and many Jewish families attempted to send their children to safety in neutral countries, many young German Jews, including Vishniac’s children Wolf and Mara, joined a large number of Zionist organisations. With the British government maintaining strict immigration quotas, hundreds of young German Jews planning to go to Palestine and waiting to obtain visas were sent to the Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, a Zionist agrarian youth training complex, or hachschara, in the Netherlands. Established in 1934 by the Foundation for Jewish Labor on land donated by the Dutch government, the Werkdorp taught young, urban Jews farming, animal husbandry, construction, and other unfamiliar skills they would need as pioneers in Palestine.

In 1939, Vishniac was sent by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) to document the Werkdorp’s activities. Vishniac photographed the capable young men and women as idealized, heroic Zionist pioneers, lifting heavy stones, constructing scaffolding, and tugging on rope. The images bear a striking resemblance to heavily circulated halutz (Zionist pioneer) photography made in Palestine in the 1930s, and demonstrate Vishniac’s versatility: here is an ambitious, accomplished series in a style that is radically different from his earlier work, and perfectly suited to his athletic, industrious subjects. Shot from a low vantage point, the Werkdorp images juxtapose clear skies and strong silhouettes to form vigorous, balanced compositions. Young, healthy bodies play off the clean, rhythmic geometry of the construction sites in a manner that is also reminiscent of the Russian Constructivist photographer Rodchenko, whose work would certainly have been familiar to Vishniac.

In March 1941, Nazi SS officers ordered the evacuation of the camp, and most of its inhabitants were sent to transit camps, including Westerbork. Out of 315 Werkdorp residents in May 1940, 175 were killed in concentration camps in the east.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Zionist youth building a school and foundry while learning construction techniques, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Ernst Kaufmann, center, and unidentified Zionist youth, wearing clogs while learning construction techniques in a quarry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Vishniac’s Werkdorp images did not include any caption information on the few existing prints of the work, and were thus difficult to identify. A small, 2¼-inch-square contact print of three young men wearing wooden clogs provided a vital clue that facilitated the attribution of this larger body of Werkdorp material, with the assistance of curators at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. This is the only known example of a professional photographer documenting this Dutch Zionist agrarian training camp.

Ernst Kaufmann was born in Krefeld, Germany, in 1911. He was arrested in June 1941 and killed in August of that year in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Willy Lefkowitz and Martin Grünpeter constructing a foundry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]' 1939 (printed 2012)

 

Roman Vishniac
[Willy Lefkowitz and Martin Grünpeter constructing a foundry, Werkdorp Nieuwesluis, Wieringermeer, The Netherlands]
1939 (printed 2012)
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Willy Lefkowitz, left, was forcibly removed from the Werkdorp when it was closed by the Nazis in 1941. Lefkowitz, along with the majority of the Werkdorp’s remaining inhabitants, was sent to the Westerbork Transit Camp in northeastern Netherlands, a site where Dutch Jews and Roma were assembled during World War II prior to their deportation to Nazi extermination camps in the east. Of the 107,000 people who passed through Westerbork – among them Anne Frank and her family – only 5,200 survived, including Lefkowitz, who immigrated to the United States. He is believed to have died in Brooklyn in 2001. Martin Grünpeter, right, a German Jew born in 1914, survived World War II and immigrated to Palestine.

 

 

Travel, Refuge, and Internment in France: Paris, Nice, and Marseille, c. 1939

From April to September 1939, Vishniac worked as a freelance photographer based in France while his family struggled to secure exit visas to the U.S. (his children had been sent to safety in Sweden). In the interwar years, France had welcomed Jews from across Europe. By 1939, as Jews fleeing Nazi rule brought the Jewish population in France to over 300,000, an increasingly conservative and nationalist government sought to limit immigration. Detention camps for Jews were established in southern France.

During this time, Vishniac was commissioned by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and the Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT) to photograph and film an ORT vocational training school for Jewish refugees near Marseille. Vishniac’s parents had relocated to Nice in 1937, and while visiting them, he took playful, spontaneous photographs of Riviera beach life, a stark contrast to the intense and machine-focused ORT images that were to be his final photographic assignment for the AJDC until his return to Europe in 1947.

In late 1939, after entrusting a large selection of his negatives to his friend Walter Bierer in Paris, Vishniac was arrested and imprisoned at the Camp du Ruchard internment camp. Held for three months, he wrote desperate letters to family, friends, and the staff of the AJDC, describing the dismal conditions and pleading for assistance. Following his release, secured through the efforts of his wife, Vishniac waited in France while his family worked to obtain exit visas, with assistance from the AJDC. Vishniac reunited with Luta, Wolf, and Mara in Lisbon, and the family sailed for America on the S.S. Siboney in December 1940, arriving in America on New Year’s Day 1941.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Beachgoers in the afternoon, Nice, France]' c. 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Beachgoers in the afternoon, Nice, France]
c. 1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Students learning metalwork techniques, Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT), Marseille]' 1939

 

Roman Vishniac
[Students learning metalwork techniques, Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor (ORT), Marseille]
1939
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

YIVO Exhibitions in New York, January 1944 and January 1945

In 1944 and 1945, as World War II raged in Europe, Vishniac staged two large exhibitions at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, presenting his commissioned work from Eastern Europe to an American audience.

Founded in 1925 as the Yiddish Scientific Institute in Wilno, Poland, YIVO was created to preserve, research, and promote Eastern European Jewish culture and history during a period of rapid modernisation and immigration. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the organisation was reestablished in New York in 1940 as the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, at 55 West 123rd Street, while a group of brave and dedicated archivists in Wilno worked to rescue precious material in defiance of Nazi orders.

Vishniac’s first exhibition at YIVO, Pictures of Jewish Life in Prewar Poland, opened in January 1944 and focused on urban Jewish life, with a large selection of images from Lublin, Warsaw, and Wilno. The second exhibition, Jewish Life in the Carpathians, opened in January 1945, and featured photographs of Jewish farming communities in the Carpathian Mountains, and yeshivas and religious life in Galicia.

The largely Yiddish-speaking audience in New York viewed images of their communities of origin just as those communities were being destroyed, a fate the viewers were virtually powerless to stop. As word of the destruction of Eastern European Jews spread across the Atlantic, Vishniac’s photographs – originally intended to call attention to the privation of living Eastern European Jews – began to be seen as “documents of a lost epoch,” as phrased in the exhibition text at YIVO. These exhibitions signalled the first major shift in the contextualisation of Vishniac’s work: from documentary assignments to bolster relief efforts in the late 1930s to images capturing a world on the brink of annihilation.

The YIVO exhibition boards, labeled in both English and Yiddish utilising an innovative, Bauhaus-inspired typography that originated in interwar Wilno, are now in the collection of ICP and are being displayed as a group for the first time since the original exhibitions.

Today, YIVO continues to advance the study of Eastern European Jewish cultural heritage, and houses an archive of more than 24 million artefacts.

 

“The Face of America at War”: New York, 1941-44

The recent discovery of Vishniac’s unsuccessful 1944 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship sheds new light on a group of more than 200 negatives from the early 1940s that had previously appeared to be unrelated. Printed and exhibited here for the first time, these images show the impact of war rationing on shoppers at the Washington Market, the war relief efforts of New York’s Chinese-American community, women’s entrance into the industrial workforce and the military, the carousing of off-duty soldiers in Central Park, and the impact of war on the lives of New Yorkers. Vishniac’s Guggenheim proposal described a “photographic series portraying the face of America at war,” and this diverse yet cohesive group of images was likely submitted as a sample portfolio with his application, the beginnings of a project never completed for want of funding. His extraordinary, extensive series on Chinatown, reminiscent of his photographs of urban Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, depicts a neighbourhood that is both separated from and integrated into the fabric of the larger city, reflective of Vishniac’s own efforts to navigate yet another new, adopted home as an outsider. The images capture the “objectivity” of “un-posed” journalistic photography, in the words of one recommender, and have a great deal in common with fellow Jewish émigré Robert Frank’s Guggenheim-funded project, The Americans, made a decade later.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Sisters Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht, refugees assisted by the National Refugee Service (NRS) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), shortly after their arrival in the United States, Central Park, New York]' 1941

 

Roman Vishniac
[Sisters Marion, Renate, and Karen Gumprecht, refugees assisted by the National Refugee Service (NRS) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), shortly after their arrival in the United States, Central Park, New York]
1941
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Customers waiting in line at a butcher's counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York]' 1941-44

 

Roman Vishniac
[Customers waiting in line at a butcher’s counter during wartime rationing, Washington Market, New York]
1941-44
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn]' 1949

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boys exercising in the gymnasium of the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn]
1949
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Berlin in Ruins, 1947

In 1947, Vishniac returned to Europe as an American citizen, hired by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) and United Jewish Appeal (UJA) to document relief efforts in Jewish Displaced Persons’ Camps. While on assignment, Vishniac visited Berlin, where he created a bleak and poignant record of the destroyed city that had been his home for twenty years. Focusing on West Berlin, he took intimate photographs of his former Wilmersdorf neighbourhood, now reduced to ruins. The same locations that had thrummed with life in his street photography from the Weimar era are suffused with a haunting silence in his 1947 photographs. One photograph reveals the crumbling and mangled platform that had once been Vishniac’s living room. Other images capture the tentative steps of a city emerging from devastation: children walking hand-in-hand and playing amidst the ruins, flowers growing through the rubble, and hairdressers once more advertising their services. Together, these pictures, which have not been previously printed or exhibited, constitute a unique and highly personal contribution to the documentation of postwar life in Berlin.

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Boy standing on a mountain of rubble, Berlin]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Boy standing on a mountain of rubble, Berlin]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. 'The streets are free of brown batallions!, Berlin' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
The streets are free of brown batallions!, Berlin
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

Refugees and Displaced Persons’ Camps, Germany and France, 1947

In the aftermath of World War II, the Allied nations had initially expected the repatriation of displaced refugees to take six months. Most Jewish refugees, however, no longer had communities or family to which they could return, presenting a unique challenge. Following the 1945 Harrison Report, the Allies considered Jewish survivors a distinct group, to be housed in exclusively Jewish camps and aided in eventual emigration. By mid-1947, 250,000 Jews lived in Displaced Persons’ Camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Officially administered by the United Nations, the primary aid, support, and administration for the DP Camps came from Jewish charitable organisations, most notably the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC). In France, Jewish organisations ran DP Camps privately, housing nearly 40,000 refugees. Despite difficult conditions and profound trauma, Jewish life soon flourished in the camps, as families reunited and formed anew.

Commissioned by the AJDC and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), Vishniac traveled to various DP Camps in 1947, documenting a broad range of relief programs, including food distribution centres, visa application lines, occupational training, and health services. Other images record children’s camps, religious and cultural events, and refugee reunions. Wired back to America, Vishniac’s images helped publicise the plight of homeless and stateless Jewish refugees, raising funds and increasing the pressure on Britain and the U.S. to open their doors to survivors.

Spurred by these cultural and educational programs and the emerging Zionist youth movement, survivors soon rallied against British restrictions on immigration to Palestine. Following the Declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, and the American Displaced Persons Act of 1948, most Jews left DP Camps for Israel or the United States. By 1952, almost all DP Camps had closed.

Maya Benton, Curator at the International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Holocaust survivors and American relief worker, probably Schlachtensee Displaced Persons' Camp, Zehlendorf, Berlin]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Holocaust survivors and American relief worker, probably Schlachtensee Displaced Persons’ Camp, Zehlendorf, Berlin]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

Roman Vishniac. '[Holocaust survivors gathering outside a building where matzoh is being made in preparation for the Passover holiday, Hénonville Displaced Persons' Camp, Picardy, France]' 1947

 

Roman Vishniac
[Holocaust survivors gathering outside a building where matzoh is being made in preparation for the Passover holiday, Hénonville Displaced Persons’ Camp, Picardy, France]
1947
© Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

 

 

 

 

Jewish Historical Museum
Nieuwe Amstelstraat 1
1011 PL Amsterdam

Opening hours:
Daily 11am – 5pm

Jewish Historical Museum website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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