Weimar Republic

An exhibition at Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle explores the unique cultural explosion and artistic revolution of Germany’s interwar period…


Dodo, Box Logic (1929) (c) Krümmer Fine Art

Dodo, Box Logic (1929)
(c) Krümmer Fine Art

What do I expect for art in the new people’s state? Nothing and everything: Freedom!” wrote Max Liebermann in December 1918. The years between the end of World War I and Hitler’s ascension to power witnessed an unprecedented cultural explosion that embraced the whole of Europe but was, above all, centered in Germany. Born of revolutionary activity in the wake of defeat, the Weimar Republic stimulated artists whose styles ranged from realism, New Objectivity and impressionism to expressionism and abstractionism, with their works depicting turmoil and fragmentation.
Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle, is devoting a major thematic exhibition to the period between 1918 and 1933. Its director Philipp Demandt comments: “This fall, the Schirn is presenting a counterbalance to the exhibitions that have already been shown on many occasions on the Roaring Twenties. It takes a look at the unvarnished facts of life during the Weimar Republic. Some 200 works by 62 artists mercilessly hold a mirror to the society of the time. We see an era that clung to democracy by the skin of its teeth and in some respects is closer to us than we would like to believe.”
Opening on October 27, the exhibition brings together paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures by familiar and lesser known artists. Their direct, ironic, angry, accusatory, and often even prophetic works demonstrate the struggle for democracy and paint a picture of a society in the midst of crisis and transition.
They captured the stories of their contemporaries with an individual signature: the processing of World War I with depictions of maimed soldiers and “war profiteers,” public figures, the big city with its entertainment industry and increasing prostitution, the political unrest and economic chasms, as well as the role model of the New Woman and the public debates regarding homosexuality and abortion.

Flash points retain validity

“Splendor and Misery” traces both the rise of the artistic culture that bloomed ever so briefly in the 1920s and the advent of a new sobriety. The glittering parties came to an end with the beginning of the Great Depression in October 1929, when poverty and despair gripped the nation, with the state being torn between the barbarism of the right and the irresponsibility of the left.
The paintings of Otto Dix (1891−1969) still shape the picture we have of the period between the two World Wars. Less popular is the oeuvre of artist Jeanne Mammen (1890–1976), who nonetheless gained a reputation beyond Berlin as a chronicler of life in the city during the 1920s. “Box Logic” by her friend Dodo aka Dorte Clara Burgner née Wolff (1907–1998) arouses ones curiosity to learn more about this little-known Berlin born Jewish artist, who fled the Nazis in 1936 and settled in Britain. From 1927 to 1933, she had provided illustrations for some of Weimar Germany’s most progressive magazines. Forgotten for decades, it was only a few years ago that her life
and work were rediscovered and reevaluated.
Together with historical photographs, films, newspapers and posters, the Schirn is dedicated to present an impressive panorama of the art of the Weimar Republic. “It is essential that the inner experience gains image,” painter and graphic artist Lea Grundig (1906–1977) once said. The images on show are as melodious and haunting as the era they chronicle. The focus of the exhibition lies on the unease of that particular era, which was reflected not only in the broad stylistic range of the age, but also in the topics and content.
Arranged in thematic groups, it assembles scenes that have hitherto frequently been regarded separately. The various flash points retain their validity to this day. This attests to Peter Gay, who in his book Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider concluded: “Despite the ephemeral nature of the Weimar democracy, the influence of its culture was profound and far-reaching, ushering in a modern sensibility in the arts.” One-hundred years after its advent, the artistic revolution of the Weimar Republic has lost nothing of its relevance and potential for discussion.■

On show from October 27, 2017 until February 25, 2018 

Photo Credit: Krümmer Fine Art

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