At the Center Pompidou, an exhibition immerses us in 1920s Germany

From Otto Dix to Jeanne Mammen and about twenty female artists, from Christian Schad to Alfred Döblin, Fritz Lang or Bertolt Brecht, 900 works and documents are exhibited, all testifying to this movement called “New Objectivity” (Neue Sachlichkeit), which , distant, stark gaze devoid of any subjectivity on reality,” explains AFP Florian Ebner, curator of the exhibition with Angela Lampe.

These works, presented in thematic sections, “dialogue with the work of a monument of German photography, August Sander”, author of a normative classification of society, adds the curator. “The new business is becoming a general slogan of the Zeitgeist (the spirit of the times) based on rationality, standardization and utility. It reaches all sectors of society, divided and polarized,” he specifies. After the Great War (1914-1918) “values ​​collapsed, the elites of the German Empire failed and the young Weimar Republic tried to survive by turning away from all false subjectivity,” adds this specialist.

The “cold persona” displays a mask of coldness and indifference.

In particular, the exhibition shows how this new conception of art, while aiming to democratize culture, seeks to modify or improve man through technology. In 1920s Germany, they learned to read new images (children’s books, posters, new typography, etc.) and were “trained” using new media techniques (posters, advertisements, photomontages, photographs, exhibition, radio, cinema. . ..) and to a theater or current operas (Piscator, Brecht). , of all emotion, of all subjectivity”, confirms Angela Lampe for whom the exhibition “reflects our time, fascinating and disturbing”. This translates into geometric and stylized shapes, bodies and abstract faces in painting, as well as in urban planning or the design, as evidenced by the plans and models of the new post-war residential areas built in modular prefabricated form in Frankfurt.

If the artists are interested in the genre of still life, they depict cacti and rubber trees, which were very popular in Germany in the 1920s. This ‘reified’ nature is part of a fascination for the world of serially produced objects. The person himself is portrayed as a ‘social type’, by his profession or his status. The “cold persona” then denotes a social type who tries to escape the feeling of humiliation by displaying a mask of coldness and indifference.

Sparkling industrial sites

In the world of work and design, rationalization is reflected in techniques imported from the United States (Taylorism), which fascinate Germany and whose huge capital invested in its post-war economy will allow for a “relative stabilization” after an economic crisis and spectacular inflation , according to Mrs Lampe. Albert Renger-Patzsch’s photographs and Carl Grossberg’s paintings show sparkling industrial sites and testify to this fascination with industrial mass production. A fitted kitchen, which in every way is reminiscent of today’s kitchens, is presented life-size and introduces the visitor to the daily life of a modern German woman who is emancipating herself. As today, the role of women, gender issues, old age or sexual violence and murder are stirring up society. “Exuberance and extravagance are based on a breeding ground for social misery”, underlines Mrs. Lampe, who recalls a number of paintings on display, including that of Otto Dix and especially the red portrait of the dancer Anita Berber and her preparatory drawings after the “Triptych of the Big city”.

The exhibition concludes with the death mask of August Sander’s son, executed by the Nazis, and a film announcing the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition. As a counterpoint to the exhibition, the Museum of Modern Art offers a musical, choreographic, theatrical and cinematographic program entitled “Berlin, our 20s”, which questions the problems of society in today’s German capital.

Germany / 1920 / New Objectivity / August Sander from 11 May to 5 September 2022 at the Center Pompidou in Paris.

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