September 29, 1998
September 15, 1998
A Laboratory of Modernity: Image and Society in the Weimar Republic
Exhibition explores the visual culture of Germany during the Weimar period.
This is a special exhibition, organized to accompany Professor Eric Rentschler's fall course at Harvard in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures Weimar Cinema: The Laboratory of Modernity, explores aspects of the dynamic, avant-garde visual culture of Germany between the two world wars, including many direct and indirect references to film.
Seven extraordinary vintage photographs by László Moholy-Nagy, lent by Robert and Gayle Greenhill of New York City, will anchor the exhibition, which will also include works by artists such as Hannah Höch, Kurt Schwitters, Otto Dix, George Grosz, August Sander, John Heartfield, Josef Albers, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Herbert Bayer, and others.
A Laboratory of Modernity has been selected by Tawney Becker, curatorial assistant of the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and Graham Bader, graduate student in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard.
Although the short-lived and turbulent Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was a period at times troubled by political and economic instability, ultimately succumbing to the Nazi rise to power in Germany, new media and technologies emerged, fueling the vibrant cultural scene, particularly in the cities. The fall of the imperial regime and its institutions at the end of World War I infused the arts with new vitality. The founding of the Bauhaus, a progressive school for art, architecture, and design, in 1919 heralded a new era for art education, production, and industrial design. Modernism took hold, and avant-garde culture flourished even as the democracy and the economy were weak. It was a time of conflicts and contrasts: new artistic movements and trends struggled with broadening political and social conservatism. The 1920s saw the efflorescence of the photo-illustrated press, and the freshness of the new media-photojournalism, documentary film, broadcasting, and sound recording-in works from this period are felt to this day.
A Laboratory of Modernity is structured around three key themes that investigate use of materials and technique as well as content. The first section Montage: Abstraction and Politics features artistic explorations of the montage technique in collage, prints, and photographs. The flood of technologically recorded reality in both image and sound made suddenly available to the public triggered a splintering of vision seen in the various types of montage witnessed in literature and theater as well as the visual arts. Moholy's manipulation of light in his photograms and dadaist collages by Hannah Höch and Kurt Schwitters evoke the excitement of early experimentation, opening a path for later political application in Heartfield's scathing photomontages for the Berlin-based Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (workers' illustrated paper) and Lissitzky's dynamic use of the technique in his Catalogue for the Soviet Pavilion for the International Press Exhibition Cologne 1928.
The Modern Subject takes various forms in the second grouping, which is divided into sections focused on figures and types, artist portraits, and the mannequin or doll-like figure. Here exploration of the figure reveals the artists' varied approaches to process and subject-whether viewed through the sober lens of the "New Objectivity" (Neue Sachlichkeit) in realistic portraits by Rudolf Schlichter or Karl Hubbuch, in Otto Dix's intense self-portrait, or in the satirical caricature of Hitler as a barbarian by George Grosz. Beyond these prints and drawings, the photography in this section-penetrating documentary photographs of the German people as catalogued by August Sander and Erna Lendvai-Dircksen, the inspired manipulation of the image by Herbert Bayer and Moholy-Nagy, the unusual viewpoint in Werner Feist's Head (1929), and Joseph Albers' and Lyonel Feininger's investigations of the mannequin-exemplify the new range of approaches to the figure that the camera made possible.
The Weimar period is popularly identified with 1920s Berlin, and it was in the city where culture boomed. Artistic incentive to experiment and explore also drives the Urban Visions presented in the third group of the exhibition. Moholy-Nagy was one of the key members of the Bauhaus faculty and proponent of "productive creation," not reproduction; his ground-breaking Bauhaus Book No. 8: Painting, Photography, Film (1925) in which Paul Citroen's photomontage Metropolis I (1923) is reproduced, is included in the exhibition. Experiments with distorting and often dizzying angles and abstraction are captured in architectural views by Moholy-Nagy and his wife Lucia Schulz Moholy as well as in photographs by Albert Renger-Patzsch and a student of the Bauhaus, Iwao Yamawaki. Grosz's socio-critical street scenes reflect his sharp political views whereas Herbert Bayer's mock-ups for a movie house and a multi-media building still carry the freshness of ideas of the brainstorming architect-designer.
A Laboratory of Modernity will provide the public with a first glimpse at several recent acquisitions by the Busch-Reisinger and the Fogg, including exciting photography from this period as well as a few rarely seen examples of work by women photographers. The exhibition is supported with funds from the John M. Rosenfield Teaching Exhibition Fund.
Gallery talks at Busch-Reisinger Museum
November 7-8, with Christine Mehring, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History of Art & Architecture.
November 28-29, with Graham Bader, graduate student, Department of History of Art & Architecture.
December 5, with Sarah Miller, Werner and Maren Otto Curatorial Intern, Busch-Reisinger Museum
December 20, January 9, with Tawney Becker, curatorial assistant, Busch-Reisinger Museum.
Film Series - Weimar Cinema
September 22 through December 15, 1998
Harvard Film Archive, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), directed by Robert Wiene
Destiny (1920), directed by Fritz Lang
Nosferatu (1922), directed by F.W. Murnau
The Last Laugh (1924), directed by F.W. Murnau
The Joyless Street (1925), directed by G.W. Pabst
Secrets of a Soul (1926), directed by G.W. Pabst
Metropolis (1927), directed by Fritz Lang
Berlin, Symphony of a Big City (1927), directed by Walter Ruttman
The White Hell of Pitz Palü (1929), directed by A. Franck and G.W. Pabst
M (1931), directed by Fritz Lang
The Blue Angel (1930), directed by Joseph von Sternberg
Mädchen in Uniform (1931), directed by Leontine Sagan
The Blue Light (1932), directed by Leni Riefenstahl
HARVARD ART MUSEUMS
Busch-Reisinger Museum from October 31, 1998 through January 10, 1999