The 1930s. Setting: Germany

EXHIBITION 11.02 – 17.04.77

Golo Mann praised the exhibition of German painting, sculpture, and decorative arts in the 1930s as a bold undertaking, for this period had previously been taboo. Also new was that the exhibition's scope stretched beyond 1933 – the year Hitler came to power – to demonstrate a continuity in art creation "under the pressure of circumstances", that characterized the entire decade.

The catalogue's thematic introduction outlines the setting of Germany in the context of the massive economic crisis and the political upheaval that accompanied the opening of the "House of German Art" in 1937 and the simultaneous defamation of modernism as "degenerate art". The manifestations of art take place in the tense relationships between different styles such as Expressionism, Verisimo, Surrealism, and Realism; or the functionalism propagated by the Bauhaus in the design of industrial products. The exhibition is intended as a factual survey of the decade with the aim "to correct conventional thought and, at the same time to explore the criteria shared by the different movements of the time."

"Post-Expressionism" and the survival of expressive movements in the 1930s was explored by Paul Vogt, director of Essen's Folkwang Museum, one of four museums participating in the exhibition. He outlined the diverse image of a predominately object-related but abstract painting style that forced many artists into internal or external exile. The movement was supported by the German late Expressionists Emil Nolde, Christian Rohlfs, Oskar Kokoschka, and others; as well as by members of the former artists' groups Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, the representatives of Verisimo (Otto Dix, George Grosz) and loners like Max Beckmann and Karl Hofer. The movement also included artists such as Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Hans Hartung, and Julius Bissier; in addition to Werner Gilles and Hans Purrmann, all of whom proved that the interventions of the National Socialist cultural policy "were unable to interrupt the course of history."

In his essay, Günter Aust, director of the Von-der-Heydt-Museum in Wuppertal, examines the ratio of "traditionalism and triviality" in art. In the continuation of the New Objectivity and Bauhaus style of the 1920s, a painting style evolved in the 1930s that was bound to concrete phenomena (Christian Schad, Georg Scholz, Anton Räderscheidt). In many cases, it has characteristics of German Romantic painting, as evident in the works of Josef Scharl, Conrad Felixmüller, and Otto Dix, which often embody critical statements. The Neo-Romantic images of Georg Schrimpf and Franz Lenk escape the reality of life and verge on low art. Under Hitler the style received official approval because of its suitability for communicating Nazi ideology. With their naturalism, the idealistic farmer pictures of Oskar Martin-Amorbach, Sepp Hilz, and Paul Mathias Padua – or the front-line soldiers of Fritz Erler and nudes by Adolf Ziegler – pay homage to a "mindfulness of conventional feelings" and dominated the exhibitions at the House of German Art.

Dieter Honisch, director of the National Gallery in Berlin, dedicates his catalogue essay to the art of Dada and the Bauhaus, movements that were suppressed during the Third Reich. Nevertheless, avant-garde developments continued: Theo van Doesburg founded Concrete Art and, even after the Bauhaus's closure his design principles in architecture, environmental design, and teaching spread (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Schlemmer, Willi Baumeister, Fritz Winter).

Erika Gysling-Billeter, the fourth curator and deputy director of the Kunsthaus Zurich, outlines the situation of applied art under the slogan "Objectivity despite dictatorship". Additional catalogue contributions deal with sculpture (Günter Aust), factory exhibitions (Otto Andreas Schreiber), and the design and construction (Peter Pfankuch) of the 1930s.

Exhibition in collaboration with the Museum Folkwang Essen and the Kunsthaus Zurich.

The catalogue in DIN A5 format contains 253 pages. The cover with the title "Die Dreissiger Jahre" ("The 1930s") is typographically designed in white, black, and red. The text section contains a foreword by Golo Mann, essays by the curators, the catalogue of 301 works arranged by style or genre, and the list of participating artists. It is illustrated with 19 color and numerous black-and-white illustrations. The Munich edition contains an eight-page supplement called Documentary Review of the Munich Scene.

Otto Dix, Flanders, 1934-36, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie © bpk Bildagentur, photo Jörg P. Anders
Otto Dix, Flanders, 1934-36, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie © bpk Bildagentur, photo Jörg P. Anders
Max Pechstein, Rising Sun, 1933, Saarland Museum, Saarbrücken © bpk Bildagentur, photo Hermann Buresch
Max Pechstein, Rising Sun, 1933, Saarland Museum, Saarbrücken © bpk Bildagentur, photo Hermann Buresch
Adolf Wissel, Farming Family from Kalenberg, 1939, detail, property of the Federal Republic of Germany © Bridgeman Images
Adolf Wissel, Farming Family from Kalenberg, 1939, detail, property of the Federal Republic of Germany © Bridgeman Images

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