New Objectivity in Paris: Fascinating and Fascinating Culture

In June 1925, the Kunsthalle Mannheim opened an exhibition whose title called an entire art movement, if not an entire era: “New Objectivity”. However, the subtitle is usually left out. It reads “German Painting Since Expressionism” and describes exactly what the exhibition concluded two decades after the founding of the “Die Brücke” society of artists: the end of Expressionism. After World War I, it experienced a second wave that has now subsided.

In 1925, there was still no clear definition of what the new objectivity of painting should be. From today’s perspective, it is surprising that painters such as Otto Dix and George Grosz, whose images were never “objective”, were also included. He quickly applied the concept of New Objectivity, never precisely defined, to everything imaginable. In 1928, the play “It’s In The Air” appeared on stage, the song title begins with the phrase “There is objectivity in the air.”

Visited era

This melody welcomes the visitor who enters the exhibition at the Center Pompidou in Paris with the somewhat inconclusive title Allemagne / Années 20 / Nouvelle Objectivité / August Sander. A cultural era should spread, but at the same time the work of photographer August Sander should be monophonic.

The exhibition, developed by Angela Lampe and Florian Ebner, both of whom work at the Center Pompidou, relates to the large thematic overviews from the early days of the Centre, including “Paris-Berlin” from 1978, art and culture that defined the first third of the century in France in abundance and completeness never before It has never been seen before.

This time the horizon is much narrower. August Sander’s monumental project, “People of the Twentieth Century”, which has remained unfinished due to the passage of time, is a how-to guide for his photographs collected in 45 thematic “files”, which also cut diagonally through the gallery with its dividing walls. presents.

Self-Portrait of Karl Grossberg (1928).Photo: Grisebach GmbH

In the surrounding cabinets, which are subject to the principle of “flowing space”, artworks, and documents, objects can be seen that can be described as a “new purpose”, but also some that no longer count according to today’s understanding, such as the expressive paintings of co-founder Jung Rheinland” Geert Walheim.

The concept of making Sander the lead character in the new objectivity doesn’t really work. The photographer, born in Westerwald in 1876, was not affiliated with any art movement, although, having spent his working life in Cologne, he was close to the “Progressive” group there in the 1920s.

People as representatives of their situation

His approach is “realistic” in the sense of documentary. As the title of his project says, he was concerned with attracting people of his time, his horn in their professions and activities, not only but also as species whose social status is recorded in their features. In his portraits, the defunct society of the German Empire overlaps with that of the Weimar Republic, as it was at that time. Later, Sander added three volumes that capture the new categories of the Nazi era, right up to the forced laborers of World War II.

Sander’s photographs – according to current knowledge there are 619, which he chose from thousands of images – may not have been seen as widely as they are now in Paris. Where possible, the curators have collected original prints from various important collections. In the thematic sections of the exhibition – whose titles have nothing to do with Sander’s concept – photography plays a major role anyway, precisely because he has taken upon himself the task of depicting reality in a sober way, as in the portraits of Albert Ringer Patzsch’s faces or architectural portraits For Werner Mantz.

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Incidentally, the Bauhaus is mentioned only marginally: instead, the curators took a look around the city of Frankfurt, whose modernity was brought closer to the main capital itself only in two great exhibitions in 2019. “New Frankfurt”, the title of the motorized magazine, present with ” “Frankfurt Kitchen” is complete by Margaret Schutt Lehotzky, who acquired Center Pompidou this year from an apartment in Bornheimer Hang Estate designed by Ernst May, a city planning officer.

“Rationality” and “interest” are two titles that can be summed up in the late Weimar Republic’s culture in its good years between 1925 and 1930. Paintings by Christian Schaad and Karl Grossberg, for example, show the distance one places between oneself and the world as a “cold figure.”

Disappointment after shock

The exhibition turns out to be less oriented towards stylistic features and more oriented towards the “cold figure” as a prototype of a society that, in its disappointment after the painful defeat of the World War, turns off sentimentality and pity and rejects the rational, instead. An illusion-free approach spreads to circumstance. In interpreting New Objectivity as a “theory of cold behaviour,” the curators follow the much-discussed book by literary scholar Helmut Lethin. The work of Auguste Sander cannot be understood in this way.

Finally, the exhibition takes a look at political commitment, mainly using the example of Bert Brecht. On the other hand, there is no connection between modern montage technology and political propaganda, as John Heartfield does on the pages of Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung.

[Paris, Centre Pompidou, bis 5. September. Katalog 49 €]

“AIZ” appears only in the last chapter, as the exhibition deposits new objectivity and confronts it with the social losers at the bottom of the social pyramid. The neo-objective modernism, that is, it was a thing for the wealthy only – an argument raised by leftists at the time that has not become truer to this day.

Be that as it may, the era of the “new” came to an abrupt end in 1933. In Mannheim, in the year of the “seizing of power,” the infamous exhibition “Bolshevik Cultural Portraits” was held that denounced the purchases made by the ousted museum director Hartlaub. Thus, the Paris Exposition takes a somber arc to the beginning of 1925.

Finally, despite increasing repression, August Sander continued to portray both Nazis and the politically persecuted. His son died in prison as a resistance fighter in 1944. He made his own death mask and thus completed his book The People of the Twentieth Century.

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