At the Pompidou Center, the fearsome faces of the new objectivity

A river exhibition featuring 900 works and documents! The Center Pompidou did not skimp on introducing the German art movement of New Objectivity (1), little known in France.

In the interdisciplinary tradition of Beauburg, the curators, Angela Lampe and Florian Ebner, of Germanic origin, wanted to show how, in the Weimar Republic, this cold realist current, fascinated by rationalism and industrial modernity, touched all the arts: from painting to architecture and design, passing through “Thematic opera”, literature, cinema and even print with the invention of the typeface Futura, designed by Paul Renner as ‘Accurate, accurate and impersonal’.

Two exhibitions in one

A real gallery within a gallery, nearly 400 prints and documents by photographer August Sander presents his series on different social groups – peasant, craftsman, women, etc. – which adopts this obsession at the time for the sake of functional classification. The result: a very dense commentary, stuffed with archives that are sometimes a bit boring, but also peppered with interesting highlights and surprises.

Framing the road with Sander’s work is a good idea for this exhibition, because if there is work that embraced the era in an almost encyclopedic desire to map German society between the wars, it’s good the photographer. As we wander a bit, in the meandering of this perhaps very intense event, August Sander’s series progression also plays its finely-threaded role to guide the spectator as precisely as possible in its wanderings.

The context of the flourishing of new objectivity is known. It was born in harmony with all the realism that re-emerged in Europe after the First World War, as a return to order, even to the old masters, as a reaction to anarchy. However, in defeated Germany, this movement took on a certain color. The country vacillates between the temptation to dazzle in nightclubs and mass entertainment, the hope for a new society favored by technological progress, with the pursuit of it. To hide his shame and misfortune behind a cold, soft and distant facade”, Remember Angela Lambie.

The fascinating section of the still life reflects this clinical approach to reality, which is contrary to all feelings. Albert Ringer Patzsch’s pictures, as if fascinated, series productions, shoe trees, pots, light bulbs … the latter’s “transparency” also makes it a favorite motif of painters. Another topic that recurs in a strange way: the exotic potted plant, rubber or cactus. In front of someone painted by Franz Xaver Faur, green and lonely in front of a window overlooking a bare tree set with winter, one can guess all the roundabouts of the modern city-dweller, isolated from nature and the seasons …

Reactions to women’s liberation

Same scary feeling in front of the pictures. Faces appear closed, gazes avoidant or impenetrable. The rejection of all psychology in artists leads to a preference for external signs.

After the shock of the violence of war, painters George Gross or Otto Dix brilliantly accused the physical flaws of their models, while succumbing to the theories that were in vogue in physiognomy. “Position, hands and ears instantly enlighten the painter on the soul” From his subject, Otto Dix emphasizes.

The liberation of German women—who gained the right to vote in 1918, worked and assumed homosexuality for some, alongside men and transvestites, in the cabarets of Babylon Berlin—has inspired artists such as Jeanne Mammen or Christian Schad. But it worries others who caricature them or retaliate through fictional representations of women’s murder, such as Georg Wilhelm Pabst in his film Lulu.

Assembly line work, the development of unified cities seems to favor the embodiment of objects. Thus, in front of a large-scale reconstruction of a modern kitchen in Frankfurt, the emphasis was placed in 1927 by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky at a height of 3.5 m2 In order to limit the movements of the housewife, one asks: release or imprisonment? Oscar Nerlinger is concerned, as he lures large numbers of workers to tiny ants on giant metal bridges.

Since 1929, when economic hardship raged, August Sander portrayed those left behind, sick or destitute. Before he records in his last portraits of persecutors and Nazis, the horrific drift of this society into crisis.


The exhibition in three works

^ “Secretary at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne” (1931) by August Sander (detail)

It is very difficult to extract a picture of Sander because his approach is worthy of the series. However, the image of a German minister is a real nugget. He brings together the essential qualities of his work without stunt, against a neutral background, only the model, her hairstyle, her clothes and the situation tell the story of that time. This powerful, choppy image oddly resonates with Otto Dix’s 1926 painting by journalist Sylvia von Harden.

“Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber” (1925) by Otto Dix

Exhibition: At the Pompidou Center, the fearsome faces of a new objectivity

Scandalous character in Berlin nightclubs, Anita Berber, outspoken and free-dancing bisexual, sometimes naked, is represented here with her hair dyed red by her friend Otto Dix, as Eve Thin Cranach. An equally exciting and satisfying character, her bleached face and sunken eye sockets seem to herald a tragic end. Three years later, Anita Berber died of tuberculosis at the age of 29.

“Glasser” (1927), by Hannah Hoch

Exhibition: At the Pompidou Center, the fearsome faces of a new objectivity

Returning to this kind of still life, the artists of New Objectivity look towards the old masters, but with clinical coldness, a clear taste for transparency, and modern subjects, which, like these spectacles, set them apart (Glaze, in German) on a metal tray. Note that in the reflection of the beaker in the foreground, Dadaist Hannah Hoch represented herself painting in front of the studio window. Another nod to Renaissance artists.

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