“New Objectivity” art originated from the ruins of Europe

In the early 1920s, the issue of the future of art kept many artists busy in Germany. No wonder, the tangible experience of the front, during World War I, and the painful defeat limited the utopian generation’s utopias and its apocalyptic and psychological art. After the disappearance of idealistic illusions, especially with regard to a conflict that some regarded as a heroic epic, German artists turned their eyes towards reality and adopted a more neutral and less expressive figurative style, which after greater objectivity tends.

In their search for a name appropriate to this return to photorealism, some critics described this artistic current as “neo-naturalism” and others as “post-expressionism” or “magical realism”, before art historian Gustav Hartlaub called it “objectivity”. called. “The new” which soon became a popular cultural slogan and the most accurate definition to describe the spirit of the time during the “Weimar Republic”. A trend that was especially distinguished in its contact with various artistic fields (painting, engineering, design, music, poetry, theater …), and its faces sought to transcend the elitist and individualistic concept of art in the direction of ‘ a popular and collective art culture.

Unique scenography

To delve into the different aspects of “New Objectivity” and its achievements, we invite you to the great exhibition currently organized by the Paris “Pompidou Center”, on the occasion of the centenary of its origin. The exhibition adopts a unique scenography that enables a multidisciplinary reading of this glorious movement through some 900 works of art and documents.

In the first hall of the exhibition we see how this movement replaced the glorification of the individual who distinguished expressive aesthetics with a stereotypical example, and went on to abolish singularity in favor of the refuge in models, stylized types and simple forms which is reproduced in the form. of chains. In this context, George Gross and Anton Radershait painted simplified human faces, without expressions, within an empty and impersonal urban setting, while the painters of the “Progressive” group drew their attention to the social affiliation of the characters painted, according to a set of easily recognizable laws and symbols. The purpose of this refuge for simplification is to awaken the proletariat to the reality of its oppression.

At the engineering level, the unprecedented shortage of housing after the war led to the construction of large apartment blocks of simple and identical shapes, designed from modular and prefabricated elements. Soon this trend spread to the decoration and interior design of houses, and it was the decor with a functional character and tubular steel furniture with clear shapes, which can be easily manufactured on an industrial scale.

assembly technique

In the second hall we see how the artists of “New Objectivity” regained the montage technique that the Dadaists used to create funny and Western works of art loaded with political discourse, in order to employ it in the analysis of society through various media. Walter Rottmann’s films, for example, are a montage of dissonant images and sounds shot directly on the streets of major German cities or in the workplace, depicting a typical day or monotonous weekend in Berlin. And Alfred Döbelin’s novel “Alexander Square in Berlin” (1929) whose text consists of a tangled mixture of hybrid elements (logos, songs, propaganda posters, articles …) that sum up the discourse of that era.

In the field of portraits, the practice of montage has the combination within a single painting, several aspects of one person, within an analytical pursuit (Karl Hobosch), or several people belonging to different social groups (Christian Schad), or diverse models made possible. which reflects a political vision of the city as a socially heterogeneous space The bourgeoisie is next to the needy (Otto Dix).

The third hall of the exhibition is dedicated to what is known as the “cold figure” that emerged in Germany during the 1920s, a new social group that sought to alleviate the humiliation left by Germany’s defeat. escape by appearing with a cold and indifferent face. A behavior that radically changed the practice of portrait art into painting and photography. Where in the past it was obsessed with capturing the psychology of the person portrayed or photographed, portrait art is now focused on the characteristics of its outward appearance, as in the photographs of August Sander present in all the exhibition halls. Images of cold characters, without any emotion, harmonize in their loneliness and absent-minded gaze with their empty background, hiding their feelings behind an illegible appearance.

theater and music

The fourth hall examines the concept of “utilization”, which is linked to “new objectivity” and has contributed to the emergence of theater, music and literary works of an educational nature, which are supposed to be beneficial to society. to be. Works rooted in their time and easy to understand, such as the texts of the novelist Egon Kish in a style consisting of simple and concise sentences, in which the narration of events promotes the exploration of feelings; Or the poet Eric Kastner’s prose texts without any metaphysical orientation or vagueness, or Kurt Tokolsky’s political poems aimed at the proletariat and away from the concerns of art proponents for the sake of art.

In music, new genres imported from America appeared, such as jazz, which inspired the musicians Ernst Kreneck, Kurt Weil and Paul Hindemith, a new genre of music, “contemporary opera,” obsessed with its time and based in its decor on modern technologies. A genre that abandoned the romantic tradition and drew its references from popular culture. In theater, Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Pescatore performed epic plays that denied any lyricism and whose production techniques allowed the viewer to analyze their stories and capture their political messages.

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In the fifth hall we see how the painters of “New Objectivity” raised the issue of the emancipation of German women in the twenties and their entry into the labor market, by painting them with the masculine appearance they adopted to integrate them. This illustrates the violent crimes of which women were victims at the time due to the confusion of their appearance.

In the last hall of the exhibition, we discover how some artists of “neo-objectivity” want to expose the negative side of progressive capitalism, urging them to focus their attention on the marginalized who were excluded or inferior to technical progress. In this context, Karl Volker and Oscar Nerlinger represent portraits of crowds of workers within the oppressive environment of industrial centers, and Hans Baluschek, Hans Grundig, August Sander and Alice Lex represent the wretched, unemployed and beggars living on the outskirts of big cities, far from their lively streets and leisure facilities.

And because Europe is once again witnessing a dangerous growth of populist movements and a sharp social divide as a result of the chronic economic crisis, the organizers of the exhibition did not miss the opportunity to reflect on the situation of Germany in the 1920s. not to compare. of the last century and the current situation of the “old continent”.

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