EXHIBITION DIGITORIAL: ART FOR NO ONE. 1933-1945

Intro

ART FOR NO ONE
1933–1945
4 MARCH – 6 JUNE 2022

Jeanne Mammen, Dying Warrior (Young Soldier in the Front Fire), ca. 1943

Election year 1932. In April, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) obtains a majority in the state parliament in the Free State of Anhalt with more than forty percent of the ballots cast. The first extensive solo exhibition of the artist Hannah Höch in Germany is planned to open in May at the Bauhaus School of Architecture, Design and Art in Dessau, the state capital at the time. Just before the opening, the newly elected political leadership prohibits the exhibition project from taking place. The financial subsidies are withdrawn and the Bauhaus, whose artistic orientation does not fit within the National Socialist ideology, is dissolved a few months later.

With the ascendency of the National Socialists begins a time of violence and terror, despair and hopelessness—for those who do not join in the, at first, majority support for National Socialist regime. Public life, politics, media, and the fine arts are subjected to an ideology in line with the National Socialist regime. Many artists living in Germany flee into exile, concerned for their own lives, and in order to retain the freedom to choose how they express themselves artistically. Others do not leave Germany and also create very expressive works out of the public eye and under the radar of the National Socialists. The artists address the fears and the misery of the time, their isolation, and the impending threat of war, as well as its grim consequences. Besides reactions to day-to-day political events, their works show an intensive examination of experimental photography, photomontage, and current tendencies of abstract painting.

WHAT IS A DICTATORSHIP?

The term “dictatorship” denotes the unrestricted rule of a person, group, or party in a country. The National Socialist regime in Germany between 1933 and 1945 was a totalitarian dictatorship. In totalitarian dictatorships, all political, social, and government questions are subordinated unconditionally to a programmatic ideology. Diversity in public life, freedom of the press and mass media, and the free development of the arts and oppositional movements were eliminated in favor of the absoluteness of the dictator. The aim was to completely control the society and reshape it according to the official worldview. Intimidation, persecution, and the use of terrorist measures assisted in suppressing the individual and to already stopping any nascent expressions of resistance.

THE POTENTIAL OF ART AT THE ZERO POINT

The scene rendered in reddish brown shows a group of gaunt figures striding forward with their arms raised. They are partially concealed by a face with a pensive, downward-looking gaze. Starting in the early 1930s, Hannah Höch occupied herself with the threat posed by the National Socialists and war. In the work "Accusation", she does not reproduce any concrete event, but instead puts the focus on the human suffering caused by war.

Hannah Höch, Accusation, ca. 1943

Hannah Höch is one of fourteen artists presented in the exhibition ART FOR NO ONE. 1933–1945. What they all have in common is that they did not emigrate after 1933, but instead stayed in Germany without adapting to the official art market controlled by the National Socialist regime. The often inconsistent biographies of these individuals show the different strategies and scopes of action that the artists of this time made use of: reactions to the National Socialist art policy included referring back to their own oeuvre, creating works despite a scarcity of materials, an occupation with existential topics, or adapting the contents of their works. The exhibition examines the various forms of expression that existed alongside National Socialist art and deals with the complex topics of “ostracism” and “inner emigration” based on selected artistic positions.

FROM THE UNDERGROUND

FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Hans Grundig, Clash of the Bears and Wolves, 1938

Particularly artists who were persecuted due to their origin or political position emigrated in order to flee the National Socialist regime. But the prospect of exile was connected with fears about being able to secure a livelihood. Many artists whose lives were not acutely threatened thus chose to remain in the German Reich. They frequently withdrew from public life, but this did not mean that they had no interest in the political events and ceased to react to them.

Willi Baumeister was dismissed from his teaching position at the Frankfurt School of Applied Arts (today the Städelschule) in March 1933. He earned a living with commissions for commercial graphic art and, thanks to his good contacts, was able to exhibit abroad until the beginning of the war. In 1937, 125 of his works were confiscated from public collections. Five of them were publically denounced in the exhibition "Entartete Kunst" ("Degenerate Art") in Munich. Even though the artist increasingly withdrew into private life, he observed and commented on the developments in the National Socialist art policy. This also included current events, such as the "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung" ("Great German Art Exhibition"), which opened in Munich in 1937, one day before the exhibition "Entartete Kunst" was opened.

The nude and genre pictures, still lifes, landscapes, mythological scenes, and pictures of workers and industry presented at the "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung" were declared to be the highest expression of German art. Any allusion to avant-garde art movements was consistently rejected. Willi Baumeister worked ironically on a series of postcards with reproductions of Adolf Ziegler’s paintings that he purchased at the "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung". These postcards, which the artist sent to his friends, show his reaction to pictures that embodied the aesthetics and ideology of National Socialism.

  • Willi Baumeister, Man with Goatee, ca. 1941
  • Willi Baumeister, Man with Goatee, 1941
  • Willi Baumeister, Man with Goatee II, 1941

“It’s very quiet in the studio. At the same time, it’s not easy to endure the depression of this time.”

Willi Baumeister, 1941

The Dresden-based artist Lea Grundig joined the Communist Party of Germany in the mid-1920s. She came from a Jewish merchant family, and—as a communist and a Jew—was monitored in the National Socialist state and persecuted by the authorities. Grundig was detained and interrogated by the Gestapo several times. The artist processed her view of the sociopolitical developments as well as her private experiences in a series of sequences of etchings produced between 1933 and 1937.

In her works, Grundig recorded her fears, experiences, and her forebodings of an escalation of violence. The work "Whispering" comes from the twenty-part cycle "Under the Swastika", in which Grundig examined the ascent of the National Socialists, the resulting changes in day-to-day life, persecution, isolation, imprisonment, and grief.

Lea Grundig, Under the Swastika, plate 7: Whispering, 1935

“Being able to work, putting the dreadful, the oppressive into a form, expressing it and thus becoming freer—that was our desire, our day-to-day struggle to assert our everyday self.”

Lea Grundig, 1958

Werner Heldt produced the drawing "Parade of the Zeroes" on Mallorca, where he lived in exile from 1933 to 1936. But the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War forced him to return to Germany. The artist wrote the essay "Einige Beobachtungen über die Masse" ("Various Observations on the Masses"), in which he deals with the dehumanization of the individual in the masses, in 1935. He also examined this topic in drawings and showed the threat posed by the orderly marches of the National Socialists in his home city of Berlin.

The composition is dominated by zeroes, which Heldt formed into an endless loop. These countless zeroes become the anonymous mass of followers. They are only interspersed with individual banners with no content. These banners as well as the use of zero as a number without a value of its own refer to the de-individualization of the masses. Façades of buildings with black, empty windows delimit the composition in the background.

They are divided in the middle by a street, in which Heldt continued to draw the gathering of people. The view of this scene takes place from a spatial distance, seemingly through a window. In this way, Heldt plays with the concept of “internal” and “external” and poses questions regarding belonging, isolation, and the role of the individual in society.

Werner Heldt, Parade of the Zeroes, 1933/35

Translation of the following audio recording can be found in the SOURCES AND IMAGE CREDITS at the bottom of the web page.

Werner Heldt, "Heimat", 1932

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The documentary filmmaker, artist, and photographer Ella Bergmann-Michel captured the situation during the election campaign of 1932 in Frankfurt on film: the buildings are adorned with flags, and election posters are also a focus. The film "Final Vote (Election Campaign 1932)" records the future regime’s access to day-to-day life, the marked approval of the majority of the population, and the vanishing remnants of resistance. At one demonstration, one can see the antifascist logo by the graphic designer Max Gebhard. From the window of her studio, Bergmann-Michel filmed SA troops marching through the streets.

The Sturmabteilung (SA) was the paramilitary combat organization of the NSDAP, which protected its gatherings from political opponents or prevented opposition events by means of violence. Bergmann-Michel was detained by the police while filming an NSDAP polling station for different scene, but was released a short time later. Having been put under police surveillance, she had to stop working on the film. The artist smuggled the film material to a friend in London and thus saved it from being destroyed by the National Socialists.

Ella Bergmann-Michel, Final Vote (Election Campaign 1932), 1932/33, film clip

REGULATED PRODUCTION OF ART

The central institution for monitoring cultural life in the National Socialist state was the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture, RKK). The RKK opened in 1933 and was part of Joseph Goebbels’s Ministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda). It was divided up into seven lower chambers for the fields of film, radio, literature, art, theater, music, and the press. The Reichskammer der bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of Fine Arts, RdbK) was responsible for monitoring German artists. Membership in the RdbK was legally mandated: only members were permitted to practice their profession publically. This included, for instance, participating in public exhibitions and competitions, making sales through auction houses, and obtaining materials. Presenting so-called “proof of Aryan heritage,” with which the person submitting an application proved that he or she had no “non-Aryan” ancestors for at least the past three generations, was essential for membership in the RdbK. As of 1936, such proof had to be presented not only for the person applying, but also for his or her spouse.

Organigram of the RKK

WITHDRAWAL INTO INNOCUOUSNESS

Many artists chose to remain in the German Reich, but withdrew from public life—and as a result of this, frequently moved to the countryside. Otto Dix moved to Hemmenhofen near Lake Constance in 1936. One year later, 260 of his works were removed from public collections in the course of the action “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) and in part defamed at the exhibition of the same name in Munich. In spite of this discreditation, Dix remained a member of the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste. He exhibited to a modest extent and produced commissioned works.

The censorship by the National Socialists, however, influenced the contents of Dix’s works, since he had been known during the Weimar Republic for his socio-critical pictures. Between 1933 and 1945, landscapes became the dominant motif in his pictures. With this choice of motif, Dix was possibly attempting to avoid an occupational ban. At the same time, the landscape offered him a thematic framework in which he was able to reflect on and question his new life circumstances.

The painting "Gloomy Landscape", which is dominated by a desolate atmosphere, reproduces morbid, terrifying natural elements and dramatic light conditions, and thus conveys unease. However, it does not depict solely a fiction, but instead also shows similarities to the landscape near Lake Constance—Otto Dix’s new home. At the same time, his interest in the expressive-seeming landscape pictures of Albrecht Altdorfer (ca. 1480–1538) as well as the painting of German Romanticism are also reflected in this work.

The romantic concept of the sublime quality of nature was supposed to give rise simultaneously to feelings of beauty and horror, but also of wonder and awe. This idea became significant for the notion of nature of the twentieth century in Western culture.

Otto Dix, Gloomy Landscape, 1940

THE PROBLEM OF “INNER EMIGRATION”

After 1945, the concept of “inner emigration” was used for those artists who had remained in National Socialist Germany, but had increasingly been pushed out of the public eye by the cultural policy. Letters and journal entries from the time frequently describe a feeling of isolation and of standing-outside in connection with the notion of “inner exile.” The concept of “inner emigration” became ethically loaded after 1945 and was linked to a resistant position. In retrospect, it is, however, difficult to determine who counted themselves among the circle of those who went into “inner emigration,” since only very few artists took a clear position during the National Socialist regime. Moreover, the term “inner emigration” generalizes the reality of life of very different artists in National Socialist Germany and sweepingly declares them to be ideologically unassailable.

HUMAN EXISTENCE

HUMAN EXISTENCE

Karl Hofer, Black Moon Night, 1944

Withdrawn and isolated artists who remained in Germany described the human suffering during the National Socialist regime in, in part, bitter words. They occasionally incorporated their own personal life situation in their works, depicted imprisoned, dead, or doubting individuals, and thus convey the claustrophobia and inhumane tension of the era in an impressive way.

Everyone mistrusted everyone and the fear of being discovered hindered interpersonal exchange in many cases. Some friends and family members emigrated abroad or were detained, deported, and murdered. Many artists who remained in Germany withdrew into private life. While artistic work in the public sphere was barely an option or only possible by adhering to contents and formal manifestations that conformed with National Socialism, seclusion enabled artists to address their own feelings and process the horrors of dehumanization in their art.

In Karl Hofer’s "Alarm / Tower Brass Player", a young man standing upright with a trumpet in his left hand and an older man sitting with a book are huddled close together. The young man’s strong, almost consoling grip on the shoulder of his withdrawn companion conveys a feeling of security and assurance despite the menacing, blood red background. Trumpeters or brass players are a recurring motif in Hofer’s work, whereby the artist never shows his figures playing music, but instead always in a moment of observing attentively and pausing anxiously. In his works from the National Socialist period, Hofer rarely commented on concrete events. He instead found a timeless expression, for instance, for despair and persevering together in a still uncertain danger.

Karl Hofer, Alarm / Tower Brass Player, 1935

“Meanwhile, the indiscriminate folly in the field of art continues and tramples everything that crosses its path.”

Karl Hofer, 1934
Hans Uhlmann, Untitled, 1934/35
Hans Uhlmann, Untitled, 1934/35

In October 1933, Hans Uhlmann became a member of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which was banned under the National Socialist regime, and was subsequently detained by the Gestapo and sentenced to one and a half years in prison on the charge of “inciting high treason.” During his imprisonment at the detention center in Berlin-Tegel, Uhlmann created the first designs for metal sculptures, which he then executed in iron rods and zinc sheeting after being released. The structure of his unconventional wire heads calls to mind prison bars. His drawings thus reflect the direct life reality of their author. It is, however, unclear whether the wire mesh is meant to ward off external dangers or is supposed to enclose a threat from inside the sketched heads.

The artist Jeanne Mammen was a successful commercial graphic artist until 1933. After the seizure of power by the National Socialists, she suddenly lost her material livelihood. In the years that followed, she secured her existence provisionally with odd jobs. The magazines and publishing houses that Mammen had worked with were banned or forced to conform to the National Socialist ideology. Jeanne Mammen visited the International Exposition in Paris in 1937. Inspired by the works of Picasso and his writings on art theory, she found her way to a new, cubistic painting style that was clearly inconsistent with the National Socialist feeling for art. Mammen’s work "Dying Warrior" was created after her change in style around 1943.

A young soldier with an ashen face falls down in front of a fragmented, bright red background. The formal execution of the background continues in the figure, and the contrast between the warm red and the cool shades of blue and green alone make it possible to recognize the human body. The sharp points and the contour lines that protrude in black interconnect the design vocabulary with the uncompromising harshness of the motif. Mammen’s nephews died at the front in 1943.

Jeanne Mammen, Dying Warrior (Young Soldier in the Front Fire), ca. 1943

Translation of the following audio recording can be found in the SOURCES AND IMAGE CREDITS at the bottom of the web page.

Jeanne Mammen, “A Brief Report on External Details” (excerpt), 1974

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After 1933, Dix turned away from his well-known grotesque portraits and socio-critical depictions of milieus. Landscapes and allegorical Christian topics enabled him to emphasize his artistic qualities, but could—at first glance—also be regarded as picture contents that conformed to the regime’s ideology. In "The Temptation of Saint Anthony", the devil in the form of a seductive, naked woman has placed his foot, in a seemingly triumphant way, on the saint kneeling on the ground. In the Christian story, Saint Anthony endures the torments and cunning temptations of the devil.

Dix’s rendering of it in the painting can be read as a commentary on the persecution and defamation of his own person by the National Socialist regime. In his strange pictorial world, he succeeded in incorporating Surrealist tendencies that were not consistent with the artistic aesthetic of the National Socialists and went to the limits of what was permitted.

Otto Dix, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1937

THE VIOLENCE OF WAR

THE VIOLENCE OF WAR

Franz Radziwill, Airplanes (Flying Ever Faster), 1938

In the National Socialist period, artists processed their visions of war as well as the enormous suffering of the years of the war and its immediate consequences in their pictures. Their works range between direct depictions of the events of the war and timeless pictures of the painful losses of those who survived.

Franz Radziwill was deployed as a medic in the First World War and ended up in English captivity as a prisoner of war. It was there that he made the decision to become a painter. Radziwill continued his self-training in the circles of contemporary artists near his home city of Bremen. He, however, soon gave up his Expressionist early work in favor of a more realistic visual vocabulary. He became a member of the NSDAP and initially benefitted from support from the National Socialists. It wasn’t until his early works were revealed, that he lost their backing. In the course of the action “Entartete Kunst,” over 200 of Radziwill’s works were confiscated from public collections. He moved back to Dangast by the North Sea. Thanks to his good contacts to local National Socialist authorities, Radziwill was able to continue realizing private and public commissions; a state of affairs that demonstrates the inconsistency of the art policy of this period.

WHAT IS “DEGENERATE” ART?

The National Socialists used the term "entartet" (degenerate) to characterize art that did not comply with its programmatic ideology, for instance, works by Jewish artists, abstract painting, or other avant-garde art movements. The selection criteria were kept intentionally vague, and the attribution was frequently made quite arbitrarily. So-called "degenerate" art was presented in a public exhibition for the first time in 1933. In July 1937, a commission removed hundreds of works from public collections in the course of the action "Entartete Kunst" ("Degenerate Art"). The process was legitimized legally in retrospect. A selection of the works seized was subsequently shown in the exhibition "Entartete Kunst" in Munich and other German and Austrian cities. Simultaneously, Hitler personally opened the "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung" ("Great German Art Exhibition") at the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art) in Munich, which presented artistic works considered suitable in the eyes of the National Socialists.

Franz Radziwill’s "The Steel Helmet in No-Man’s-Land" is based on the artist’s personal experiences in the First World War. From the perspective of a trench, the gaze falls on a helmet with a bullet hole. The pale red stripe in the dark overcast sky is reflected in the steel surface of the helmet. Contemporary reviews praised Radziwill’s work as an allegory for brave soldiering, corresponding to the National Socialist canon of values. At the same time, the motif also promulgates a dark, melancholy atmosphere that seems less than heroic and makes painful memories of those who died in the war the topic.

Franz Radziwill, The Steel Helmet in No-Man’s-Land, 1933

As of 1930, the artist Lea Grundig concentrated on graphic works, for instance, made with crayon, drawing ink, and the linocut technique in black and white. In the spring of 1933, she and her husband, Hans Grundig, acquired their own copperplate printing press, and she dedicated herself henceforth particularly to dry point. Out of the public eye, she created impressive works in which she made the political struggle against the National Socialist dictatorship, but also her very personal fears, (visually) comprehensible in pictures. Her cycle of etchings "War Threatens!" was produced between 1935 and 1937. In the works, which were created still prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Grundig designed visionary scenes of an impending war, from the forebodings of mortal danger to the horrible certainty of it to the hardships of the postwar period.

Lea Grundig, War Threatens!, plate 2: Fear, 1936

In “Fear”, big, dark birds fly menacingly low above a shrouded figure. They signal the impending threat of war, which can be apprehended in the form of the airplanes approaching in the background. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing—in fear, the figure in the center envelops her head protectively while the calamity nears above her.

Lea Grundig, War Threatens!, plate 3: Gas Masks, 1936

In the third plate in her cycle of etchings, Grundig commands: “Buy gas masks!” In her picture, the people huddled close together in fear are exposed defenselessly to the impending disaster. The deadly result of the use of poison gas is visible in the darkness in the bottom left.

Lea Grundig, War Threatens!, plate 4: Hitler Means War, 1936

In “Hitler Means War”, Lea Grundig deals with the oppressive threat of aerial attacks. Airplanes fly in formation over the heads of the defenseless civil population and dispatch their harm to the earth in the shape of rays.

Lea Grundig, War Threatens!, plate 5: Mother, 1936

Two brothers have stabbed each other in the fifth plate in Grundig’s cycle of etchings. As their mother embraces her dying sons, she looks motionlessly at her audience. The artist has incorporated herself in the hopeless scene as the female figure.

Lea Grundig, War Threatens!, plate 6: The Children, 1935

In the plate “The Children”, Lea Grundig captures the human misery resulting from war. Orphaned, the girls and boys depicted walk through a deserted and destroyed war landscape. Individual limbs appear in the opaque fog in the bottom right.

In “Fear”, big, dark birds fly menacingly low above a shrouded figure. They signal the impending threat of war, which can be apprehended in the form of the airplanes approaching in the background. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing—in fear, the figure in the center envelops her head protectively while the calamity nears above her.

“It was necessary to give shape to the insanity that was spreading stupidity and delusion, preaching hate, and preparing for the most atrocious mass murder, as well as all the power and strength that existed despite the Gestapo.”

Lea Grundig, 1958

In the years between 1940 and 1945, while secluded in her small house in the north of Berlin, Hannah Höch painted her so-called "Time of Need" pictures: a group of watercolors and works in oil paint and gouache. In them, she did not focus on concrete events during the National Socialist regime, but instead reflected timelessly on war as a time of need. In 1945, Höch bluntly addresses the consequences of the deadly violence. A pale, slender figure floats motionlessly against a dark background. Höch painted the figures of those left behind in warm, vivid colors. Fury, despair, and profound mourning for the innocent victims of war are conveyed in an impressive way in the reduced image composition of Hannah Höch’s painting.

Hannah Höch, 1945 (The End), 1945

Translation of the following audio recording can be found in the SOURCES AND IMAGE CREDITS at the bottom of the web page.

Ricarda Huch, Early Spring, 1944

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In the National Socialist period, the painter and photographer Edmund Kesting shifted his artistic work mainly to the medium of photography. Kesting earned his living with public commissions as well as advertising photographs or documentation of the Grünes Gewölbe in Dresden. In private, he was fascinated with experimental photography and photomontages. Among his most well known works is the series "Dresden Dance of Death", which was created between 1945 and 1947. It shows Kesting’s home city of Dresden after it was destroyed by Allied aerial attacks in the night from February 13 to 14, 1945.

In "Death over Dresden", a skeleton looks at the rubble of the Church of Our Lady from the balcony of the anatomy hall of the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts. Kesting combined his photograph with an enlarged drawing of the profile of the skeleton’s skull. The manipulated image composition intensifies the dark apocalyptic atmosphere of the postwar photo.

Edmund Kesting, Death over Dresden, from "Dresden Dance of Death", 1945

OUTSIDE THE NORM

OUTSIDE THE NORM

Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Lamenting Women III, 1944

Due to the restrictive National Socialist cultural policy, it was only possible for many artists, such as Ernst Wilhelm Nay or Fritz Winter, to conduct experiments with color and form in secret. Others pushed the limits of what was permitted and looked for content-related pretexts in order to experiment with diverse materials or to plumb the characteristics of various artistic techniques.

Marta Hoepffner is a central representative of experimental photography. She opened the “Werkstätte für künstlerische Fotoaufnahmen” (Workshop for Artistic Photography) in Frankfurt am Main in 1933, and earned her living with advertising photos, works for magazines, and portrait photography. Her regular clients included "Das Illustrierte Blatt" of the "Frankfurter Zeitung", for which Hoepffner designed a total of thirteen photographic short stories and two front covers.

A young woman in pajamas is sitting on a bed in the middle of an alien landscape: This work, which was published in "Das Illustrierte Blatt" in 1936, shows a surreal dream sequence. Using the technique of photomontage, Hoepffner assembled parts of several photographs to create a new overall picture and intentionally selected a Surrealist visual vocabulary, even though it did not comply with the artistic aesthetics of the National Socialists. At the same time, the illustration of a dream provided Hoepffner with a content-related pretext to experiment with surrealistic picture contents as well as the artistic technique of photomontage.

Marta Hoepffner, Dream 4 (The Landing in Dreamland), 1935

Fritz Winter concluded his studies at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1930 and celebrated his first successes in group and solo exhibitions soon afterwards. But his career came to an end for the time being in 1933. Even though he became a member of the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste in 1936, he had barely any opportunities to exhibit or sell his works. His works were removed from public collections in 1937. Winter was called up for military service in 1939 and spent the years that followed almost exclusively at the front. It was there that he produced a series of pencil drawings, which, however, do not provide any insights into his day-to-day life at the front. They instead document Winter’s intensive occupation with nature and with the relationship between light and dark: the artist marveled at the creative power of nature and saw an endless cyclical process in it.

  • Fritz Winter, Frost Flowers, 1942

    The postcard-sized drawing shows a composition in finely nuanced light-dark values. The artist smudged the black color pigment to create transparent mists and transferred forms layered over or under each other with the help of carefully cut templates. The world of forms of dark surfaces, which is illuminated and seems to be animated by the incidence of light, appears as if from a microscopic closeness.

  • Fritz Winter, Metamorphosis, 1944

    While on sick leave in 1944, Winter painted colorful pictures. The artist dedicated himself to reproducing natural phenomena and drew on the formal vocabulary in his war drawings. The dominant form in "Metamorphose", in contrast to the drawing "Eisblumen", is, however, the round and the soft. The painting references life as something perpetually taking form, as something in perpetual constitution. In it, Winter attempted to penetrate the superficial appearance of things in order to make the essence concealed behind it visible.

“Every artistic form must be preceded by a shock.”

Fritz Winter

Willi Baumeister began working with Oskar Schlemmer and Franz Krause in the laboratory of the lacquer manufacturer Kurt Herberts in Wuppertal in 1937. There Baumeister created a series of experimental “lacquer panels,” in which he examined the properties of various painting materials. A series of publications on historical painting techniques, some of which included reproductions of Baumeister’s paintings, were also published under Herberts’s name. In addition to his commercial graphic art, this work also provided the artist with some income and offered him protection from being deployed in the war efforts.

Willi Baumeister, Untitled, 1941

THE SO-CALLED “PAINTING BAN”

After 1945, many artists reported that the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of Fine Arts, RdbK) had issued them a “painting ban.” But this term is misleading, since the bans of the RdbK made reference exclusively to practicing one’s artistic occupation in the public sphere. Participation in public exhibitions, auctions, and competitions, for instance, were thus prohibited. It was nonetheless still possible for artists with good networks to continue selling their art privately. Exclusions from membership in the RdbK occurred much more rarely than has hitherto been assumed, and often took place for different reasons than artistic ones: the person’s political position, for example, membership in another party than the NSDAP, or Jewish ancestry. Artists whose works were removed from public collections and defamed in the exhibition "Entartete Kunst" ("Degenerate Art") were nonetheless often members of the RdbK. Ostracism thus did not automatically indicate an artist’s ethical integrity.

UPHEAVALS AND GAPS

UPHEAVALS AND GAPS

Otto Dix, Sunrise in Randegg, 1935

The exhibition ART FOR NO ONE. 1933–1945 presents fourteen artistic positions that created expressive works under the radar of the National Socialists. While the artists’ decision to remain in the National Socialist state was interpreted in the postwar period as artistic resistance, we today look with skepticism at their often-inconsistent curricula vitae.

Since nearly no one who stayed in Germany between 1933 and 1945 was able to completely escape the National Socialist regime. In retrospect it seems easy to pass moral judgments on the artists in National Socialism. And it is just as simple to repeat the narrative propagated in the postwar period uncritically.

The exhibition instead focuses on a multilayered historical reappraisal. It gives attention to the forms of expression and pictorial worlds that were created outside of the official art doctrine of National Socialism. It thus questions the individual life circumstances of artists during the National Socialist period and opens up complex perspectives for understanding this epoch.

Willi Baumeis­ter
Otto Dix
Hans Grun­dig
Lea Grun­dig
Werner Heldt
Hannah Höch
Marta Hoepffner
Karl Hofer
Edmund Kesting
Jeanne Mammen
Ernst Wilhelm Nay
Franz Radzi­will
Hans Uhlmann
Fritz Winter

OUTRO

INSIDER
TIP

In her drawing "Wolf", Jeanne Mammen depicts the eponymous animal as a wild beast with a cunning grin and tongue hanging out of its mouth in longing. The depiction of aggressive predators might be an allegory for the barbaric National Socialist dictatorship. Mammen executed her drawing in colored pencil on a page of newspaper. An ironic commentary by the artist can perhaps be found in it: in order to finance their war machinery, the National Socialists sold “degenerate” art abroad. Mammen drew her work on the German stock market report.

Jeanne Mammen, Wolf, ca. 1939

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