Forgotten Modernism –Vergessene Moderne

Review of exhibition catalogue: Vergessene Moderne. Kunst in Deutschland zwischen den Weltkriegen, Internationale Tage Ingelheim at Kunstforum Ingelheim until 23 June 2019: 11am – 7pm (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday), 11am – 6pm (Saturday, Sunday, bank holidays). Installation video: https://www.internationale-tage.de/

This year’s Internationale Tage Ingelheim centres around an exhibition entitled Vergessene Moderne. Kunst in Deutschland zwischen den Weltkriegen (Forgotten Modernism. Art in Germany between the World Wars). On display until 23 June 2019 at the Kunstforum Ingelheim at the Altes Rathaus, the exhibition showcases the work of 11 artists, to whom, as the exhibition organisers make clear, insufficient attention has been paid in the post-2nd World War period.

The beautifully produced exhibition catalogue accompanying this show is, for the most part, given over to large-format photographs of the works exhibited. A short biography of each artist is provided along with a paragraph about their work and artistic concerns.

In the brief introduction, the director of the Internationale Tage, Ulrich Luckhardt, for many years curator at the Kunsthalle Hamburg, makes clear that the prime focus of the exhibition is to showcase a much broader range of artistic production from the Weimar period than might otherwise be evident from art historical accounts dating from the mid-20th century onwards. Although it is not the show’s main concern, he fleetingly asks why the work of these progressive sculptors, photographers and painters, many of whom had prominent and successful careers in Germany during the interwar period, were not reclaimed from obscurity in the immediate aftermath of the war. And this at a time when great efforts were being made to reinstate the reputations and exhibiting careers of many other avant-garde artists.

The catalogue opens and closes, respectively, with the work of two photographers who came to define the Weimar age in distinctly different ways. The first, a Polish Jew, Helmar Lerski, emigrated to the USA at the age of 20, returning to Europe in 1915, where he became a leading, innovative photographer in German Expressionist cinema. None of the 10 films he shot for the sculptor and film director, Wilhelm Wauer, survive. He later joined Deutsche Bioscop and then worked on some of the major silent films of the period, including Fritz Lang‘s groundbreaking Metropolis. His use of a system of mirrors, known as the Schüfftan process, by means of which he created distorted backdrops against which actors performed, was a technique he later employed to full advantage in a series of large-format, close-up portraits—around 140 in all—of the same man. Beautifully reproduced in the catalogue, these gorgeous, rakingly lit images show Lerski using his sitter’s face as a canvas, on which he produces landscape-like effects by employing manipulated, mirrored light, yet without any loss of the subject’s gentle dignity. The images in this series, Verwandlungen durch Licht (Transformations by means of Light), shot in Palestine in 1936, are hauntingly reminiscent of painted Renaissance portrayals of the transfiguration of martyred saints, and provide us with some indication of his lost Weimar-period work.

Helmar Lerski_Metamorphose 505
Helmar Lerski, Metamorphose 505, from the series, Verwandlungen durch Licht (Transformations by means of Light), 1935-36, gelatin silver print © Kicken Berlin

The work of the much younger, T. Lux Feininger, painter and photographer, is equally evocative of the era. As the son of the Bauhaus teacher, Lyonel Feininger, T. Lux was brought up in the avant-garde milieu of the Bauhaus, living at both the Weimar and Dessau schools. He enrolled as a student at Dessau in 1926, and was taught by László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, also working for a time in Oskar Schlemmer‘s theatre workshop. His joyful images of the students and masters at work and play evince the same rigorous preoccupation with the interplay of horizontal and vertical axes and texture, as is seen in his photographs of the Modernist architecture of the schools.

T. Lux Feininger, Bauhaus Dessau
T. Lux Feininger, Bauhaus Dessau. Blick vom Atelierhaus (Bauhaus Dessau. View from the studios), gelatin silver print, 1928 © Kicken Berlin

Both Lerski and Feininger left Germany just prior to the start of the Third Reich. Lerski for Palestine, Paris and London, and, following a period of employment as a photojournalist for the famous Berlin agency, Dephot, Feininger, too, departed for Paris. After a brief return to Berlin and Hamburg in 1935/36, Feininger finally emigrated to New York, later teaching painting and drawing at Harvard University and at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. In all the upheavals surrounding the forced closure of the Bauhaus at Dessau in 1932, when the Nazis took over the local council, he would never recover the negatives he had made there. There is little doubt that, being obliged to make a life for themselves elsewhere in the world, the careers of both Feininger and Lerski fell into obscurity in Germany, and the contributions they had made to European photographic modernism were largely passed over after 1945.

Many of the painters and sculptors now bracketed together in Germany under the term Klassische Moderne, for which no satisfactory English translation exists (it broadly refers to the accepted, ‘classic’, Western Modernist canon), found themselves ostracised and traduced as ‘degenerate’. During the Third Reich, they were frequently forbidden from working and exhibiting in Germany and the Nazi-occupied lands. For some this meant a flight into exile abroad, for others some form of inner exile was the only way to survive.

The painter and anthroposophical philosopher, Karl Ballmer, whose paintings and works on paper were described approvingly by the playwright, Samuel Beckett, as ‘metaphysical concrete’, was forbidden in 1936 from working as an artist by the Reichskunstkammer (the Reich Chamber of Art). He had known Rudolf Steiner personally and had been very active in anthroposophical circles. He had exhibited in Hamburg, including at the Secession, and was sponsored by Max Sauerlandt, the director of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, a passionate patron of contemporary art. By 1935, he had encountered great difficulties in exhibiting at Hildebrand Gurlitt‘s gallery, since he was not a member of the Reichskunstkammer, which now turned against him. He managed to flee to Switzerland with his Jewish wife, where he was, nonetheless, unable to find his feet within the art scene there, ultimately giving up his artistic career entirely, in favour of anthroposophical endeavours.

Karl Ballmer, Halbfigur
Karl Ballmer, Halbfigur (Selbstbildnis) (Half-length figure (Self-portrait)), oil on plywood, c. 1932 © Aargauer Kunsthaus Aarau/Karl Ballmer Stiftung

Several of the artists featured in this exhibition were unable to escape Germany and were effectively forced into inner exile by the Third Reich government. Paul Kleinschmidt, whose painterly work focused on vibrant scenes of Weimar Berlin’s cafés, theatres and bars, conveyed using shifting perspectival effects, broad brushstrokes, and a muted palette, exhibited widely, including at Galerie Flechtheim and Galerie Gurlitt, before the Nazis came to power. He enjoyed the support of several wealthy patrons, who facilitated exhibiting opportunities for him in the USA. He had hoped to emigrate to the United States to escape the Third Reich, but this did not prove possible. Decried as degenerate, his work was included in the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich. The following year, he fled before the Gestapo in a cat-and-mouse chase across several countries. He was interned for several months in France, then tried to outrun them by moving from town to town. Eventually they caught up with him and issued him with a Malverbot (a decree forbidding him from making art), forcibly repatriating him to Germany in 1943. In 1945, his home was bombed and the vast majority of his work was destroyed. He died in poverty in 1949.

Kleinschmidt, Drei Frauen an der Kuchenbar
Paul Kleinschmidt, Drei Frauen an der Kuchenbar (Three women at the cake counter), oil on canvas, 1933; private collection

For Jewish artists unable to escape the reach of the Nazi’s Final Solution, their fate was all but sealed. Many were subject to incarceration from an early date, deportation to, and murder in, the death camps, like so many of their co-religionists. Gangolf, a German Jew, had made his name with his nervy, angular woodcuts and lithographs in the avant-garde circles of Berlin. He was supported for many years by the Hamburg-based lawyer and art collector, Gustav Schiefler, thanks to whose incomplete catalogue raisonné of the artist’s works on paper, we now have some insight into his oeuvre. Two of his woodcuts and eight lithographs were offered for sale in portfolio form by the Graphisches Kabinett I. B. Neumann in Berlin, and the famous Malik Verlag also published his Metropolis series in 1923.

Gangolf, Café
Paul Gangolf, Café from the Metropolis portfolio, lithograph, 1922; © Maaß Collection, Berlin

Gangolf found further support from Ernst Rathenau, owner of the Euphorion Verlag, and the Cologne collector, Dr Heinrich Stinnes. He lived and exhibited for a time in Paris, financed by Stinnes, but on the latter’s death in 1931, and despite an attempt to establish himself in London, he returned to Berlin in early 1933. This was terrible timing, and on the Nazi’s accession to power some weeks later, he appears to have been arrested and incarcerated in a concentration camp for a period of eight months, until he was shot at and hospitalised. He was released, but, a year later in August 1936, he was again sent to the camp at Esterwegen and, according to an eyewitness, was shot dead in a forest two days later. Were it not for Schiefler‘s work, we would have little idea of his oeuvre.

Gangolf, Koksende Hure
Paul Gangolf, Koksende Hure (Cocaine whore), lithograph, 1925; © Maaß Collection, Berlin

Exhibiting alongside Ballmer at the Hamburg Secession, the painter, Anita Rée, had also made a career for herself in the city and increasingly internationally. Jewish by birth, but brought up in the Protestant faith, she had started her training at a school for female painters, run by the Impressionist, Arthur Sibelist. She was encouraged by Max Liebermann, and spent time in Paris in the circle around Fernand Léger. It was, however, during a three-year stay on the Amalfi Coast, sponsored by the heiress and patron, Valerie Alport, that she found her own style, a fusion of influences drawn from German Neue Sachlichkeit, Italian Pittura metafisica, and Italian painting of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Anita Rée, Portrait of Hildegard Heise
Anita Rée, Portrait of Hildegard Heise, oil on canvas, 1927 © Hamburger Kunsthalle

Rée‘s formally severe paintings, with their dramatic use of perspectival effects, were very well-received on her return to Hamburg in 1926, where she became a founding member of Ida Dehmel‘s GEDOK, an association of female artists. Her portraits, in particular, were much sought after. Her commission for a triptych for a church in Hamburg in 1932 saw her subject to a great deal of anti-Semitic abuse and her proposed painting was not installed, supposedly on formal grounds. Following other personal set-backs, she made her will, stored her works in the cellars of the Hamburger Kunsthalle and with a frame-maker, and went into inner exile on the island of Sylt. In 1933, the final straw came, when the Reich Propaganda Ministry shut down that year’s exhibition of the Hamburg Secession, and the artists’ association dissolved itself. Some months later, she took her own life. In 1937, many of her works were removed from museums during the National Socialists’ Degenerate Art Action. It is thanks to the heroic efforts of the museum caretaker, Wilhelm Werner, that the works she had left in the museum cellars were hidden and thus survive today.

Anita Rée, Weiße Nussbäume
Anita Rée, Weiße Nussbäume (White walnut trees), oil on canvas, 1922-25 © Hamburger Kunsthalle

The Düsseldorf artist, Otto Pankok’s preferred medium was charcoal, which he employed in virtually all his monochromatic work, generally large-format images produced in thematic cycles. He was one of the co-founders of the Junges Rheinland group of artists and, together with Otto Dix and Max Ernst, was represented in Düsseldorf by the famous art dealer, Johanna Ey. His work, with its politicising themes, brought him into conflict with the Nazi ethos. He insisted, for instance, on portraying with warmth and dignity people from the Roma and Sinti communities, then subject to harassment and persecution by the new regime. Following political denunciation, and the publication by the Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag of his book, Die Passion in 60 Bildern von Otto Pankok in 1936, he was handed a Malverbot. He managed to hide much of his work with friends, but was unable to escape to Switzerland, as planned. He, too, sought refuge in a remote part of the country in 1941 in an attempt to avoid the Gestapo. A large number of Pankok‘s works (56 in all) were also sequestered from museum collections as part of the Degenerate Art Action. After the war, he made his famous image, Von Auschwitz zurück (Back from Auschwitz), a depiction of a female Roma survivor of the death camp.

Pankok_Balo geigt
Otto Pankok, Balo geigt (Balo playing the violin), charcoal, 1933 © Otto Pankok Stiftung

The sculptor, Hermann Blumenthal had demonstrated his talent from an early age. A pupil of Wilhelm Gerstel and Edwin Scharff at the Vereinigte Staatsschulen für Freie und Angewandte Kunst in Berlin, he had exhibited at the Prussian Academy of Arts in 1928, three years before ending his education. He became a member of the Deutscher Künstlerbund and was awarded a number of prestigious prizes, including the opportunity to study for nine months at the Villa Massimo in Rome. During the award ceremony, he was defamed as a Jew on the basis of his surname. Nonetheless, he travelled to Italy to take up the prize, and it was there that he found his own style based on simplified, pre-Classical statuary.

Hermann Blumenthal, Kniender
Hermann Blumenthal, Kniender (Spinne) (Kneeling figure (Spider)), bronze, 1930 © Georg Kolbe Museum/Hermann Blumenthal Estate; photo: Markus Hilbich

Blumenthal was fortunate enough, on his return, to find a studio at the Ateliergemeinschaft on Klosterstraße in Berlin, where he was able to work alongside other independent sculptors, such as Gerhard Marcks, Toni Stadler and Ludwig Kasper, who were all attempting to find a intellectual space set apart from the dominant Nazi view of art. They struggled to make a living, and it, therefore, came as a massive blow when in 1937, Blumenthal had his works removed by the Nazis from the Galerie Buchholz, on the basis that they were ‘degenerate’. He was so upset by this turn of events that he destroyed many of his own early works. After a second stay at Villa Massimo, he was called up to fight in the war. Despite efforts by his friends to have him released from active service, he was killed in Russia in August 1942.

Exiled artists, such as Rudolf Belling, who fled to Turkey and Jussuf Abbo, who sought refuge in London during the Third Reich, often found themselves adrift from the German art scene at the end of the war. Their absence was often barely noted, and they have only recently become the subject of scholarship. The flight abroad was particularly difficult for sculptors; transporting, and finding suitable accommodation for, large or even medium-sized work was often an insurmountable challenge.

Jussuf Abbo, Bust of a black man
Jussuf Abbo, Büste eines schwarzen Mannes (Bust of a black man), painted plaster, 1920s/1939? © Jussuf Abbo Estate

The Palestinian Jewish sculptor, Jussuf Abbo, had been rendered stateless on the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, during his busy exhibiting career in Weimar Berlin, but he had paid little attention to it. Without a passport to his name, however, he had enormous difficulty in attempting to flee the Nazi regime with his young family, until finally Egypt provided him with travel documents, which allowed him to emigrate to Great Britain. It took several years before his sculptural work could be rescued from Germany and shipped to him in the UK. This reduced his exhibiting opportunities radically and he found it almost impossible to find a market for his sculpture, when it did arrive, despite inclusion of his work in exhibitions at the Leicester Galleries and elsewhere.

Abbo, Head of an African
Jussuf Abbo, Kopf eines Afrikaners (Head of an African), charcoal on paper, 1920; private collection Berlin

His sculptural talent had won him a grant to study at the Hochschule für bildende Kunst in Berlin, where he quickly made a name for himself. He enjoyed a close friendship with the poet, Else Lasker-Schüler, giving him an entrée into avant-garde circles, and he was exhibited by leading gallery owners, such as Paul Cassirer, Ferdinand Möller and Alfred Flechtheim. His work, which had been represented in major private and museum collections, was also subject to removal from German museums during the Degenerate Art Action. In exile in the UK, he made a precarious living, at times casting other sculptors’ work, and he and his family were often forced to move lodgings and studios. On one occasion, in desperation, he destroyed many of his works, having no room to accommodate them. He suffered greatly from anxiety and depression, and died after a long illness in London in 1953. As a consequence of all the losses to his work, dating his oeuvre, from the spontaneous early essays in sculpture and swiftly captured drawings to the later, hieratic, formally reduced heads in various materials, will not be easy.

The Russian Jewish sculptor and printmaker, Moissey Kogan, is well represented in this exhibition with important bronze plaquettes from his early career, mid-career drawings, woodcuts and linocuts, as well as a range of sculpture, both free-standing and in relief, spanning his entire production. The works chosen for inclusion in the exhibition thus allow the viewer to trace the development of his innovative use of the Negativschnitt, a primitivising intaglio-cut relief process, whereby he would carve his works in reverse in plaster shells, into which he would press clay or similar materials prior to firing. When making a figure in the round, he would bring two such shells together, leaving a wedge of extraneous material at the join as testament to the facture of the object. He employed this influential technique throughout almost his entire sculpted oeuvre, from the smallest of reliefs to the largest of his free-standing figures.

Kogan started his career in earnest in Munich, although he soon preferred Paris for the artistic and intellectual exchanges available to him within the city’s vibrant avant-garde. It was in Germany (and the Netherlands), however, that his work would be well-received and even best understood amongst internationalist art dealers, collectors and museum directors—precisely because his work centred around the artistic concerns of the émigré school of art known as the École de Paris. He always exhibited, and was represented, internationally, but his career continued to be dependent to a considerable degree on the German art scene. Thanks to his dealers, such as Alfred Flechtheim, and supporters, such as progressive museum directors, Karl Ernst Osthaus (Folkwang Museum Hagen) and Max Sauerlandt (Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg), his work was well-represented in German museums and private collections prior to 1933. It is perhaps for these reasons that he is very often erroneously considered to be a German artist.

This situation would change radically for Kogan as for most other avant-garde artists, when the Nazis came to power. He happened to be in Berlin on the day Hitler was appointed chancellor, and he immediately left for Paris. Much of his work was left to its fate in the hands of his dealers and collectors, many of whom, as Jews, had their stock or collections confiscated by the Nazi state. His oeuvre, and, indeed, his influence on a younger generation of sculptors, would be derided in a number of ‘chamber of horrors’ exhibitions organised by the new regime, culminating in its inclusion in the touring Degenerate Art Exhibition together with the work of many of his progressive peers. It was sequestered from several museums and much was destroyed, and it was also featured, alongside the work of other Jewish painters and sculptors, such as Benno Elkan and Otto Freundlich, in the even more virulent Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) show. Work continues to determine how much of his oeuvre was looted and/or destroyed during the Third Reich. The artist himself was delivered by the Vichy French police into the hands of the Nazi killing machine, and, within just over a week, he was deported to, and murdered at, Auschwitz.

Kogan‘s written estate, including any documentary evidence he might have kept in relation to his work, was apparently destroyed and the contents of his studio dispersed. Some of it fell into the hands of unscrupulous art dealers, with the result that questions remain about the status of parts of his oeuvre. Post-war, particularly in Germany, efforts were made to acquire, and reacquire, indicative work by the artist for museum collections, some of it posthumous and of dubious origin. Nonetheless, no country has yet made it its business to foster concerted research on Kogan‘s oeuvre, its provenance and authenticity.

There are, unfortunately, several errors of fact in Kunstforum Ingelheim‘s account of the sculptor’s life. Indeed, a considerable amount of scholarly research on the artist has been ignored, such that his mid-career, the period when he was most successful and influential, is almost entirely missing from the brief chronology of his life. This is particularly lamentable given Kogan‘s representation in Berlin and Düsseldorf, for instance, by one of the Weimar Republic’s most prominent Modernist art dealers, Alfred Flechtheim, from 1922 until 1933, as well as numerous solo exhibitions of his work and its inclusion in many other major group shows of the period in Germany.

Kogan, Badende
Moissey Kogan, Badende (Torso) (Bather (Torso)), bronze, 1927 © Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

Thanks to the commissions placed with the sculptor by a major German patron, whom he met through Flechtheim, and other practical support from the same quarter, Kogan was able to have a home and studio built for himself in Switzerland. As a result of the financial collapse of the patron’s business in the extended wake of the Wall Street Crash, the sculptor had to give up his Swiss home, and the planned series of commissions for larger scale work from the patron and his circle of acquaintances came to naught. This is especially relevant to the show in Ingelheim, since a portrait head of an actress, owned by the patron (and exhibited at Galerie Flechtheim Düsseldorf), indicative of this new departure in the sculptor’s work, is featured in the exhibition. It was produced in Düsseldorf, but exhibits elements suggestive of the artistic exchange of around this time in Paris between Kogan and fellow sculptor, Charles Despiau.

Moissey Kogan_Portrait of a young artist
Moissey Kogan, Portrait of a young artist, terracotta, 1929 © Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

The fate of Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, a talented, assured artist, whose work in pencil, watercolour, oils and pastel certainly holds its own alongside that of Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller and Jeanne Mammen, makes for an especially excruciating read. Born into a middle-class family, she studied from 1915 at the School of Applied Arts in Dresden, which saw an influx of female applicants during the war, catering for them in classes focused on the graphic arts, fashion and textiles. She shared a studio with Felixmüller and frequented the avant-garde circles around the Dresden Secession. It was Dix who introduced her to her future husband, the opera singer and painter, Kurt Lohse. Together, they moved to Hamburg, where she became an active exhibiting member of the grouping of female artists, the Bund Hamburger Künstlerinnen, founded by the feminist art patron and poet, Ida Dehmel. However, Lohse quickly spent all his money and hers, and embarked on an affair with another woman who would bear his children. The financial and emotional pressures on Lohse-Wächtler caused her to have a nervous breakdown and she was admitted to a mental institution, where she produced a series of closely observed portrait heads of her fellow patients. These works met with great critical acclaim, but her financial situation remained precarious, despite a period of great productivity on her release from the institution, and exhibitions from 1929 at the Kunstsalon Maria Kunde, which brought her to the attention of the wider public. Her work now focused on motifs drawn from the proletarian life and prostitution that she must have witnessed firsthand, living and working as she was on the margins of society, such as her standing portrait of Lissy above.

Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler_Die Zigarettenpause_Selbstporträt
Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Die Zigarettenpause (Selbstporträt) (The Cigarette Break (Self-Portrait)), pencil and watercolour, 1931, © Förderkreis Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler e.V.

She returned to her parental home, where old conflicts with her father, who had little understanding of her talent, flared up again. He had her committed to an asylum in 1932, where she continued to work on drawings and paintings, but was diagnosed as schizophrenic (a diagnosis also given to other female artists of the time, who may well today have been deemed instead to be severely traumatised). Lohse-Wächtler‘s freedom of movement was now withdrawn, since she refused to give permission for her sterilisation at the hands of the Nazi state under the ‘law of congenital health’. Despite efforts by her parents and brother to prevent this, the procedure was subsequently forced upon her in 1935, shortly after Lohse divorced her. She experienced all of this as a deep blow to her creativity and ceased entirely to produce work. In 1940, she was deported to the euthanasia centre at Pirna-Sonnenstein, where she was gassed as part of ‘Aktion T4’, a Nazi extermination programme that killed as many as 300,000 people deemed disabled. Little remains of Lohse-Wächtler‘s early oeuvre, and her Dresden work, produced alongside Felixmüller and Dix, is rare.

There is no question that the ruptures in what were often precarious existences as artists had long-term, detrimental effects on their post-war reputations and artistic legacies. Whilst Pankok managed to regain his footing in the art world after the war, when he was appointed professor at the Düsseldorf Academy, for many other artists this simply was not possible.

As Luckhardt notes, major debates took place in Germany in the post-war era to determine what kind of art should be pursued and fostered into the future. In West Germany, it was believed in many quarters that a move away from a national, or, indeed, regional art was essential, and that abstract, as opposed to figurative, art represented a route by which Germany could reestablish its links internationally. A particular focus of such discussion was how, and whether at all, the human form, until then a particular focus for sculpture, should continue to be an appropriate subject of art. A bleak, disquieting, abstracted humanism would now very often take the place of the idealised figuration of the more innocent pre-war age.

When, post-war, attempts were made to write histories of modern German sculpture, accounts tended to focus on the work of artists who had remained in Germany. Those in exile, such as Abbo, Belling and Freundlich were omitted, as were artists who had enjoyed successful, influential careers in Germany, whilst belonging to other traditions, such as Kogan.

So, how does one go about reinstating the career of a ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ artist or (re)establishing their oeuvre within the framework of ‘exhibitable’ artists, when the claim is repeatedly made that they have been forgotten? How does one strike a balance between (entirely unforgivably) ignoring the circumstances that led to their being unjustly ‘forgotten’ and, conversely, giving primacy to their tragic fates over their work and the arcs of their careers?

These are not forgotten Modernists. Labelling them so is counter-productive. Rather, they are artists whose oeuvres still bear the wounds of Nazi devastation and persecution. Where the artists survived the war, such as Abbo and Kleinschmidt, their networks of galleries, dealers and collectors frequently did not, and nor, crucially, did large parts of their oeuvres. Whether from internal or external exile, it was nearly impossible for them to access exhibiting opportunities, let alone regain their former prominence. Moreover, their work did not easily fit into the reductive, nationalist lineage of German art then being asserted by certain key, generally male, historians of the post-war period, keen to make links between contemporary production and the work of specific pre-war greats with the aim of obscuring the rupture of the Nazi period. These moves saw the exclusion, in particular, of the work of many female artists.

Neither did the work of these artists sit well within the limited, dominant ethos of a newly emergent, democratic Germany seeking its place in the post-war art world, now centred on abstraction and apposite responses to the horrors of the Third Reich, in the face of a shift of the centre of the art world from Paris to the USA. The focus was on a Neubeginn (a new start) and not on addressing the devastating career ruptures and personal cruelties visited on artists in exile or murdered by the Third Reich.

Where artists did not survive beyond 1945, because of suicide, such as in the case of Anita Rée, or euthanasia or extermination, such as Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler and Moissey Kogan, who was there to represent, protect and reconstitute their shattered oeuvres and legacies in the face of all the constraints outlined above?

These are artists who were also excluded post-war, because no-one, or no state, chose, or was in a position, to foster or promote their art. As a result of the damage done to the oeuvres of these artists, often little sense could be made of them as a whole. There is no doubt that the incompleteness of an artist’s oeuvre can render exhibition-making difficult, particularly in the case of retrospective shows, which might otherwise bring an artist’s entire body of work to greater prominence. The concerted research required to reconstruct these bodies of work, and the arcs of these careers, had to wait for the shift in art historical emphasis that came in the late 20th century.

Over the last few decades, scholarly attention has turned to the oeuvres of many of these artists. Lohse-Wächtler was rediscovered in the 1980s and her work has since featured in a number of exhibitions and publications on her life and career. Lerski was accorded a solo exhibition at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme, Paris, last year. The art historian, Maike Bruhns and others have done much to research, reconstitute and publicise Anita Rée‘s work, and efforts are currently being made to document and describe the surviving and lost aspects of Jussuf Abbo‘s oeuvre. Moissey Kogan has been the subject of much research over several decades; his work, as a result, is increasingly being exhibited and published in various forms, following a retrospective of his oeuvre in 2002 and an exhibition dedicated to him in 2004, alongside Paul Gangolf and Otto Freundlich. Nonetheless, there is much still to do.

As one can see from footage of the exhibition, Ulrich Luckhardt and his team are to be congratulated for having brought together a striking selection of works for this powerful and varied exhibition. As the show emphasises, Modernism was always pluralist and never linear in any simplistic manner. The painters, photographers and sculptors shown at Kunstforum Ingelheim deserve, as much as other now more prominent artists, to have their work fully documented, reconstituted, and made available to the public in the form of exhibitions and publications. It is to be hoped that the conditions necessary, both in terms of financial and institutional support, are forthcoming to allow for the righting, in as far as possible, of grievous historic wrongs perpetrated on talented artists and important bodies of art.

 

Featured image: Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, Lissy, pencil and watercolour, 1931, private collection, on the front cover of Vergessene Moderne, Kunst in Deutschland zwischen den Weltkriegen, exh. cat., Internationale Tage Ingelheim, 14 April – 23 June 2019

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18/06/2019