Who Owns the World? Art and Politics in the Weimar Republic

Selections from the Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Merrill C. Berman Collection

On View: December 11, 2018- May 31, 2019

The year 2019 marks not only the centennial of the founding of the Bauhaus school of art and design, but also the official founding of Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919–33). In the midst of upheaval in Germany after World War I, artist groups formed with the aim of transforming society. Despite their radical beginnings, however, many of these groups fizzled by the mid-1920s amid relative stabilization. This installation introduces artists with a range of stylistic approaches from across the country—Berlin, Karlsruhe, Hannover, Cologne, and Düsseldorf—who foregrounded class struggle and the material and cultural circumstances of workers’ lives well into the final years of Germany’s first democracy. Many of the artists featured here were associated with the German Communist Party or other radical organizations on the German Left.

As exemplified by the portfolio Hunger at the center of this gallery, printmaking played a key role in the dissemination of ideas. In an age of new technologies, many artists nonetheless remained committed to painting and drawing as a means to unite artistic form with left-wing politics. Socially critical art of the Weimar period has often been considered synonymous with the "left wing" of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), as exemplified in the work of Otto Dix and George Grosz seen here. A number of key artists, whose work is also on view, fall outside this category, however, or actively challenged it at the time.

In The Art Lover (1937), by American social realist Mervin Jules, a bald, bespectacled man—a stereotype of ruling-class wealth and privilege—views a painting of demonstrating workers in a smoke-filled industrial landscape. This painting-within-a-painting provides a point of departure: how is a painting of a workers’ demonstration, one likely made to encourage class consciousness, to be understood by its viewers? By a bourgeois aesthete? In a museum? What do the works of art in this gallery have to tell us today about art’s role in society?

To view all works loaned to exhibtion click here