“Life is a parody, a diabolical paraphrase, behind which there stands the truth, our dream… Art, you see, is nothing but the expression of our dream.” Franz Marc, 1907 (Günter Meissner, ed., Franz Marc: Briefe, Schriften und Aufzeichnungen, 1989, p. 26; cited in Christian von Holst, Franz Marc, Horses. Cambridge (MA): 2000, pp. 48-49)
This exhibition highlights the visions-both dreams and nightmares-of two generations of artists who witnessed tumultuous political changes in Germany. The prosperity of the Wilhelmine Empire (1871-1918) was followed by the devastation of World War I (1914-1918), revolution in 1919, the establishment of the Weimar Republic, and the eventual collapse of this democracy with the seizure of power by the National Socialists (Nazis) in 1933.
Two artists’ groups exemplify German art before the First World War: Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich and Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden. Die Brücke members sought a new harmony of life and art, taking their name from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s description of man as a “bridge.” The metaphor has various interpretations, including man bridging different shores: past and future, body and spirit, degeneration and progress. Similarly, the members of Der Blaue Reiter, including Franz Marc and Paul Klee, sought a spiritual unity in art.
The nightmares of World War I and the economic inflation that haunted the Weimar Republic prompted different reactions from artists. Former soldiers George Grosz and Otto Dix attacked the hypocrisy of the society that had sent so many to their deaths. Max Beckmann saw the world as a stage on which he merely played a role. Käthe Kollwitz became ever more involved with her impassioned images of working-class poverty and suffering.
The rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialists in 1933 dramatically altered the lives and careers of avant-garde artists, including George Grosz and Otto Dix. By 1933, the dream of artistic ferment was forcibly ended and the Nazi nightmare was beginning.