July 1, 2011  |  Five for Friday
Five for Friday: Life Was a Cabaret

Five for Friday, written by a variety of MoMA staff members, is our attempt to spotlight some of the compelling, charming, and downright curious works in the Museum’s rich collection.

Even though there are advantages to living in this day and age—not dying of consumption or syphilis, transporting money in a wallet, rather than a wheelbarrow—I still fantasize about living in interwar Germany. Maybe it was far too many viewings of Cabaret as a child, but I’ve always carried an imagined nostalgia for the Weimar Republic (1919–1933): its loose social mores, the competing senses of optimism and doom, the passionate political struggles, and of course the edgy art and design. With MoMA’s German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse exhibition closing July 11, I thought we should have a look back at some of the great Weimar-era works in MoMA’s rich collection. This post is dedicated to Paul Jaskot, the professor who inspired my love of German art and design.

1. Unknown artist. Poster for Berlin, Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (Berlin, Symphony of the Metropolis). 1927
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) lent a soundtrack to the Weimar Republic. This film, which MoMA screened in December 2010, portrays the life of a city mainly through visual effects and music, not narrative content. The impression it conveys of daily life in Berlin is dynamic, anxiety-ridden, cacophonous—and a helluva lot of fun!

2. Rudi Feld. The Danger of Bolshevism (Die Gefahr des Bolschewismus). 1919
This lithograph, included in German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, features a terrifying Death figure gripping a dagger in his teeth. The work reflects a common fear in the aftermath of the First World War—that the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia might spread to Germany, like a plague.

3. Marianne Brandt. Ashtray. 1924
The liberal Weimar Republic inspired a surge of radical experimentation in all the arts. Marianne Brandt was the head of the metal workshop at the German Bauhaus in Dessau from 1928 to 1929. The Bauhaus was a school, founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, famous for its visionary integration of technology, art, and design. This elegant ashtray from 1924 was based on pure geometrical forms, cylinder and spheres.

4. George Grosz. .a (recto): Circe .b (verso): Untitled. 1927
In this watercolor, also included in the German Expressionism exhibition, George Grosz critiques the ongoing economic disparities of Weimar society, in which the bourgeoisie could afford every pleasure—even the bodies of the lower classes. The unsentimental style of New Objectivity, pioneered by the likes of Grosz, Otto Dix, and Max Beckmann, emerged in Germany in the 1920s to rival the utopian and romanticized sensibility of Expressionism.

5. Oskar Schlemmer. Bauhaus Stairway. 1932
Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus Stairway, an oil painting on canvas, depicts the interior of the Bauhaus. Schlemmer painted this work just one year before Hitler assumed power and the Nazis closed the visionary school. Schlemmer was among many Weimar-era artists persecuted by the Nazis for producing so-called “degenerate” art.