The turbulent years of the Weimar Republic and the photographic medium on the brink of its global expansion are showcased at the exhibition More than Bauhaus. German photography between the wars and Polish parallels with which the International Cultural Centre is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Curators: Lothar Altringer, Jens Bove, Adelheid Komenda, Sebastian Lux, Natalia Żak
When the post-war world was reinventing itself, photography became, next to film, a modern medium of artistic expression, communication and documentation. It accompanied its era in its development, showing it from various perspectives. It underwent numerous thematic and aesthetic transformations, and supported by innovative film and printing techniques, it gained unique quality and impact. The photographic image was becoming not only as significant as the word, but, more importantly, it became a mass medium.
More than Bauhaus. German photography between the wars and Polish parallels is an exhibition that tells a story about an overwhelming longing for normality and the golden years of the 1920s, when Europe could take relief from the nightmares of war. On the other hand, it also depicts a society of the defeated, the experience of the economic crisis, and the growing tensions that helped Adolf Hitler rise to power. This story is complemented by examples of Polish photography of that period, which, provoking a dialogue with German counterparts, foster comparisons, exposing differences and similarities between the two countries’ respective political and social experiences between the wars, as well as illustrates the search for a new language of photography. The exhibition introduces the cultural context of the interwar period but also tells a story about photography in its various dimensions: artistic, experimental, but also focused on the "here and now" – used for reportage, documentary, advertising or fashion.
The show follows in the footsteps of exhibitions on the architecture of independence in Central Europe (2018–2019) and the Central European avant-garde (2019), presented at the ICC Gallery, which focused on the culture of countries that emerged after the Great War in this part of the continent. – The programming of our institution focuses on the reflection on the concept of cultural heritage and on the phenomenon of memory, which is particularly interesting in Central Europe, a region whose history in the 20th century was exceptionally turbulent. It is therefore not surprising that German art and architecture are on our agenda. Notably, the first exhibition at the ICC Gallery was the presentation of prints by the outstanding German artist Georg Baselitz (in cooperation with the International Printmaking Triennial). This event, together with the present exhibition, binds together the thirty years of efforts to promote the most interesting artists and cultural phenomena of Central Europe at Rynek Główny 25 in Krakow – says Agata Wąsowska-Pawlik, director of the ICC. The historical context is also marked by the thirtieth anniversary of the ratification of the border treaty on the Oder and Neisse, which closed an extremely complicated problem in the 20th-century relations between Poland and united Germany.
The exhibition is a modified version of the Photography in the Weimar Republic (2019–2020) exhibition, presented at the LVR-LandesMuseum in Bonn, supplemented with works from Poland. German curators, inspired by Aby Warburg's Mnemosyne Atlas, defined fourteen leading thematic areas to show the most important events, social trends, and above all, the aesthetic tendencies and visual phenomena of that time. Nine of them: revolution and the birth of the republic, dance, portrait, fashion and photography, work, New Vision, sports, glamour and misery, and epilogue, will be shown at the ICC Gallery.
The historical frame of the German part is set in the years 1919–1933, from the Weimar Republic emerging on the ruins of the German Empire, to the dark epilogue, which announced the coming of another global conflict. The group of Polish works involves exhibits from a later period as well, which is dictated by the universal nature of the phenomena presented and the dynamics of the development of photography in Poland, with was different from its German counterpart. – It is a kind of atlas of images that bring us closer to this period filled with contrasts. Photographs by artists such as Martin Munkácsi, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Martin Badekow, Hugo Erfurth or Lotte Jacobi are juxtaposed with Polish parallels from the interwar period. This additional context allows – despite seemingly different experiences – to show the universal nature of emerging trends, but also to look at Polish-German tropes through the lens of micro-history, specific places and people. The interwar period is a world of images – says the Polish curator of the exhibition, Natalia Żak.
For avant-garde artists, photography embedded in everyday life, science and technology, seemed to be something more than just a new method of creating an image – it allowed them to change the paradigm of seeing and representing reality. New Objectivity has become one of the modern trends in photographic aesthetics, postulating an objective representation of the world and the "purity" of the visual language. However, serious changes in political, social, and technological life had their shadows alongside the bright sides. Changing working conditions, the economic crisis, mass unemployment, and poverty were reflected in photography, which on the one hand acted as a medium for shaping opinions, and on the other hand, served for political propaganda manipulation.
This multi-layered narrative is reflected in the multiplicity of photographic genres presented at the exhibition in the form of over 300 classic prints, but also books and magazines, because they shaped the imagination of the audiences in the 1920s. Visitors will have a chance to see the work of artists such as Martin Munkácsi, a master of press photography, known for dynamic photographic compositions, August Sander, author of outstanding sociological portraits, Albert Renger-Patzsch, leading representative of New Objectivity, Yva (Else Neuländer-Simon), famous for fashion photography, Karl Blossfeld, known for his precise photographs of plants, Alfred Eisenstaedt, the father of photojournalism, and the photographer Lotte Jacobi from Poznań. Polish masters are represented among others by Aleksander Krzywobłocki, an artist specializing in surrealist photography, a champion of the avant-garde Janusz Maria Brzeski, the "Leica" expert Zofia Chomętowska, a master of portrait photography Benedykt Jerzy Dorys, the doyen of Polish pictorialism Jan Bułhak, and Henryk Poddębski, an outstanding reporter and chronicler of the Second Polish Republic.
Masterpieces of the classic authors of the German Weimar era photography will feature next to pieces by artists whose work can be a discovery for the Polish audience – such as Kurt Kranz, who is associated with the Bauhaus, or Hans Bresler – representing the phenomenon of workers' photography, which manifests to the mass appeal and democratization of photography.