This exhibition recaptures the artistic atmosphere of Berlin, considered one of the hubs of modern art during the first three decades of the century, between 1900 and 1933. The exhibition displays not only works produced in the city by Berlin artists, but also others that have appeared via other exhibitions or channels.
The first third of the twentieth century was a prolific period for art, defined by avant-garde movements and the abrupt interruption by the emerging power of the National Socialist Party in 1933. This exhibition has been arranged according to the existing collections in the Berlin museums, and only under exceptional circumstances has it reverted to other museums or collections. Nevertheless, it has endeavoured to overcome the effects of the division of Berlin in museums and collections and the repercussions stemming from the condemnation of modernism by the Nazis, whose dubbing certain works of art as “degenerate” has resulted in the disappearance of many pieces that would have been present in this exhibition.
The works displayed here are grouped into five sections: the first, entitled “On the Threshold of Modernism”, takes on the role of an introduction to the period of transition at the turn of the century and also includes what is commonly known as German Impressionism with the addition of one foreign artist, Edvard Munch, a pivotal link to the reception of modernity in Berlin and between Expressionist artists. Out of the triad of German Impressionists, Liebermann, Corinth and Slevogt, works by the first two are exhibited here alongside canvases by Munch such as Forest (1927) and the portrait Count Harry Kessler (1906).
“Between Nature and the Seduction of the Metropolis” is the title of the second section, in which Expressionist painting and sculpture by the Die Brücke (The Bridge) Group is exhibited, though not in its early stages but in fact the time when they move to Berlin around 1910. All of the work by the Group, initially made up of Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl, Erick Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and later joined by Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller, is exhibited here, apart from Bleyl.
The Berlin Expressionist artists are also represented, for instance Tappert and Kirchner with the works Woman at the Mirror (1912), Nude Woman Combing Her Hair (1913), Self-portrait and Self-Portrait with Model, both from 1914 and the Door of Brandeburgo (1929). These are accompanied by two canvases and a folder of lithographs by George Grosz and sculptures by Wilhem Lehmbruck, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Rudolf Bauer.
The section “Politicised Dadaism” contains one of the most commendable pieces in the exhibition: the full reconstruction of the main hall of the First International Dada Fair, held at the Otto Burchard Gallery in 1920. There are only two photographs left from the smallest room, testimonies to the disappearance off the Johannes Baader's sculpture/assemblage The Great Plasto-Dio-Dada-Drama: Germany's Greatness and Decadence (1920). That said, there are various photographs from the main room that have helped the recreation. There are also reproductions of works without the originals, which enable the oddities of Dadaism in Berlin to be displayed, standing apart from what was developing in Paris, New York and even Cologne and Hannover.
The exhibition's fourth section “Rail Junction of Constructivism” is devoted to cosmopolitan Berlin and is a compulsory stop for Constructivist artists as it is made up of numerous revolutionary writers and artists and Russian, Hungarian and Polish emigrants, among others. The painting of artists such as El Lissitzky and Alexander Michailowitsch Rodtschenko and the sculptures by Rudolf Belling and Wladimir Stenberg are represented here.
Finally, “From Radical Expressionism to 'New Objectivity'” highlights the close ties between art and politics following the defeat in World War I and the November Revolution in 1918. One of the first manifestations is the series Hell (1919) by Beckmann and the realist scapes by Käthe Kollwitz. “Radicalism” is organised, and crystallises, around the “November Group”, encompassing the majority of Expressionist artists associated with the magazine Der Sturm. The exhibition presents works by Braun, connected to the group, but also features the “Opposition to the November Group”, created by the Dadoists Grosz, Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann along with Otto Dix and Rudolf Schlichter, who continue to experiment with photomontage and also turn to painting - these are the seeds of what is known as New Objectivity. The section concludes with works by Ernst Fritsch, Christian Schad, Georg Schrimpf and Irmgard Kanold in addition to two artists that operated on the margins of art groups: the painter Karl Hofer and sculptor Joachim Karsch.