Galerie St. Etienne
Hope or Menace? Communism in Germany Between the World Wars
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HOPE OR MENACE?
Communism in Germany Between World Wars
March 25 through June 13, 2008
The Galerie St. Etienne’s spring exhibition illuminates the German political climate of the 1920s through a selection of period campaign posters and contemporaneous artworks by George Grosz, Lea Grundig, John Heartfield, and Käthe Kollwitz. HOPE OR MENACE? Communism in Germany Between World Wars examines how Communism both opposed and inadvertently accelerated the rise of fascist power in Germany.
The early Weimar era was the only period in the history of modern art in which almost all the leading members of the avant-garde sought to engage directly with the broader community. George Grosz, Lea Grundig, John Heartfield, Käthe Kollwitz and others used printmaking, photography and photomechanical reproduction to circumvent the bourgeois art world and bring their message directly to the masses. Most of these artists supported some form of socialism, and some, such as Grosz and Heartfield, were members of the Communist Party. However, Grosz’s art later came to reflect a disillusioned awareness of the harsh and inequitable conditions that prevailed in the Soviet Union. Kollwitz likewise recognized Communism’s limitations, explaining: “I believe the world has seen enough of murder, lies, destruction, perversion, in short, enough of evil. A Communist regime built on such things cannot be God’s work.”
Although Communism promised to deliver freedom, equality and social justice, the Party’s supporters ultimately proved incapable of making their ideology conform to reality, and vice versa. Meanwhile, the movement’s opponents, increasingly inflamed by dire economic conditions, pushed Germany all the harder toward Nazi rule.
Adolf Hitler assumed the chancellorship on January 30, 1933. Having foreseen this turn of events, Grosz had already emigrated to New York. The Nazis immediately stripped Kollwitz of her studio and her professorship at the Prussian Academy of Art. Pursued by the SS, Heartfield, who remained an ardent Communist, fled to Prague, where he continued to create photo-montages for the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper). Jewish printmaker Lea Grundig was virtually the only artist who managed to produce anti-fascist art while remaining in Nazi Germany. In 1938 she and her husband, the artist Hans Grundig, were arrested. Lea was permitted to emigrated to Palestine, and Hans was dispatched to a concentration camp.
By the early 1930s, with Stalin ascendant in the USSR, Communism had assumed a totalitarian dimension that was hardly less frightening than Hitler’s Nazi regime. Yet the dream of freedom, equality and social justice lived on, as does the quest for the perfect political system capable of balancing those sometimes contradictory goals.
HOPE OR MENACE? Communism in Germany Between World Wars is documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available free of charge by mail, or can be downloaded from our website: http://www.gseart.com.