Over the past weeks, three new exhibitions have opened on two different continents, almost at the same time, that put Weimar culture back into the spotlight of wider public attention.
In New York, Berlin Metropolis: 1918-1933 at the Neue Galerie “explores the city using a multi-media approach, revealing this complex period through painting, drawing, sculpture, collage, photography, architecture, film, and fashion.” In LA, New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art claims to be “the first comprehensive exhibition in the United States to explore the dominant artistic trends of this period.” Meanwhile, in Berlin, Tanz auf dem Vulkan. Das Berlin der Zwanziger Jahre im Spiegel der Künste at the Stadtmuseum Berlin promises to deliver for the first time a “comprehensive overview” of Berlin’s status as the European centre of the avant-garde in Europe during this period.“Suddenly, it’s Weimar time again”, the Daily Beast has commented on this surge of public interest, pointing also to a recent publication of a coffee table book of Weimar-era book jackets. According to author Mark Dery, this celebration of all things Weimar is down to supposed parallels to our own time –Weimar apparently “isn’t so far from the grotesque farce we’re living.” Arguably, the recent hype of Berlin as the “Sehnsuchtsort” (place of yearing) for the global educated middle-class also plays a role in this trend.
However, the popular image of Weimar that is perpetuated in these exhibitions has not changed at all since the era’s last boom in the 1980s. “Weimar Culture” (with a capital C) still stands for as “a thriving laboratory of art and culture” before the backdrop of “unprecedented and often tumultuous social, economic, and political upheaval” (New Objectivity) or as a “zerrissene Zeit zwischen Monarchie und Diktatur, zwischen Luxus und Elend, zwischen Krieg und Frieden” (Tanz auf dem Vulkan) and invariably the capital is described as “the turbulent crossroads of the modern age” (Berlin Metropolis).
There does not seem to be much space for everyday experiences of Weimar contemporaries – beyond cultural decadence and political breakdown – in these reconstructions of the past. The “legend of the Twenties” (in Helmuth Plessner’s words) is still very much alive.