Surreal Objectivity at the Berlin Nationalgalerie

csm_ssg_deierling_selbstportraet_im_spiegel_1929_md_d903441e15There is no such thing as “surreal objectivity” – or is there? Based on works from the Nationalgalerie’s rich collection of paintings from the period between the two World Wars, the exhibition Surreal Objectivity. Works from the 1920s and 1930s from the Nationalgalerie takes a fresh look at the phenomenon of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), from a perspective sharpened by the knowledge of Surrealism’s achievements. In fact, the two artistic movements have more in common than one might first assume. They began in France and Germany at almost the same time. The first manifesto of the Paris Surrealists appeared in 1924, while in 1925 the Mannheim Kunsthalle presented the latest trends in German art in an exhibition entitled “New Objectivity” – thus inventing a term for a Europe-wide phenomenon which, in the same year, was also dubbed “Magic Realism”.

Surrealism and the New Objectivity both grew out of a reaction to the historical avant-garde movements which had come to an end with the outbreak of the First World War. While those movements had been concerned with the artist’s exploration of his own visual medium, with individual artistic expression or style, the quest was now for a new, holistic world view. For Surrealists and artists of the New Objectivity alike, subjective artistic perception was replaced by an “objective” vision in which – as if by incidental consequence – the realities of social life were exposed to reveal modern society’s accomplishments, but also its psychological abysses.

The exhibition presents a broad spectrum of artists of the New Objectivity. They include famous names, such as Otto Dix, Christian Schad and Alexander Kanoldt, but also less well-known painters including Paula Lauenstein, Fritz Burmann and Curt Querner. Their pictures are juxtaposed with selected works by Max Ernst, René Magritte and other Surrealists, which draw our attention to aspects of the New Objectivity that are strange, mysterious and sometimes even absurd. We become aware of the movement’s surreal element, which often gives the works, whose surface message is of a “return to order”, their real underlying depth.

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