Sunday, July 1, 2007

foto: modernity in central europe, 1918-1945

The other day I went to see "Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945" at the National Gallery of Art. As I had been slightly disappointed that the Modernism exhibit at the Corcoran* didn't include much photography, I was glad that the medium was garnering some attention with this new exhibit. Since László Moholy-Nagy was the only photographer I had heard of going into this exhibition, I was excited about the prospect of seeing a range of new — to me — art.

And I wasn't disappointed — Foto includes works from Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Austria that cover the period from World War I through the end of World War II.

My personal favorites were the photo montages — like collages — such as Hannah Höch's Heads of State, which consisted of photographs of German President Ebert and the defense minister in their bathing suits, against a drawn background of a mermaid and cut out waves. The piece served to ridicule the politicians, and all they stood for. Also wonderful were the montages that focused on travel, such as Karel Teige's Travel Greetings, which maps a trip through northern Italy and includes binoculars, stars, and an unopened letter. The 1923 piece explores the changing landscape of postwar Europe.

Also of note is the New Woman (neue Frau) room, that consisted of photographs by women or of women, such as athletes, who epitomize the new movement in central Europe. New Women challenged their place in society, and the pieces in this room help illustrate the changing perceptions of women during the period. A particularly notable piece is Lotte Jacobi's Klaus and Erika Mann, in which the pair are wearing shirts and ties and Klaus appears to be sitting on Erika's lap.

Surrealism and landscapes also appear in Foto. Also interesting are the pieces that display recent advances in photographic technology. Art schools, such as the Bauhaus, undertook dark room experimentation, which resulted in works that do unique things with shadows and light.

After leaving Washington on September 3, Foto moves to the Guggenheim in New York, to the Milwaukee Art Museum, and finally to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

* note: "Modernism" runs through July 29. Go.

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