Being an art fan is an expensive business. Blockbuster exhibitions regularly flirt with the £20 mark, and with a conveyor belt of new openings it can be difficult to catch them all and still afford lunch. But this month the gods of the Tate are smiling favourably upon cash-strapped Londoners, opening an exhibition of art from Weimar Germany that’s completely free to pop in and see.
‘Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33’ is an exhibition that ticks three boxes: it’s timely, coinciding with the anniversary of the end of the First World War; it’s on-trend, capitalising on a current buzz around the work of artists and musicians banned by the Nazis; and (most importantly) it’s filled with brilliant art.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. It’s ‘magic realism’, but not as you know it
Tate Modern’s doing a bit of reclaiming here. Ask a literature grad about magic realism and they’ll start presenting a TED talk on South America and the stories of Gabriel García Márquez and co. But the term was actually invented by art critic Franz Roh to describe the chilly – and chilling – works of German artists created just after the end of WWI.
2. Weimar Germany is having a moment
Early this year, Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre hosted ‘Effigies of Wickedness’, a collaboration with the English National Opera celebrating the ebullient cabaret scene of interwar Germany and the artists labelled ‘degenerate’ by Hitler’s regime. The Barbican is currently doing the same with ‘Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret’ (closing on Sunday), and this Tate exhibition also shows the work of artists whose careers were stamped out when the Nazis came to power.
3. It’s unsettling (and it’s meant to be)
Art in early twentieth-century Germany was dominated by the expressionist movement, led by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Wassily Kandinsky. It was big on emotion, putting on to the canvas what Twitter now calls All the Feelings. Then a new wave of art kids came along and started painting pictures frostier than a Berlin winter.
4. The art of Otto Dix is featured
George Grosz, Albert Birkle, Jeanne Mammen, Max Beckmann… there are a lot of artists represented in this show, but one of the most exciting is the inestimable Otto Dix. The artist’s ruthlessly honest depictions of WWI remain deeply affecting anti-war images, and his slippery not-quite-real portraits are fantastically disquieting. As Chris Kraus (almost) said: I love Dix.
5. You’ll want to run away with the circus
The cabaret and circus were big news in the Weimar arts scene – both as subject matter and somewhere to hang out. The glitz, glam and dressing up were more than a fun night out. The cabaret scene was a haven for ‘outsiders’, which is exactly why the Nazis hated it so much. Works to look out for include Josef Eberz’s gorgeous ‘The Dancer (Beatrice Mariagraete).’
‘Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33’ is on at Tate Modern from Jul 30 - Jul 14 2019. Find out more here.