Modernist escape

Against the backdrop of urbanization, industrialization, the catastrophe of World War I and the harsh reconstruction that followed, many early 20th-century German and Austrian artists turned for comfort and inspiration to Utopian visions. A Smart Museum exhibit titled Living Modern: German and Austrian Art and Design, 1890-1933, examines how these visions played out across disparate arts such as painting, sculpture, and furniture design. The pieces include a postwar vase by Hilda Jesser that, squared off like a Japanese paper lantern and painted to resemble a fine silk, conjures the ideals of Asian design. The disembodied gears, numbers, and rotating flywheels in Robert Michel's 1919 woodcut "MEZ (Central Europe Time)" alludes not only to his fascination with machinery, but also to the crosscurrents in German society between political intolerance and artistic exploration. Felix Nussbaum's "Masquerade," painted in 1937, shows grimacing revelers outside a gray, desolate-looking city. A German Jew, Nussbaum expresses the statelessness of fellow Jewish refugees during the late 1930s and the demise of German modernism under the reign of the Nazis.

The exhibit will be on view through September 16.


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Robert Michel's "MEZ"; Wassily Kandinksy's "Sounds: Great Resurrection"; Otto Dix's "The War: Lens is Destroyed by Bombing."

June 15, 2007