[ The Jewish Museum ]


The Jewish Museum will present Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture, 1890-1918 from November 14, 1999 through April 23, 2000. As a city in the midst of rapid economic, social, and physical growth, Berlin at the turn of the last century experienced turbulent change that exerted a profound influence on the creation of modern art forms. Jews were central to the development of modern culture in Berlin during these years. The energy of the modern metropolis, its heterogeneity, and the rapid stimuli assaulting the city dweller in the form of crowds, urban transportation, and the barrage of images and text from store displays, kiosks, newspapers, advertisements and posters are reflected in the art and literature of Berlin at the end of the nineteenth- and beginning of the twentieth-century. These aspects of the city and its cultural life will be explored in the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue. Works on view are being lent by major museums and private collections in the United States, France, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Austria, and Switzerland. Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture, 1890-1918 is sponsored by Deutsche Bank, with support from other generous funders.

Visitors to this unprecedented show will experience the many facets of the new metropolis in a uniquely designed installation featuring more than 250 objects -- paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, books, poetry, letters, posters, and theater memorabilia -- that reveal the vitality and diversity of modern art forms created and exhibited in Berlin at the turn of the century. Works by such internationally renowned artists as Vasily Kandinsky, Oskar Kokoscbka, Robert Delaunay, Edvard Munch, Fernand Leger, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Käthe Kollwitz will be on view. Paintings by Italian futurists Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, and Gino Severini as well as by the important German Jewish artists Max Liebermann, Ludwig Meidner, Jakob Steinhardt, and Lesser Ury will also be included. Excerpts from films by pioneers of early German film, including Ernst Lubitsch -- who later influenced the American film industry -- will be shown.

No major city in Europe grew as quickly as Berlin in the late nineteenth century. By 1900 it was the third largest European city, capital of a great military and industrial power, and center of an innovative modern culture. During the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888-19{8), known as the Willielmine era, Berlin was transformed from a provincial backwater into a modern metropolis. The art and literature of Berlin during these years reflect this dynamism.

Jews moved to urban centers nearly a generation before most other Germans and played a major role in shaping the modern metropolis. They were especially active in areas that defined the contemporary idea of urban life: journalism, department stores, theater, cabaret, and film. Jews also played significant roles as creators, promoters, and consumers of modern art, literature, and performance. There was nothing innately Jewish about an attraction to cultural modernism. Rather, the Jewish contribution was in part a function of specific historical and sociological circumstances. Jews were still excluded from important areas of German public life, such as the imperial court, the military, the state bureaucracy, and, to a large degree, the universities. Denied access to many official venues, they turned to alternative public spheres, such as the art gallery, the journal, the theater, and the cafe.
Berlin Metropolis focuses on a number of Jewish modernists in Berlin. They gathered together at galleries, cafés, theaters, and around avant-garde journals -- Jews and Gentiles, Germans and non-Germans --furthering what was innovative in the arts and bringing it to a wider public. They opened up Berlin to international movements: French Impressionism, the Symbolism of the Norwegian Edvard Munch, French Cubism, and Italian Futurism. Together they helped define the agenda for twentieth-century culture.

"The initial impetus for this exhibition and book was a fascination with those Jews in turn-of-the-century Berlin who had an enormous impact on the creation and dissemination of modern art, literature, theater and film, and our desire to make their work better known to an American audience," explains Emily D. Bilski, guest curator of Berlin Metropolis. "Whereas culture during the period of the Weimar Republic exerts a great deal of fascination in the United States and has been the subject of many exhibitions and publications," she adds, "the Wilhelmine period, which was the true birthplace of German modernism, remains little known."

The exhibition's design evokes the public spheres where this culture was created and presented: the Berlin Secession, the art gallery, the café, cabaret, and experimental theater, as well as the new medium of film. The first gallery introduces the transformation of Berlin into a major metropolis and important center for modern art as well as the role Jews played in that metamorphosis. A section on the Berlin Secession examines artist Max Liebermann's role as founder of the Berlin Secession, and the diverse activities of the cousins Paul and Bruno Cassirer as gallerists, publishers, and leaders of the Secession. The Berlin Secession was founded by artists in 1898 as an alternative to the conservative exhibition and patronage policies of the art associations and of the state. The Secession revitalized the Berlin art scene, attracting artists to the city from elsewhere in Germany. In "The Jewish Cultural Sphere," the quest by a number of Jewish artists for an appropriate artistic language to express a modern Jewish identity is explored. A section focusing on "Herwarth Walden and Der Sturm," looks at the publisher, art dealer, and cultural impresario who promoted avant-garde art and literature through his journal Der Sturm, by mounting international art exhibitions at his gallery of the same name and elsewhere in Europe, and through numerous publications, and postcards. A section on "Theater, Cabaret, Revue and Film" presents Max Reinhardt, an innovative actor and director who collaborated with such Berlin Secession artists as Lovis Corinth, and commissioned set designs for several plays from Edvard Munch. During World War I, Reinhardt pioneered the performance of Expressionist drama on the Berlin stage. With the advent of film, many of the actors who had worked with Reinhardt gravitated to the new medium as actors and directors. A short film in this section will introduce viewers to the work of three Jewish pioneers of German film: Ernst Lubitsch, Richard Oswald, and Max Mack, and also includes early film footage of Berlin.

The exhibition ends with World War 1, which most Germans thought would unify their divided society. German Jews believed that the sight of Jews fighting alongside their fellow Germans would extinguish anti-Semitism. However, they were particularly disillusioned by the 1916 census of Jews serving in the army. Ostensibly taken in response to allegations that Jews were shirking military service, the census showed that Jews were in fact performing their patriotic duty. When the army refused to release the exonerating data, German Jews experienced a profound sense of betrayal. World War I irrevocably brought Wilhelmine culture to an end. The end of the First World War ushered in a new chapter in German history and in the relationship between German Jews and their country.

[ The Jewish Museum ]