Arts art exhibition

How an art exhibit fills in the blank space that is post-war Germany

“This is my notebook/this my rain gear/this is my towel/this is my twine.” — Günter Eich

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'Male Head' by Hans Uhlmann in the 'Inventur' exhibition.
Jürgen Diemer

Inventur-Art in Germany, 1943–55
Curated by Lynette Roth 
Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
Feb. 9 – Jun. 3

Leonardo Da Vinci. Pablo Picasso. Andy Warhol. You know these painters, and you’ve seen their works. You’ve seen the Mona Lisa; you’ve gazed upon Guernica. You most definitely have seen the Campbell’s Soup Can. But what about Jeanne Mammen? Coming after WWII, Mammen symbolizes a fresh start through old paths. Her painting, Falling Facades (Berlin Ruins), greets you as you enter the exhibition. Then there’s Hans Uhlmann, who sculpted Male Head.

There’s a sort of America centrism when it comes to art history. The art that thrives in the public eye are ones that are steeped in our history. Whether it be war or periods of flourishing creativity, art that succeeds is art that is relevant. That’s why Inventur is such an important project.

Drawing from the Harvard Art Museums’ Busch-Reisinger and Fogg collections as well as 50 other collections in the United States and Germany, this exhibit showcases the art that came in the decade between 1943–55. The pieces in the exhibit have been carefully selected by Lynette Roth, the Daimler Curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. She masterfully selected pieces to tell a unique story of Germany that we’ve never seen before.

Starting from the early 40s, Inventur describes a Germany in disarray. Artists in this time had difficulty expressing themselves, but found ways to create beauty in their despair. Painters such as Mammen and Altenbourg relied on the Macgyvered canvasses of common day objects like cardboard and poster paper to craft a new interpretation of Germany. The mid 40s saw the continuing abstraction of art while the early 50s had the rise of art that one of Roth’s friends commented as “looking like wallpaper.”

All of these pieces come together in Günter Eich’s poem, Inventur, from which the exhibition gets its name. Listing all of the items in the narrator’s possession, Inventur is the perfect work to tie all of the pieces in the exhibition together.

From the works scrawled onto cardboard of the early 40s to the rise of contemporary art in the 50s, this exhibition showcases the pluralism that Germany possessed during its restoration as a world power. If you’re at all interested in examining this missing link in art history, Inventur will definitely shine light on the things that your history teacher never told you.