New Objectivity  

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Neue Sachlichkeit 1925 exhibition poster
Neue Sachlichkeit 1925 exhibition poster

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) is a term used to characterize the attitude of public life in Weimar Germany as well as the art, literature, music, and architecture created to adapt to it. Rather than some goal of philosophical objectivity, it was meant to imply a turn towards practical engagement with the world—an all-business attitude, understood by Germans as intrinsically American. In the words of Dennis Crockett: "The Neue Sachlichkeit is Americanism, cult of the objective, the hard fact, the predilection for functional work, professional conscientiousness, and usefulness."

The term was originally the title of an art exhibition staged by Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, the director of the Kunsthalle in Mannheim, to showcase artists who were working in a post-expressionist spirit, but it took a life of its own, going beyond Hartlaub's intentions. As these artists rejected the self-involvement and romantic longings of the expressionists, Weimar intellectuals in general made a call to arms for public collaboration, engagement, and rejection of romantic idealism.

The movement essentially ended in 1933 with the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazis to power.



The New Objectivity, or neue Sachlichkeit (new matter-of-factness), was an art movement which arose in Germany during the 1920s as an outgrowth of, and in opposition to, expressionism. It is thus post-expressionist. The term is applied to works of pictorial art, literature, music, and architecture. It describes the stripped-down, simplified building style of the Bauhaus and the Weissenhof Settlement, the urban planning and public housing projects of Bruno Taut and Ernst May, and the industrialization of the household typified by the Frankfurt kitchen.

Pictorial art

Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub, who was the director of the Kunsthalle in Mannheim, coined the term in 1923 in a letter he sent to colleagues describing an exhibition he was planning. In his subsequent article, "Introduction to 'New Objectivity': German Painting since Expressionism," Hartlaub explained,

"what we are displaying here is distinguished by the — in itself purely external — characteristics of the objectivity with which the artists express themselves."

He identified two groups: the Verists, who "tear the objective form of the world of contemporary facts and represent current experience in its tempo and fevered temperature;" and the Magical Realists, who "search more for the object of timeless ability to embody the external laws of existence in the artistic sphere.”

Although the distinction between Verists and Magic Realists is in fact rather fluid, the Verists can be thought of as the more revolutionary wing of the New Objectivity, epitomized by Otto Dix and George Grosz. Their vehement form of realism distorted appearances to emphasize the ugly, as ugliness was the reality these artists wished to expose. This art was raw, provocative, and harshly satirical. Other important Verists include Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz (in his early work), and Karl Hubbuch. Max Beckmann, who never considered himself part of any movement, is a giant among the Verists even though he is sometimes called an expressionist.

Compared to the Verists, the Magic Realists more clearly exemplify the post-World War I "return to order" that arose in the arts throughout Europe, and that found expression in neoclassicism. The Magic Realists, including Anton Räderscheidt, Georg Schrimpf, Alexander Kanoldt, and Carl Grossberg were a diverse group that encompassed the nearly photographic realism of Schad and the gentle neo-primitivism of Schrimpf. The paintings of Räderscheidt show echos of the metaphysical art of the Italians Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, and the influence of the Swiss painter Félix Vallotton is apparent in the sour realism of several of the Magic Realists and Verists as well.

Albert Renger-Patzsch and August Sander are leading representatives of the "New Photography" movement, which brought a sharply focused, documentary quality to the photographic art where previously the self-consciously poetic had held sway.

New Objectivity in German cinema

After the influence of Expressionism began to wane a variety of other genres and styles developed in the 1920s. Movies influenced by New Objectivity with socially concerned themes and a return to realism, among them films by Georg Wilhelm Pabst such as Joyless Street (Die Freudlose Gasse) (1925) and Pandora's Box (1929), became widespread in the later 1920s. The influence of New Objectivity may also be seen in the trend towards so-called "asphalt" and "morality" films which dealt with "scandalous" subjects like abortion, prostitution, homosexuality and addiction.

See also

For the architectural aspects of this movement, see New Objectivity (architecture)
Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz

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