NEW YORK (February 3, 2003)—On March 14, the Neue Galerie opens "Christian Schad and the Neue Sachlichkeit," an exhibition of more than 100 paintings, drawings, and photo-based works. This will be the first major exhibition in the United States devoted to the work of the German-born artist. It will be on view through June 9.
Christian Schad was a leading figure of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement of the 1920s. His sharp-focused, often mysteriously erotic portraits epitomize the decadent glamour of the Weimar era. The exhibition traces Schad's work in Zurich, Vienna, and Berlin from 1915 to 1930, beginning with the artist's experimental projects and following his development as a major portraitist.
"Along with Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz, Christian Schad is central to any appreciation of the Neue Sachlichkeit," said Renée Price, Director of the Neue Galerie. "We are very proud to present Schad's first one-man exhibition in the United States."
Christian Schad (1894-1982) was born in Munich into a liberal and enlightened upper-middle-class family. Both parents encouraged their son's early musical and artistic talents. At the age of seventeen, he left school with his parents' approval to enroll at the Munich Art Academy. Like many young men of his generation, Schad was enthusiastic about the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and he subscribed to the Expressionist journal Die Aktion, which first accepted one of his woodcuts for publication in 1915.
Schad fled to Zurich to escape enlistment in the German army, and soon gained entrée to the international circle of pacifist artists and writers gathered there, which included Hugo Ball and Hans Arp. Shad struck up a close and lasting friendship with the Austrian writer Walter Serner. Together they launched a new literary and artistic review called Sirius; each issue contained a woodcut illustration by the artist.
In November 1916, to distance himself yet further from his roots, Schad moved to the fiercely anti-German city of Geneva. In 1918 he accepted an invitation from the director of a local lunatic asylum to spend several weeks sketching and painting its residents. The most fruitful results of this period of experimentation were the small abstract photograms Schad made in 1919, called Schadographs. The intense beauty of these luminous, poetic works results from the play between word and image and Schad's insistence on aesthetic criteria, both in his choice of objects and in the art of composition.
In 1920, Schad's five-year stay in Switzerland came to an abrupt end. The Germany to which he returned was in the midst of a devastating economic crisis, fueled by the return of thousands of dispossessed German soldiers. Like many other German artists of his generation-notably Max Beckmann, George Grosz, and Otto Dix-Schad felt the need to answer the events of the day with a sober human content in his art. In the summer of 1920 Schad traveled to Rome, then Naples, where he sought to perfect his technique by attending painting and drawing courses at the art academy. He was also inspired by the teeming street life of the city, drawing his models from characters he witnessed in the cafés and theaters. While in Italy, the artist sought his first important portrait commission, which resulted in his highly realistic portrait of the bespectacled Pope Pius XI.
Schad settled with his young family in Vienna in 1925. The proximity of theater and reality in Vienna excited Schad's imagination. The artist had close links with the aristocracy through his parents, and, accompanied by his beautiful Italian wife, Marcella, was soon moving in high society. More than any other city, Vienna was a site for the social changes that were taking place after the war. Old aristocrats from all over the former Austro-Hungarian empire, many of whom had been stripped of their fortunes, mixed freely with bohemians and new financial barons. In such portraits as Baroness Vera Wassilko (1926) and Count Saint Genois d'Anneaucourt (1927), Schad records the melancholy mixture of elegance and decadence that characterized this class of lost souls. His famous Self-Portrait with Model (1927) was painted at a moment of crisis just before he separated from his wife and left Vienna. The painting is conceived not as a simple unified composition, but rather as a collage of fragments, which contributes to the strange, dislocated atmosphere of the scene.
Schad's move in 1927 from the periphery of the modern world in Vienna to its center in Berlin gave a new clarity and focus to his work. The faces of the men and women he portrayed in the nightclubs and fairgrounds of the city reflect a moment in time when brilliance, decadence, and melancholy coincided. The city was on the cusp of change, and Schad succeeded in capturing this fugitive, transitional state. His interest in exotic figures is evident in works such as Agosta, the Winged Man, and Rasha, the Black Dove (1929); his ability to convey erotic longing in works such as Half Nude (1929). Considered as a group, Schad's portraits create an extraordinary record of life in Berlin in the 1920s. Yet even when the artist is practicing photographic realism and his paintings are apparently at their most objective, there is nevertheless a complex theater of illusion at play.
After the crash of the New York stock market in 1929, Schad could no longer rely on his father's financial support, and he largely stopped painting in the early 1930s. Yet his Schadographs and portraits remain landmarks in the history of twentieth-century art.
The exhibition is organized by guest curators Jill Lloyd and Michael Peppiatt. A different version of the exhibition opened at the Musée Maillol, Paris, in November 2002. The exhibition catalogue, published by Schirmer/Mosel Verlag in Munich, is the most comprehensive English-language publication on the artist.
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