CU/AH 335A - Art and Society: Germany in the 20th Century

This course analyzes the interdependence of art and society in Germany from the beginning of the 20th century until the fall of the Berlin Wall with a particular emphasis on the relationship between the state and its official aesthetics on the one hand and independent art and (sub-)culture on the other. The first part of the course will focus on the emergence of modernity during the German Empire and the incomplete transition to democratic politics and society in the Weimar Republic. The effects of industrialization on art, architecture and design are in focus. From Expressionism to Dada and New Objectivity, from Werkbund to Bauhaus, we will explore the main currents in modern art and some of their protagonists. We will look at societal change, mirrored in the attempts at harmonizing aesthetics and technology, as well as the sentiments of alienation and disintegration expressed by artists in an era marked by a new urban culture and by economic and political instability. The democratic system of the Weimar Republic granted new liberties and artists started to openly question established constructs of authority, class, gender and ethnicities in a society still largely marked militarism, colonialism and authoritarianism. The second part of the course will focus on art and culture after the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933. Firstly, we will analyze National Socialist state aesthetics in order to understand the language of official art and architecture and how it contributed to Nazi propaganda and rule. Secondly, the repressive purge undertaken by the regime in the cultural field and its consequences for the art world in the country will be examined. In the third part we will have a closer look at the artistic developments in post-war Germany on both sides of the Iron Curtain. We will inspect various aspects of the attempts to revive cultural life in Germany. Artistic movements such as Informel, Zero, Pop Art, Neo-Realism and Mixed Media Art will be analyzed in context of totalitarian aesthetics experienced in the German past and the slow process of political emancipation up to the 1970s with an increasing awareness for women’s rights, LGBTQ issues, racism and other forms of group-focused enmities. We will also take a closer look at the artistic developments in East Germany, with its official cultural doctrines and its dissident movements. The subject of this course will focus on the Berlin aesthetic experience since Berlin has been at the center of political and cultural life in Germany throughout the 20th century: From capital of the German Empire, throughout the Weimar Republic and the Nazi-era, to a city of rubble; from a city divided between East and West to the capital of a reunified Germany, Berlin has always been the linchpin of the artistic avant-gardes.

Course Information


Art History
Cultural Studies

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