December 01, 2000

August Sander: German Portraits (1918-1933) Surveys Powerful Works of Master Photographer

An Exhibition on View at the Getty Museum March 6 through June 24, 2001

Los Angeles--August Sander: German Portraits (1918-1933) highlights more than 125 photographs that survey this German master’s portraiture of the 1920s and early 1930s, and reveal the turbulent face of Germany during the Weimar period after WWI, just prior to the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. The exhibition will be on view from March 6 through June 24, 2001, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. It examines a significant period of Sander’s prolific career through works that were selected from more than 1200 Sander photographs in the Getty’s collection--the largest holding outside of Germany.

August Sander (1876- 1964) is revered in Germany as a father of modern photography. Since the 1920s, his work has had an enormous influence on generations of artists around the world. He is known primarily for his iconic photographs of farmers, artists, bricklayers, musicians, cab drivers, bureaucrats, dancers, industrialists, secretaries, the unemployed, and the disabled. Together these images form a collective "portrait" of pre-World War II German society, and reflect Sander’s then-idealistic view of the existing social order. Many of these works will be on display at the Getty. Ironically, in the rise of the Third Reich, Sander himself became a focus of persecution. He eventually moved from Cologne to the relative safety of the countryside, leaving behind 30,000 glass negatives that were later destroyed by fire in 1946. Sander’s photographs of his house and studio made before the Allied bombing of Cologne will also be on view in the exhibition.

Judith Keller, associate curator of the Getty’s department of photographs, commented, "With each of our shows, the department of photographs tries to share with our audience more of the permanent collection. The Sander exhibition, drawn from our exceptional Sander holdings, takes another look at one of the masters of portraiture at a time when this genre is again popular with painters and photographers. In his own way, Sander employed his camera to put his country back together after World War I, one man, one picture at a time. His portraits take on added resonance in light of the devastating war that followed."

Sander reached artistic maturity during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933), when many German artists were inspired by a refreshing political freedom. Berlin had become an international artistic center and a new Realism in painting reflected observations about contemporary government and society. The era’s cultural icons and references included the Bauhaus school, Joseph von Sternberg’s film Blue Angel, Bertolt Brecht’s Three Penny Opera, Alfred Döblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.

Fueled by the Cologne Progressives, a group of radical young painters he met in the early 1920s, Sander embarked on a grand artistic enterprise. He began an ambitious project he called "Citizens of the Twentieth Century," and sought to portray the German social order through images of "types" or population groups. He began by revisiting his earliest portraits of peasants from his native Westerwald region and added an extensive series of portraits that blended his conservative views and nostalgia for the past with a progressive future vision. The photographs he created as part of this project are considered his most significant work.

With the rise of Hitler’s political power and the advent of the Third Reich in 1933, Sander’s career took a turn for the worse. His son Erich, a communist party member, was arrested, and Sander was scorned by the Nazi authorities. He moved to the small village of Kuchhausen and managed to bring with him and thus save 10,000 negatives. He was forced to abandon his politically sensitive work and concentrated instead on landscape photography. While he never completed his ambitious "Citizens" project, he left a compelling body of work reflecting the contradictory and complex nature of the era.

"Sander continuously walked the fine line between social satire and factual recording. Because of their multivalent character, Sander’s photographs have been sources for artists working in a variety of materials from poetry to motion pictures," commented Weston Naef, curator of photographs.

For this exhibition, the Getty photographs galleries will be organized into sections related to Sander’s own hierarchy of subjects. These include: First and Last (from the rural peasants to the urban unemployed), Women and the Metropolis, and Tradesmen and Professionals, with a final section portraying his house and studio.

Concurrent with the exhibition, the Getty is publishing a new book about Sander in its In Focus photography series. It will be on sale at the Getty bookstore and online for $17.50 (paperback). The In Focus series makes available in an affordable format the Museum’s significant holdings of works by major photographers. Each volume contains approximately 50 photographs with commentaries, an introduction, a chronology, and a transcription of a colloquium on the photographer’s life and work. Among the contemporaries of Sander featured in this series are André Kertész, László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Alfred Steiglitz, and Doris Ulmann.

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About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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