To See in Black and White: German and Central European Photography, 1920s-1950s

October 1, 2015–January 10, 2016

Walter Peterhans, Dead Hare (Toter Hase), 1929

Walter Peterhans, Dead Hare (Toter Hase), 1929, Gelatin silver print. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Anonymous Gift, 2007.118.1. © Estate of Walter Peterhans.

The 1920s and 1930s in Europe are a storied era of unprecedented expressive innovations in black–and–white photography, particularly in France and Germany, and in the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Less well known to American museum visitors, however, are the contributions of Central Europe toward modern photography.

Among the photographers that are featured in this exhibition, the oldest—Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956), František Drtikol (1883–1961) and Hannah Höch (1889–1978)—came of age as professional schools and amateur camera clubs were forming to educate eager young men and women in photographic aesthetics and techniques, and promulgating the dominant “art” photography of the day, also known as Pictorialism.

The youngest among them—Ernö Berda (1914–1961), Václav Zykmund (1914–1984), and Jan Lukas (1915–2006)—grew up as mass media enabled a boom in photography in Europe’s urban centers: a boom that could not have occurred without a great expansion of available subject matter, attitudes towards it, and technical innovations that popularized the apparatus of photography, which the “new” photography—New Objectivity, New Vision, Worker Photography, and advertising photography—proliferated widely. But distinctions between “art” and “new” photography were never razor sharp in practice, which contributes to this era’s remarkable expressive diversity.

This exhibition of over 40 photographs drawn from the Smart Museum's collection is presented in conjunction with Expressionist Impulses: German and Central European Art, 1890–1990.