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"In fantastic company"

What are human beings made of? In the Kunsthalle Tübingen, the exhibition Man in the Middle – Menschenbilder is showing 20th-century artistic images of human beings from the Deutsche Bank Collection; from Sept. 13 – Nov. 2, 2003

In the fall of 1912, Constantin Brancusi, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Leger visited the aviation salon in Paris' Grand Palais. Suddenly, Duchamp said to Brancusi: "Painting has reached its end. Who can make anything better than this propeller here? Can you?" In view of all those new shiny cars, airplanes, and machines – what more could an artist say? What meaning did a single human being still have? How could he compete with the beauty and utility of the machine? The First World War, which broke out only two years later, was to show that these machines were not only beautiful; they were also deadly.

Karl Hofer, Arbeitslose, 1932, Deutsche Bank Collection

War proved unable to eradicate the individual, even if, for a painter like George Grosz, the human being was only conceivable as a "collectivist, almost mechanical idea." The five unemployed in Karl Hofer's painting of the same title, for instance, might be connected by a similar fate. Yet if one looks more closely, it becomes clear that each of them is gazing absent-mindedly in a different direction. Even in the group, each person remains alone – a single individual with his own fate and his own thoughts. Erich Heckel for instance, who had volunteered for the Red Cross, drew a single dead soldier in Flanders as an example for a lonely death amid the masses. A footprint can be seen next to his face with the distorted mouth – as though someone had walked past the dead man without even so much as stopping.

Or take a look at Max Pechstein's Große Mühlgrabenbrücke. Pechstein made the painting in 1921 in the village of Leba in Pomerania, where he spent the summer. The village is there, empty. Only a single person can be seen on the country road. The figure's isolation might have reflected Pechstein's own personal situation. As a member of Die Brücke, he had turned against the traditional painting style of the academies. Yet he left Die Brücke again as early as 1912 because he found their decision only to show together to be a limitation. Following a trip to the Palau Islands in the South Pacific and a year on the front, he founded, together with Erich Mendelsohn and Rudolf Belling, the artists' association "Novembergruppe" in 1918, which identified politically with the November Revolution and wanted to take these impulses and carry them into the field of art. But he left this group as well, in 1920. In 1933, Pechstein found himself in a "group" once again: he was one of the many artists whose works were defamed by the National Socialists. In 1937, his works, as were those by Schmidt-Rottluff, Kirchner, Beckmann, and many others, were derided in the Munich exhibition Entartete Kunst.

Max Pechstein, Große Mühlgrabenbrücke - Leba/Hinterpommern, 1921
Deutsche Bank Collection

Although he was an open advocate of the National Socialists, Emil Nolde also fell victim to the ban. Nolde's humorously drawn female figures with pointy noses and formless bodies, for instance, as he drew them in his Fantasy from 1931, was taken as an opportunity to accuse him of racial degeneration. In 1933, Nolde was excluded from the Prussian Academy, and in 1941 he was prohibited from painting altogether.

With approximately a hundred drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs from the Deutsche Bank Collection, the exhibition Man in the Middle – Menschenbilder, which had previously been seen in St. Petersburg and in Bremen, documents the ever-changing human image from modernism up to the present day. The broad spectrum of artistic positions introduced in the rooms of the Kunsthalle Tübingen beginning on September 13 provides an insight into an era that, more than any other before it, has been marked both by collective visions and the struggle for individual self-determination. Following the exhibition A Century of Landscapes , which had been touring throughout Germany since 1999 and could last be seen in 2002 in the South African National Gallery in Capetown, , as one of the thematic exhibitions of Deutsche Bank's collection, concentrates on the artistic reinvention of the human being in the 20th century as well as on the cultural transformations reflected in its various images. In the process, it places special emphasis on Classical Modernism.

Otto Dix, Großstadt (Entwurf zu Großstadttriptychon), 1926,
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2002

Ranging from representatives of German Expressionism, such as Ludwig Ernst Kirchner or Max Beckmann – who called for a return to original, existential values in their formal allegiance to the Primitive – to Cornelia Schleime, who ironically inserted an image of herself into her Stasi files (files kept by the East German secret police), thereby introducing a new reflection into German history –

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