Critics’ Picks

Hannah Höch, Red Textile Sheet, 1951, mixed media, 13 x 8''.


“Inventur—Art in Germany, 1943–55”

Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street
February 9–June 3

I was taught the common myth of art’s disappearance in Germany immediately after the war and its reemergence in the early 1960s in my first-year introductory course on twentieth-century art. Lynette Roth, the curator of “Inventur—Art in Germany, 1943–55,” smacked me in the face with my own ignorance in this staggering survey of works made between the beginning of the fall of the Nazi empire and Germany’s entrance onto the world’s stage of mass consumerism. Using a loosely chronological format, “Inventur” tracks Germany’s economic recovery alongside artists’ developing access to materials—both physical and mnemonic. Hannah Höch, known primarily for her work from the Weimar era, lived in Berlin during the Third Reich and continued to make photomontages after the war. By 1952, she was appropriating images from magazines newly rendered in color, producing works like Red Textile Sheet, 1952, in which a woman (in black-and-white) peeks out from behind ribbons of red cloth speckled with white diamonds. Another collage, Composition with Red Ribbon, 1951, by Louise Rösler, uses the candy wrappers left behind by American soldiers as some of its raw materials.

Despite their collective reckoning with the devastation of World War II, the works on display evince the period’s extreme heterogeneity as artists, many of whom the Nazis had censored, collectively attempted to find ways forward. The exhibition’s title, the German word for inventory, suggests that its curator also found the multifarious nature of the time to be one of its defining characteristics. “Inventur” reminds the viewer that intervals of variety, while difficult to periodize for the sake of sweeping survey courses, reflect their times and thus deserve witnesses.