Under National Socialist rule in Germany, modernist artists faced a stark choice: to flee the country, collaborate with the regime, or simply stop producing work altogether.
Very few artists belonged to that latter category and one of those is the recently “rediscovered” German painter Sascha Wiederhold. “The Nazis broke the careers of so many artists, but most of them continued after 1945. So it’s quite extraordinary that he stopped producing altogether,” says Dieter Scholz, the curator of the upcoming exhibition Sascha Wiederhold: Rediscovery of a Forgotten Artist at the Neue Nationalgalerie. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Wiederhold put away his paint brushes and within four years became an apprentice to a bookseller.
It was just so psychedelic… so contemporary. It looks digital, like it was made using computer programmes
Scholz first discovered the artist a few years ago after walking into Galerie Brockstedt in Berlin and seeing Wiederhold’s painting ‘Archers’ from 1929: “It immediately stood out to me,” says Scholz, “It was just so psychedelic and at the same time so contemporary. It looks digital, like it was made using computer programmes.” Brimming with swirling shapes, long arrows and intense colours, the painting wouldn’t feel out of place in a contemporary art gallery. It took a few years, but once funding had been arranged, the painting was acquired by the Neue Nationalgalerie and planning got underway for this latest exhibition.
But with so many works destroyed in the war and such little information about the life of the artist (their main source is a collection of 20 postcards from the archives of the Berlinische Galerie), putting on a show of this kind was fraught with difficulty. “It was a personal discovery for me but more importantly it is a historic one also,” says Scholz. In the 1920s, Wiederhold belonged to the circle around Herwarth Walden’s legendary Der Sturm, a Berlin gallery renowned for showing revolutionary art of the contemporary avant-garde, including exhibitions of works by Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) and the Fauves.
But apart from an exhibition in 1975 (13 years after the artist’s death in 1962), this is the first time his work has been properly brought together for an exhibition in nearly half a century. Alongside four large scale paintings, the remaining 60 or so artworks will be made up of posters, book covers and the stage sets he designed in 1929 whilst working in Kaliningrad, a former German city now part of Russia. The exhibition is coming at a propitious moment, when television shows like Babylon Berlin have sparked renewed interest in the culture of the Weimar Republic era. “His paintings convey the atmosphere and vibrancy of this period yet have such a strong connection to the present,” says Scholz. “There is a lot of power coming from these artworks and it really makes the era in which they were made come alive.”
- Neue Nationalgalerie, Mitte Jul 2 – Jan 8, 2023