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June in art: The Weimar women’s moment

Berlin curators are finally rediscovering interwar female artists.

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Berlin curators are finally rediscovering interwar female artists.

Most Berliners know of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), especially for her “Mother with her Dead Son”, the iconic sculpture at the centre of Berlin’s Neue Wache memorial on Museum Island and the square and statue dedicated to her in Prenzlauer Berg. The other familiar female name of that era is Hannah Höch (1889-1978), her Dadaist collages and photomontages having been exhibited internationally. But for too long that was pretty much about it when it came to Weimar female artists, with their sisters routinely under-represented in group shows and hardly ever given solo exhibitions. Not anymore: in recent years many of these women have finally been receiving their well overdue moment in the limelight. In 2017, Berlinische Galerie dedicated a huge blockbuster show to the (until then) barely known portrait painter Jeanne Mammen. It’s spearheaded a curatorial trend which, in the post-#Metoo climate is spawning a host of exhibitions celebrating female artists – and Weimar women are clearly having a moment. Head of Prints and Drawings at Berlinische Galerie, Annelie Lütgens credits the lack of attention many of these women previously received to the disruption caused to their careers as Hitler took power in 1933. But she is optimistic about their future legacies: “People are more and more aware of a responsibility to give female artists like these their attention and respect.”

And there is much to discover: Dadaism, Surrealism, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Constructivism and Modernism were all born during the Weimar Republic. As emancipation also took hold and women were finally allowed to enter art schools, Berlin in particular earned a reputation for being the continent’s capital of risqué experimentation and artistic freedom. Berlinische’s current temporary exhibition is dedicated to the paintings and sketches of Jewish artist Lotte Laserstein (1898-1993). It’s a treasure trove of early 20th century portraits of Berliners and of particular note are those of the new modern women, with short hair and simple clothes they casually ooze the feminism of their day. If you missed the Mammen (1890-1976) show, you can still see her “Revue Girls” from 1928/9 in their permanent collection alongside Hanna Höch’s painting “The Journalists” from 1925.

At Charlottenburg’s Bröhan Museum, the work of Ilna Ewers-Wunderwald (1875-1957) is currently on show for the first time in 60 years. A painter, illustrator, designer, cabaret performer, fashion and furniture designer and all round Art Nouveau icon. Before WWI her work was in major exhibitions such as the Berlin and Munich Secessions. On display until June 16 are 70 examples of her highly decorative style: fantastical creatures in ink and watercolour sit alongside exotic landscapes inspired by her globe-trotting adventures in India and the Caribbean.

Anni Albers (1899-1994) has received international attention with retrospectives at London’s Tate Modern and Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum. She is currently included in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s exhibition Bauhaus Imaginista. A former student of the Bauhaus, she became head of the weaving workshop, one of the few women to hold a senior role at the school. After fleeing Nazi-Germany, Albers went on to have solo shows at the NY Museum of Modern Art and Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, and publish books on weaving and design. HKW is showing a 1926 Inca-inspired woven silk wall hanging by her.

Ilna Ewers-Wunderwald: Rediscovering a Master of Art Nouveau Through Jun 16 Bröhan Museum, Charlottenburg | Bauhaus Imaginista Through Jun 10 Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Mitte | Lotte Laserstein: Face to Face Through Aug 12 Berlinische Galerie, Kreuzberg