DES MOINES, IA.- The Des Moines Art Center
opened an exhibition entitled Jeanne Mammen: City of Women, which runs through December 12, 2010 in the Blank One Gallery.
Working as a magazine illustrator in the years just before World War II, Jeanne Mammen captured a world of raucous nightclubs, smoky cafés, and vibrant street life in her stylized and often critical images. A sharp observer of urban life, Mammen was among the first generation of female artists to live independently, allowing her the chance to roam about 1920s and 30s Europe with a freedom only male artists had previously enjoyed. Unsurprisingly, her images often focus on other independent women, from haughty socialites and fashionable middle class shop girls to street singers and prostitutes. Featuring 13 watercolors from the Art Centers permanent collection, these scenes present Mammens view of Berlins decadent Weimar era. Jeanne Mammen: City of Women is organized by Laura Burkhalter, associate curator.
Jeanne Mammen is one of the most impressive, unusual and versatile German female artists of the twentieth century. She is frequently mentioned in connection with Käthe Kollwitz and Hanna Höch, two artists who also showed a strong engagement in social emancipation, and whose most successful years also date to the Weimar era. When comparing Jeanne Mammen to other socially critical male artists of the time, like Otto Dix and George Grosz, a certain resemblance in the selected motifs can be noticed, but there is quite a difference in their vision and style of portrayal. In contrast to Dix and Grosz, Jeanne Mammen's pictorial statement regarding injustice and the ensuing deplorable social conditions is neither marked by harsh denouncement, nor does it convey pity, and her portrayal of the Bourgeois is without biting malice and condescension. She is the only artist of her time, who, by using her intuitive power and her penetrating eyes, succeeded in delivering precise and cunning portrayals capturing the characteristic physiognomic features, typical of people of all walks of life in the 1930s. She herself once said: "I have always wanted to be just a pair of eyes, walking through the world unseen, only to be able to see others. Unfortunately one was seen ...".
The central motif, subject of her human and artistic concern and empathy, were women of all classes in the metropolis. She depicted them in their socially conflicting roles, also drawing attention to their ambivalence. The spirit of these portrayals originates from her own deep innermost experiences, which she expressed in the finest nuances, something that becomes accessible only when, after having experienced the greatest possible distance, one reaches the greatest possible closeness (E. Roters).