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The Hidden Trace. Jewish Paths through Modernity at Felix Nussbaum Haus
The exhibition starts in the first half of the 20th century with the heyday of art which emerged in particular in metropolises such as Paris and Berlin. Photo: EFE / Friso Gentsch.

OSNABRUCK.- On the special occasion of its tenth anniversary in 2008, the Felix Nussbaum Museum Osnabrück, designed by Daniel Libeskind, will feature the extraordinary exhibition “The Hidden Trace: Jewish Paths Through Modernity” from 7 December 2008 until 19 April 2009 with high-calibre loans from renowned museums throughout Europe and the USA. What trace have Jewish artists left in 19th and 20th-century art history? And how can it be revealed? The anniversary show under the patronage of Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel is devoted to the impact of Jewish culture and Jewish life on art in modernity over the past two centuries.

The thread of the exhibition is a fundamental experience which determines the tradition of Jewish culture: Jews live in the Diaspora (dispersion) in Germany and other countries. The basic idea of the concept relies on the realisation that up to the present, this experience is reflected throughout Jewish culture in numerous testimonies. Selected paintings of Felix Nussbaum are related to some 100 exhibits of national and international artists, thereby pointing out new continuities.

The exhibition starts in the first half of the 20th century with the heyday of art which emerged in particular in metropolises such as Paris and Berlin. Many artists and intellectuals of Jewish origin became protagonists of a dynamic and exciting development. In the beginning of the century, numerous Jewish artists came from the “Shtetls” of Eastern Europe. Marc Chagall, for instance, enters into an artistic dialogue by reviving the mystical world of the Hasidim in surrealistic combinations of images. Chaim Soutine, on the other hand, turns his back on Jewish tradition. Artists like Max Liebermann or Felix Nussbaum develop from a secularised understanding of Jewish tradition.

The seizure of power by the National Socialists puts an abrupt end to this culture and defames the avant-garde as being “degenerate.” Fear of persecution and expulsion becomes a subject in the works of many artists and writers.

After 1945, in particular the New York School and the London School start to develop new pictorial languages, with many important stimuli coming in particular from the immigrated artists. In the 1940s, for instance, Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko establish abstract expressionism as a counterconcept to European painting. In London, artists like Lucian Freud and R. B. Kitaj design their figurations from “human ashes”, so to speak. Kitaj formulates the concept of “diasporist painting”.

Even today, the Shoah continues to be present in works of Jewish and non-Jewish artists. In the focus are different forms of recollection of Jewish life and a cultural memory shaped by the Shoah. They pick up traces which are represented in the exhibition by works of Christian Boltanski or Rebecca Horn, among others.

The spectrum of subjects which ranges from the burden of memory to global experience in the face of worldwide crises reaches into contemporary art. For art, this situation means that different cultural forms of expression are intensively intertwined.

In the context of Jewish identity, “transit” originally denotes the way into exile, which today has become a global experience due to the effects of worldwide crises. In contemporary art, the Hebrew bible as a portable shrine and basis of versatile and deductive thinking has found its expression for instance in the works of Dani Karavan or William Kentridge.

Increasing globalisation forms a contrast to cultural and territorial conflicts. Israel is one of the culminating points of these conflicts. These processes are critically accompanied and examined by artists like Larry Abramson and Yael Bartana.

The exhibition directs the visitor’s eye to works of art which owe their existence in different ways to these stimuli from Jewish tradition and the associated Diaspora experience. By relating them to the architecture of the Felix Nussbaum House, this “hidden trace” is to be visualised.

All exhibited works will be reproduced in a catalogue and explained and related to each other by accompanying text. The exhibition will be complemented by an extensive supporting programme.

The anniversary exhibition is made possible with the kind assistance of: the Federal State of Lower Saxony, Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, Klosterkammer Hannover, Niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung, Sparkasse Osnabrück, VGH, Stiftung Stahlwerk Georgsmarienhütte, Felix Nussbaum Foundation, Felix Nussbaum Gesellschaft and Museums- und Kunstverein Osnabrück e.V.

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