New Exhibition Ethical Rectification by Addressing a Historiographical Gap
|Photo: Ausstellung Neue/Alte Heimat, Kunsthaus Dahlem / Jacqueline Sands, 2017|
Underrepresentation, or even lack of representation, in historical and art historical documentation of a given time period has long been a means by which societies and academic communities have undermined the importance and validity of marginalized or disadvantaged groups of people. Insufficient representation of women, as well as many ethnic and racial minorities, in art historical documentation in a multitude of historic eras throughout the world serve as poignant large-scale examples of the subversive power of selective historiography: lack of representation not only stagnates individual careers, but also removes an important component from the historical and art historical narrative of a given time period; such historiographical discrepancies constitute ethical gaffes both with respect to the artists, as well as the group that they represent.
One such lapse in art historiographical integrity is the absence of German artists who went into exile during the reign of the Nazi regime from the artistic canon in postwar Germany. Many artists who fled the country during this period could not reclaim recognition for their work in Germany; they were completely excluded from artistic development of postwar Germany. Artists such as the sculptors Jussuf Abbo and Paul Hamann suffered rifts in their careers due to the financially harmful effects of emigration that made them unable to sustain their artistic activities on the same level as before. For many of these artists, their inactivity following emigration caused their work prior to their exile to be completely forgotten both in Germany, as well as in their new homelands. The result is a gap in the art historical documentation and representation of German art in the era of the Nazi regime and the postwar era.
The new exhibition New/Old Homeland: R/Emigration of Artists After 1945 seeks to repair this ethical discrepancy by acknowledging and beginning to rectify the art historiographical void left by the forgotten German artists of the aforementioned time period. The exhibition pays homage to this group of forgotten artists by bringing them to the forefront of the museum’s focus. Although spacial limitations confined of the scope of the exhibition to a handful of important sculptors, the exhibition acts as an important beginning to the process of filling a fundamental gap in the art historical narrative of the postwar era in Germany. It not only constitutes a valuable contribution to the art historical record, but also serves as a sort of ethical remedy with regard to the group of exiles artists collectively.
Moreover, the exhibition serves as an artistic reparation to the forgotten artists as individuals. By granting them the artistic recognition that they had initially earned for their work, albeit posthumously, the exhibition seeks to remedy the personal injustice that their exclusion from the artistic development of postwar Germany constituted. The presence of some of the families of the artists included in the exhibition on June 29, such as the Abbo, Hamann, and Theunert families, illustrates the amendatory nature of the exhibition: it gave their descendants the deserved fulfillment of the artists’ due representation in their homelands.
In essence, the exhibition promotes ethical justice and integrity within art historical documentation of the postwar era by contributing to the art historical record of this period.
Jacqueline Sands, intern in Kunsthaus Dahlem, 2017