Weimar Experiment in Global Perspective

Christian Schad (1894-1982). Sonja, 1928. The Leopold Museum in Vienna exhibits his works at the moment. Christian Schad Stiftung, Aschaffenburg.

The age of globalization confuses many and inspires some to reject the change of history. Globalization, however, is as old as the first civilizations. The scale, rapidity and impact may differ, but the principle remains the same. Ideas, goods and persons are on the move and change cultures, societies and people. The twentieth century, in the early 1920s and 1930s, witnessed an experiment at European level, but with global impact. The Weimar Republic, the successor of the German Empire (1871-1918), was a modern, urban, industrial society, a mixture of sights, sounds and thoughts connected with urban life, science, technology, bureaucracy and modern, rational modes of thinking, but situated amid an impoverished peasantry, old nobility and hierarchical structures and an urban proletariat without perspective.

It was what we call today a ‘mass society’. Modernism and old structures amid capitalism, democracy and freedom on the one hand and (right and left) extremism, violence and intolerance on the other hand. The phenomenon was both stimulating and unsettling, but it was the confrontation between old and new, globalization and inward looking structures, new cultural expressions, like jazz, radio, travelling, and global business, financial transactions without frontiers, immigration and emigration. The vibrant canvas of Weimar was unmatched by Paris in the 1920s or New York in the 1940s-1960s. The restless questioning of what it means to live in modern times, the search for job security in an instable market, the struggle with intolerant, closed and dogmatic old structures and the belief in the possibilities, was typical for the so-called Weimargeneration of artists and thinkers.

The German artist Christian Schad was a typical representative of the Weimargeneration. He explored modernity, the possibilities of modern times and the political experiment. He was confronted with the meaning of mass violence and intense political conflict, mass unemployment and uncertainty. But he never gave up. It is no surprise that his best work was produced in the 1920s. (Source: E.D. Weitz,Weimar Germany. Promise and Tragedy. (New Jersey 2007).