They have made careers. They earned their own living. They lived together as lesbians or got married, which didn’t always help. They posed laughing for the group photo in the Paris studio, huge palettes in hand. And beer mugs.
They also founded companies and provided the designs for best-selling products. They were permanently employed, were appointed teachers, and exhibited at world exhibitions. Why did they almost all later somehow disappear from the radar? The Bröhan Museum focuses the curatorial searchlight on 99 female artists.
That’s all the State Museum for Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Functionalism has to offer in this regard. After all! 7.5 percent of the collection items come from women’s hands. There are around 1,500 porcelain vases, fashion drawings, silver jugs, seating furniture, poster designs, bronze sculptures, oil paintings, fabric patterns, tea sets, biscuit jars.
And a brass bell button. The silversmith Emmy Roth designed it around 1925 with clear geometric lines. Their profession was actually considered a male domain, if only because of the hard and valuable material. A photograph shows her on the massive wheelwork of the push bench, where the fine rolling of the silver required full physical effort.
“Form is an expression of my being… because every form I create is myself,” said the artist, who comes from a Jewish family. She had her studio near Ku’damm. In 1942 she committed suicide in Palestine. She was not the only pioneer to experience double discrimination as a woman and a Jew.
This exhibition is a treasure trove. Cross-country it goes through styles and material groups, from the painters of the Berlin Secession to the strong women’s team of the Wiener Werkstätte to the potter’s wheels in Hameln or Marwitz-Velten. Margarete Schütte-Lihotsky’s legendary Frankfurt kitchen, the first fitted kitchen in the world, should of course not be missing.
But the exquisite range of products from Europe’s leading porcelain manufacturers also scored with the potential of the female workforce. It is only now, in the modern age, that women have moved from being mere assistants in dainty painting of the “white gold” to giving shape. The “Urbino” crockery designed by Trude Petri from 1931 is still part of the KPM range to this day. When turned inside out, the lids of the bowls can also be placed on the table as elegant confectionery bowls: multifunctionality was the order of the day.
At the same time in Vienna, Vally Wieselthier modeled extravagantly cheeky women’s heads with brightly colored glazed flowers in coiffed hair and painted lips: goddesses of the big city present, slightly chic. Whether stylishly innovative or skilfully in line with the spirit of the times: the spectrum is wide. No common denominator anywhere. As well as?
Although the all male art critics of the time looked with astonishing tenacity for what was typically feminine in the objects designed by women, this turned out to be a phrase. Again and again one thought to recognize suppleness, flexibility, delicacy and casually emphasized the inferiority of the artefacts and their creators in a friendly, condescending manner.
But the applied arts, according to curator Anna Grosskopf, were booming around 1900 and had an enormous need for workers. Then the women followed. They were given professional training in the traditionally feminine fields of textile design, pottery and decorating earlier than in the liberal arts.
Until 1919, for example, women were not allowed to study the fine arts at the Berlin Art Academy. Private schools like the local Reimann School became all the more important. Marie Schulz designed ravishingly funny outfits for their legendary costume balls. One model is called “Spinach with Egg”. The lady wears a yellow hat with a white brim with the mini-short green dress.
It was high time for the Bröhan Museum. Museums everywhere are now combing through their holdings in search of more gender equality. The idea for the exhibition was born during the quiet Corona months and was put into practice in no time at all.
Barely half a year of preparation time later, the material-rich show “View! Art and Design by Women 1880 – 1945″. Paper printouts unpretentiously pinned to the wall with quotes, historical photos zoomed in to wall-size and short biographies in the spotlight adorn the walls. In front of this reportage-like narration, the selected objects come into their own solely because of their design quality. And that speaks for itself.
Right in the entrance, the powerful sculptures by Chana Orloff set an exclamation mark. The muscular bust by the Russian-French painter Alexandre Jacovleff dominates with expressive vigour, tamed by cubist austerity. Internationally, the artist is one of the most important modern sculptors. In Germany she is hardly known.
Born in 1888 in the small Ukrainian town of Starokostiantyniv, she later commuted between Paris and Israel. The museum uses this life story to build a bridge to the present. Keyword Ukraine: QR codes can be used to access information about artistic study programs for refugees from Ukraine.
Filling the wall on a bright yellow background, such current food for thought catches the eye in all exhibition rooms. Because the old questions and conflicts are still not off the table. It’s about the gender pay gap or the “glass ceiling” where female careers often end. It’s about female networks or the visibility of queer lifestyles.
In this respect in particular there is still a lot to be researched, says co-curator Julia Meyer-Brehm. It refers to two colorfully ringed tobacco and liqueur vessels. The duo Hedwig Marquardt and Gust Kaiser designed best-selling art ceramics from Kiel. But there was no shared apartment for the openly lesbian couple. After just one year, her employment contract was not renewed. A recently purchased painting proves that Marquardt also emerged as a painter.