The Georg Kolbe Museum’s new exhibition retraces the groundbreaking approaches of eleven pioneering female movement artists whose radiance extends far beyond their direct context of influence in 1920s Berlin. Special attention is paid to the once very vital dialogue between the disciplines of dance and sculpture, which the show revives by relating the diverse achievements of its protagonists to current works by artist Ulla von Brandenburg.
With expressive movements, extravagant appearances, and explicit notions about their role in the world, a generation of young female dancers in 1920s Berlin shattered the conventions of their time. After the collapse of the monarchy, society experienced a state of upheaval. The Weimar Republic was still young, and a general disorder fueled artistic expressions that vehemently defied the norms of the bourgeoisie, constricting genre concepts and gender boundaries.
The freshly introduced women’s suffrage of the early Weimar democracy led to more sovereignty among women, the admission of female athletes to the Olympics to more liberalness in fashion - and soon also to more bare skin in everyday life. While more and more female citizens used the opportunities denied to previous generations of women, it was the female dancers of this era who became pioneers. Their radical, space-sculpting concepts left their mark on society, but especially on the visual arts. In the lively cultural metropolis Berlin, the fruitful combination of dance and sculpture revolutionized the relationship between space, time, and form.
In this context, the avant-garde pieces of dancers such as Valeska Gert and Anita Berber are to be considered, whose experiments between mimicry, dance, language, and sound provoked numerous scandals in the Berlin of the Weimar years - which in turn helped the artists themselves to enormous popularity. As pioneers of a radically new body- and self-awareness, they became icons whose impact radiates into the present. Other influential protagonists of the new dance, who saw themselves as ambassadors of a new body movement inspired by reform pedagogy, were Hertha Feist, Vera Skoronel, and Berthe Trümpy. Dancing on the ruins of an old social order, they too wanted to actively shape the new one. Their ideas and teaching approaches set a precedent in the Berlin of the young republic, where more and more dance schools soon opened, many founded and run by women.
The focus of the exhibition “Der absolute Tanz” (The Absolute Dance) is a total of eleven outstanding female dancers who worked in Berlin during the 1920s. In addition to those already mentioned, the show’s protagonists also include Charlotte Bara, Tatjana Barbakoff, Claire Bauroff, Jo Mihaly, Oda Schottmüller, and Celly de Rheidt. Although these artists’ approaches and styles differed greatly, all of their choreographies and dances stand out as expressions of cultural self-creation that enriched modern dance with aspects of the sculptural - and sculpture with its physical energy and presence.
Based on the dialogue between disciplines, which also plays a key role in Georg Kolbe’s work, “Der absolute Tanz” (The Absolute Dance) traces its protagonists’ far-reaching, innovative power. A multitude of contemporary documents, films, photographs, sketches, drawings, and sculptures open up new approaches to the influential innovations of their time.
The title of the show cites a term coined by the dancer Mary Wigman. Contemporary dance critics subsequently took it up to describe the unrestrained creative energy of the new dance: in summary, it is about a generation of pioneering female movement artists who succeeded in using the body in all its expressive, plastic, and political power.
Ulla von Brandenburg: “Blaue und Gelbe Schatten” (Blue and Yellow Shadows)
A dance of colors, fabrics, and bodies occurs in Ulla von Brandenburg’s new artworks, which span an arc in the exhibition space - from the Weimar years to the present, from modernism to contemporary art. At the center of the series by the Paris-based artist, shown here for the first time, is her film “Blaue und Gelbe Schatten” (Blue and Yellow Shadows), which explores the origins and effects of color. Text fragments from Goethe’s Theory of Colors meet experimental sound colors and bodies, interacting lustfully in the wild. In three acts, the film allows movement and color to merge, with the latter becoming the protagonist itself.
Inspired by the radical eroticism of the “absolute dancers”, Ulla von Brandenburg continues her longstanding exploration of the interplay between body, space, and materiality. In opposition to the topos of historical tableaux, her film celebrates physicality beyond ideals of youth. Installed in Kolbe’s large studio, the artist’s work assumes its characteristically spacious form. The walk-in staging of colorful fabric panels and objects, whose color concept runs pictorially through the entire show, is constantly re-staged by the architectural lighting. Complementing the installations is a performance, the film documentation of which will be integrated into the exhibition later.
Ulla von Brandenburg’s series was developed especially for the Georg Kolbe Museum and produced in cooperation with the event “Le Voyage à Nantes,” where it will be shown after the exhibition ends. In the course of the exhibition “Der absolute Tanz” (The Absolute Dance), the Georg Kolbe Museum will also continue the “SCULPTURE Festival,” whose inaugural event took place in September 2020.