Barlach

The most important artist working in the region was undoubtedly the sculptor Ernst Barlach (1870–1938), who lived in Güstrow from 1910. Not only did he create his most renowned antiwar sculptures there, but in the 1910s and 1920s he also wrote influential dramas, such as Der tote Tag (The dead day), Der arme Vetter (The poor cousin), Die Sintflut (The flood), and Der blaue Boll (Squire Blue Boll). In the 1920s, Barlach received numerous commissions to design memorials, such as those in Güstrow Cathedral (Der Schwebende), in Kiel (Der Geistkämpfer), and the group of figures in Magdeburg Cathedral. At first the Nazis courted him because his art appeared compatible with their blood-and-soil ideology. When he turned them down, however, the party began a defamation campaign against him. Several hundreds of his works were removed from museums as examples of “degenerate art,” as were the Geistkämpfer and the Güstrow memorial, which was consigned to the smelter. Barlach died of a heart attack in 1938 in Rostock.

—Michael North, The Baltic (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2015), 250.

I was reading more of North this morning and remembered being moved by the Barlach sculpture I saw at Magdeburg Cathedral back in May. I knew nothing of Barlach then, only that the sculpture was where Monday marches had started from in Magdeburg and that I found the piece powerful. It’s difficult to transport myself to the Baltic in the 1930s and try to imagine the conflicts around progressive and traditional styles. Discussions of popular art in 2018 seem to be pretty video-bound.

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