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Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism

2018
Author:

Michael Tymkiw

Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism

A new and challenging perspective on Nazi exhibition design

While National Socialist exhibitions are seen as platforms for attacking modern art, they also served as sites of surprising formal experimentation among artists, architects, and others, who often drew upon the practices and principles of modernism when designing exhibition spaces. Michael Tymkiw reveals that a central motivation behind such experimentation was the interest in provoking what he calls “engaged spectatorship.”

Michael Tymkiw’s book Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism makes an important contribution to the rapidly growing body of literature on exhibition design in which narratives of modern art are turned to the spaces where audiences encountered what was often cutting-edge material. The contents of the displays in this study, however, complicate our expectations of modernism and of the National-Socialist-era visual culture that art and architectural historians long preferred to overlook. This disregard allowed scholars to peer past uncomfortable linkages between the heroic modernist period that preceded these years and the postwar return to legitimacy that followed. By looking closely at this difficult subject, Tymkiw finds moments of formal invention, as well as bold, even shocking, exhibition spaces that expressed a deeply reactionary cultural climate that we often associate with banal canvases and repetitive, monolithic structures.

Andrés Mario Zervigón, Rutgers University

In one of the most comprehensive analyses ever written on the subject, Michael Tymkiw reassesses the relationship between Nazi exhibition design and modernism. While National Socialist exhibitions are widely understood as platforms for attacking modern art, they also served as sites of surprising formal experimentation among artists, architects, and others, who often drew upon and reconfigured the practices and principles of modernism when designing exhibition spaces and the objects within. In this book, Tymkiw reveals that a central motivation behind such experimentation was the interest in provoking what he calls “engaged spectatorship”—attempts to elicit experiences among exhibition-goers that would pique their desire to become involved in wider processes of social and political change.

For historians of art, architecture, performance, and other forms of visual culture, Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism unravels long-held assumptions, particularly concerning the ideological stakes of participation.
Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism

Michael Tymkiw is lecturer in art history at the University of Essex.

Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism

Michael Tymkiw’s book Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism makes an important contribution to the rapidly growing body of literature on exhibition design in which narratives of modern art are turned to the spaces where audiences encountered what was often cutting-edge material. The contents of the displays in this study, however, complicate our expectations of modernism and of the National-Socialist-era visual culture that art and architectural historians long preferred to overlook. This disregard allowed scholars to peer past uncomfortable linkages between the heroic modernist period that preceded these years and the postwar return to legitimacy that followed. By looking closely at this difficult subject, Tymkiw finds moments of formal invention, as well as bold, even shocking, exhibition spaces that expressed a deeply reactionary cultural climate that we often associate with banal canvases and repetitive, monolithic structures.

Andrés Mario Zervigón, Rutgers University

In his nuanced examination of Nazi exhibition design, Michael Tymkiw persuasively challenges the myth that modernism was inherently anti-fascist. Through a rigorous examination of often forgotten displays, he demonstrates that multiple strands of Weimar modernism provided effective propaganda strategies that were in turn adopted by both postwar German states.

Kathleen James-Chakraborty, University College Dublin

This book is an excellent example of contemporary study not only of German culture under National Socialism but of European totalitarianism of the interwar era.

H-Net Reviews

Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism is well written, richly illustrated and readable. Tymkiw's focus on engaged spectatorship nicely complicates notions of passivity and activity while simultaneously blurring the boundaries between producers and consumers of visual culture.

European History Quarterly

Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism breaks with standard ways of writing about art and politics in the Third Reich (such the art-as-propaganda approach, the fascist aesthetic approach, the modernist subversion approach). It puts an end to the lazy kind of thinking that, whether in the name of ideology critique or theories of totalitarianism, pays little attention to the actual forms and techniques buttressing Nazi visual culture.

Modernism/Modernity

Tymkiw demonstrates that exhibitions are optimal vehicles for expanding our understanding of modernism because of their overt connection between form and ideology and, in turn, provides a model for extending the discussion to other visual disciplines and time periods.

German Studies Review

Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism

Contents

Introduction: Experimental Exhibition Design under National Socialism

Part I. Entangled in Debates on Modern Art and Architecture

1. Falling into Line: Three Early Experiments in Visualizing Collectivity Formation

2. Reconfiguring Expressionism: Otto Andreas Schreiber and the Mass Production of Factory Exhibitions

Part II. The Persistence of Formal Dialectics

3. Photomurals after Pressa

4. Fragmentation and the “Jewish-Bolshevist Enemy”

Epilogue: German Exhibition Design after National Socialism

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index