How WW II Influenced Artistic Production Between 1933 and 1955

June 7, 2019

In 1933, Adolf Hitler seized power and The Third Reich was inaugurated. Italy was already governed by one Benito Mussolini. Russia was led by Stalin, and in 1936 The Spanish Civil War happened. Our world was in major crisis – the economic instability and the civil dissatisfaction made the right-wing populism adored by the masses. During that time, the artistic production consisted of different approaches and aesthetics; abstraction and figuration were equally used by the artists, while the socio-political commentary hovered more or less throughout the whole community. On the other hand, the end of the war brought a major disappointment in humanity and triggered an existential crisis which reflected on the artists of the early post-war years.

In order to examine all of the layers of the developments in art between 1933 and 1955, Kunsthaus Zurich is hosting an exhibition titled Hour Zero. Resignation and renewal in art aimed to present how the historical rift created by Fascism and the Second World War and post-conflict period inspired artists.

Joachim Ringelnatz - Fernes Grab
Joachim Ringelnatz - Fernes Grab, 1933. Oil on canvas, 35 x 45.5 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, bequest of Prof. Erwin R. Jacobi, 1981

The Exhibition Concept

The upcoming show curated by Philippe Büttner will gather a number of seventy artworks from the Kunsthaus Collection, many of which have not been on view for decades.

The production of the late interwar period is characterized by major shifts representation vise. The post-war period brought yet another big change – the period of dealing with trauma, reconciliation, and articulation of the atrocities. That is how a new artistic language was formed and was accompanied by a new freedom of expression.

Left Fritz Glarner – Painting Right Alberto Giacometti - Paul Nelson
Left: Fritz Glarner - Painting, 1937. Oil on canvas, 81.5 x 71 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, bequest of Louise Glarner, 1979, © 2019 Kunsthaus Zürich, The Estate of Fritz Glarner / Right: Alberto Giacometti - Paul Nelson, Projekt pour le monument Gabriel Pétri, Fragment, 1946. Bronze, 46 x 16 x 25.4 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, bequest of Bruno Giacometti, 2012 © Succession Alberto Giacometti / 2019 ProLitteris, Zurich

The Installment

The installment will rotate around three major themes.

The first one will show striking contrasts in Switzerland and elsewhere; The traditional figuration expressed through the paintings by Hermann Huber will be shown alongside canvases made by modernists such as Max Gubler, Varlin, Serge Brignoni and Otto Tschumi (associated with Surrealism) and Max Bill, Fritz Glarner and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. The Swiss artists will be positioned in a dialog with the works by Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Oskar Kokoschka and Paul Klee, and others. After the war, non-representational art becomes the prevailing tendency so practitioners in Switzerland include Zurich Concretists (artists such as Wilfrid Moser and Hugo Weber), as well as the European practitioners of Informel of Wols, Nicolas de Staël, Georges Mathieu and Maria Vieira da Silva, the North American abstraction of Jackson Pollock, Jean-Paul Riopelle and others, and the sculpture of Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti.

The second theme will show how the artists started from scratch or rather from redoubt and to all over. These works will show different approaches saturated with political and socially critical undertones, and the worsening geopolitical climate (Miró’s 1939 composition Personnages et oiseaux dans la nuit). On display will also be Léger’s composition Fleur jaune made in the US, as well as idylls of Switzerland surrounded by the turmoil of war.

The third group of works will show how female artists emerged as innovators. The abstract forms of Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Germaine Richier’s representation of the human bodies in time of war, Isabelle Waldberg’s constructive experimental paintings from the late 1940s, as well as abstract compositions by Hilla von Rebay and Verena Loewensberg’s concrete composition from around 1950 are some of the most important impulses which prove how women articulated themselves during the changing times.

Fernand Leger - La fleur jaune
Fernand Léger - La fleur jaune, 1944. Oil on canvas, 74 x 91.5 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, gift in memoriam C. and S. Giedion-Welcker, 1982, © 2019 ProLitteris, Zurich

Hour Zero at Kunsthaus Zurich

The accompanying catalog will encompass essays written by scholars aimed to contextualize the artworks accordingly, as well as to analyze the Kunsthaus’s purchasing policy in the period between 1933 and 1950 especially the works by Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, and Edvard Munch.

Hour Zero. Resignation and renewal in art will be on display at Kunsthaus Zurich from 7 June until 22 September 2019.

Featured images: Isabelle Waldberg - Construction en bois, 1945. Wood, 44 x 56 x 54 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, 1981, © 2019 ProLitteris, Zurich; Edvard Munch - Kopf bei Kopf, 1905. Woodblock print, blue, brownish-red, green and red on yellowish paper, 39.5 x 54 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich; Sophie Taeuber-Arp - Douze espaces, 1939. Oil on canvas, 80.5 x 116 cm. Kunsthaus Zürich, gift of Hans Arp, 1958. All images courtesy Kunsthaus Zurich.