A retrospective exhibition of the works of German artist Oskar Schlemmer, the first ever to be held in France, opened on June 1st 1999 at the Cantini Museum in Marseilles.
Head of the departments of sculpture and mural paintings at the Bauhaus school, Schlemmer developed a code of geometric figuration as well as some principles that were to be applied in most fields of art but he became a kind of outcast when the Nazis considered him as a «degenerate artist» after they rose to power in Germany.
Works on paper, paintings, sculptures, decorative and architectural as well as ballet choreographic designs kept in many German and foreign museums are being shown in this exhibition, which is enabling to cast light on the influence of this artist on modern art.
Precision and logic's were Schlemmer's main mottoes while he attempted to give a new dimension to modernity applying a well-conceived system adaptable to all forms of art.
Born in 1888, he studied art in Stuttgart, his hometown and fought with the German during the First World War. Contrary to Otto Dix, Max Beckman or Herman Max Pechstein, and though wounded twice in 1914 and 1916, he never recalled the scars of the war in his works.
Schlemmer simply applied Cubist and Futurist principles and determined his own vocabulary based on the use of the circle and the right angle. Schlemmer joined the Bauhaus school founded in Weimar and taught his principles there.
A circle and half of a square would represent the profile of a head, two half circles joined together would suggest hair, an oval would indicate an eye while a series of right angles would create an architecture and so on.
Schlemmer, contrary to many other artists such as Kandinsky or Klee who were involved in many experiments, limited himself to defining a precise code of geometric figuration in an attempt to integrate his works into their environment.
Schlemmer believed in the creation of a new form of art conceived for a new civilisation as much rational as his principles.
He also worked as an extraordinary choreographer conceiving ballets in accordance with his principles, notably with «Dances of Forms» in 1926, the decor for Schönberg's « Lucky Hand » in 1930 with dancers looking like coloured constructions.
Schlemmer used a much minute method, in his drawings or paintings filled with same symmetrical and rigid mute figures with cylindrical busts and limbs looking much modern like robots suggesting the triumph of our industrial world and of new technologies, which were notably expressed in the movie “Metropolis” or in Charlie Chaplin's film “Modern Times”.
Schlemmer's works often seem to delve into an absolute totalitarian world and are terribly realistic since they exactly foretold those dramatic events of the late 1930's. There is something quite tragic with his inexpressive dummies and his geometric interiors.
It seems that Schlemmer sensed what was going to happen and tried to his best but to no avail to persuade the Nazis that their campaigns against modern art were going against human values.
He even wrote to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister for propaganda in April 1933 saying that what he called the defamation campaign run by the nazis against modern art should be stopped adding that it was a stupidity to describe many artists as unworthy, degenerate and anti-Germans. That it was also a mistake to claim that they were involved in politics as their only goal was to work for the well-being of mankind. “Artists do not interfere with politics and do not intend to do so,” he added. Five days after sending such letter, Schlemmer was dismissed from his teaching job.