In his review of the exhibition “Berlin Metropolis: 1918–1933,” currently on view at the Neue Galerie in New York, Martin Filler writes that the show's curator, art historian Olaf Peters, has compared Weimar Berlin to Los Angeles of the same period, citing the similar demographics and geography of the cities. Hard to believe? You be the judge: check out Filler's full review here and an excerpt below.
But the show also draws on economic history, urban planning, and gender studies to challenge the simplistic notions of “divine decadence” set in place by John Kander and Fred Ebb’s 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret and its numerous revivals, including Bob Fosse’s 1972 film adaptation. The Hollywood connection is not unmerited. Because of Weimar Berlin’s peculiar morphology and the large percentage of its residents who were born elsewhere, the exhibition’s curator, the German art historian Olaf Peters, rightly likens the city’s metastatic agglomeration of low-rise villages to the only municipality that exceeded its 344-sqare-mile landmass: Los Angeles.
That comparison is further strengthened by Berlin’s Babelsberg studios having been the center of the thriving German film industry, with two of its most internationally acclaimed releases, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), shown on monitors in the galleries. Both cities had only recently risen to prominence—Berlin when it became the capital of the newly unified Germany in 1871, and LA when moviemakers relocated there from New York in the 1910s—and thus readily embraced flashy upstarts untrammeled by local tradition or conventional mores.
Peters will be familiar to New Yorkers as the organizer of the Neue Galerie’s enormously popular 2014 exhibition “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937,” which provocatively revisited the Third Reich propaganda show that branded (much if not all) avant-garde painting and sculpture as perverse aberrations of racial devolution. Now, in “Berlin Metropolis,” he brilliantly synthesizes the conjunction of political, social, and economic forces that resulted in a fifteen-year outpouring of innovative artwork in all mediums. Drawing on 350 well-chosen examples displayed in six jam-packed galleries arranged by Richard Pandiscio (who also designed the handsome catalog), the survey summons up the fast-paced, jittery, but scintillating atmosphere of a wide-open world city that attracted foreign hedonists enticed by its louche nightlife; yet Peters corrects several entrenched misapprehensions about interwar Berlin, especially that it was mired in unrelieved poverty.
Image: Advertising photocollage for Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt, 1927. Via NYR Daily.