New Objectivity is divided into five sections that address the competing and, at times, conflicting approaches that the adherents to this new realism applied to the turbulent and ever-changing Weimar years.
1. The first section, Life in the Democracy and the Aftermath of the War, highlights the disparity between victims of the Weimar Republic and the growing bourgeoisie that benefited from the deprivation of that period. Artists such as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, August Sander, and Heinrich Maria Davringhausen, portrayed urban landscapes highlighting postwar outcasts and their environs: the unemployed, disfigured, victims of violence, and prostitutes are set amid backdrops of bordellos, street corners and other scenes fraught with menace. Davringhausen’s painting The Dreamer (1919), for example, portrays a murder scene in which the focus is directed toward the murderer, a seemingly elegant man who appears to be physically and psychologically disconnected from his slaughtered victim. The extreme violence depicted in this work is betrayed by the calm, orderly depiction of our “dreamer.”
2. In The City and the Nature of Landscape, artists respond to the tensions caused by the effects of industrialization, which bled from cities into rural areas. As factories and jobs proliferated, Germany experienced a mass migration of its population from the countryside to urban areas. The notion of the city became associated with the future while the rural was nostalgically regarded as the past, and those who experienced the transition of migration were subject to feelings of displacement. The complex relationship between the urban and rural reflected the disparate conditions of the Weimar Republic.
3. New Identities: Type and Portraiture examines the way artists including Beckmann, Dix, Schad, and their peers turned to portraiture. While diverse in approach, the portraits featured numerous commonalities, including social typecasting, unsentimental renderings, and self-portraiture. Dominating these portraits are depictions of other artists, writers, and performers, the working class, and marginalized members of society as well as newly established types specific to the period, such as the war veteran and the “new woman.”
4. Man and Machine, the penultimate section of New Objectivity, highlights artists’ attention to the Weimar Republic’s advancements in technology and industry. While some were skeptical about the lack of humanity found within networks of new machinery, others acknowledged the transformative power of technologies and sought new ways of conceiving man’s relationship to industry. Photography plays a key role in this section, not only commenting on its newly accepted position as an art form, but also serving as a key influence for painters such as Carl Grossberg, who executed paintings of factories with photographic precision as seen in The Paper Machine (Die Papiermaschine) (1934). Additionally, some artists, such as Renger-Patzch, attempted to bridge the psychological divide between the natural and the industrial by drawing structural parallels between machinery and botany.
5. Still Life and Commodities proposes a new form of the still life, meticulously staged compositions that might be called object-portraits. Zeroing in on disparate, banal objects of everyday life, these images represent things as markers of modernity and mass production. This section sees a recurring motif of cacti and rubber plants, “exotic” plants that were common in households at the time. This section includes work by Aenne Biermann, Georg Scholz, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and Finsler, among others.