Alfred Flechtheim. Modernism’s Art Dealer
May 21, 2017 – September 17, 2017
The role played by Alfred Flechtheim (1878–1937) in the history of twentieth-century European art cannot be underestimated. He dealt in his galleries with the most important artworks of his time and was a charismatic driving force for artists, museums and collectors. His publication “Querschnitt” was one of the Weimar Republic’s most intellectually stimulating avant-garde magazines. Flechtheim was surrounded by such popular celebrities as Max Schmeling and illustrious artists like Renée Sintenis. Defamed by anti-Semitic hostilities and threatened by the Nazis, he emigrated from Germany in 1933 and died in exile in 1937.In this first special exhibition on Alfred Flechtheim to be shown in Berlin, special attention is be paid to his pronounced love of modern sculpture from the nineteen twenties. While his dedicated commitment to painting, for example by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, George Grosz and Max Beckmann, has been acknowledged, modern sculpture played an equally important role in his exhibitions, an crucial aspect that has been neglected in previous assessments of his work. The exhibition “Alfred Flechtheim. Modernism’s Art Dealer” at the Georg Kolbe Museum documents the stylistic as well as biographical contrasts between sculptors represented by Flechtheim, ranging from Arno Breker, who rose to the rank of state artist in the National Socialist system, to Moissey Kogan, who was murdered in Auschwitz.
In 1921, the passionate art collector transferred his gallery’s headquarters from Düsseldorf to Berlin. His most successful period was the nineteen twenties, selling numerous works to collections at home and abroad. For many of “his” artists, the collaboration with the Galerie Flechtheim marked the zenith of their artistic careers. Renée Sintenis, famed for her Berlin Bears, and her sculptor colleague Ernesto de Fiori, who portrayed both Marlene Dietrich and Max Schmeling, were among Flechtheim’s closest associates and omnipresent in pages of “Querschnitt.” These artist personalities were well suited to Flechtheim’s staged self-image, radiating self-confident international cosmopolitanism.
At that time, established sculptors such as Georg Kolbe and Ernst Barlach could already look back at many successful years with the art dealer Paul Cassirer, who was one of Flechtheim’s early mentors. After Cassirer’s death in January 1926, Flechtheim assumed in numerous ways his role as the charismatic networker of Berlin’s art scene.
Representatives of the art world, politics and society came together at the Galerie Flechtheim’s legendary parties and festivities to celebrate the new-found freedom of the Weimar Republic. Alfred Flechtheim not only manifestly marketed works of art but also represented a cultural zeitgeist that sought the innovative on numerous levels. For him, art was more than a mere business; it was a passion that he discovered early in life as a collector and which he consistently promoted as a dealer. Many extraordinary works found their way into the collections of German museums through his intervention. The exhibition features two of the seven figures of dancers by Edgar Degas (from the Kunsthalle Bremen and the Städel in Frankfurt) that Flechtheim sold to diverse German museums.
The underpinning of Alfred Flechtheim’s work as a dealer was taken from him by the Nazis; many of his artists were deemed “degenerate”. In the fall of 1933, he emigrated to London by way of Paris:
“Yesterday I left Berlin forever. My galleries there and in Düsseldorf are to be closed. There is no place for me here. […] If I had not dealt with Hofer, Kolbe, Renée [Sintenes], Klee and with my French artists they would not have bothered with me; yes, they even gave me to understand that if I did without these artists I could carry on quite happily as an art dealer!!! But I would prefer to be really poor abroad than a traitor.” (Alfred Flechtheim, 1933)
In 1937, Alfred Flechtheim died in exile in London. Rediscovered comparatively late, he has again attracted much public notice in conjunction with the important debates on the restitution of unlawfully confiscated cultural properties. The exhibition at the Georg Kolbe Museum aims at focusing attention on his influential activities and documenting this special chapter in Berlin’s modern history. Flechtheim was doubtlessly one of the most important and vibrant protagonists of art in the Weimar Republic. On March 11, 1937, his obituary was published in the “Pariser Tageszeitung” (an exile newspaper) in which the art critic Paul Westheim wrote:
“Alfred Flechtheim was more than an art dealer; on life’s stage, which we had the honor to see, he was a man who was always in the foreground, a person known to the whole world and about whom the whole world talked.[…] He enjoyed it when the serious people kept on thinking he was mad. That is precisely what made him so authentic, it was this passion for artists, for artistic people, for paintings.”
Georg Kolbe (1877–1947) was the most successful German sculptor of the first half of the twentieth century. His expressive sculptures dating from the nineteen teens and twenties reflect the spirit of the times in the European art metropolis Berlin, conveying a vivid image of the era they were produced in. Their close ties to now iconic examples of modern architecture is particularly enlightening for an understanding of their historical significance.