Saturday, January 8, 2011

Marg Moll, re-excavated sculptor

Two months ago, on November 8, 2010, several German newspapers featured articles on sculptures newly on display at the Neues Museum Berlin, which had been found during the archeological preparations for construction work on the continuation of the Berlin subway a few months ago. Thanks to the attentiveness of the workers eleven different works of art were recovered which had been lost since the end of World War II.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung featured a large picture of one of the sculptures on page 1, which immediately caught my eye and attention: "Dancer" by Marg Moll. Had they  run only a smaller article in the feuilleton pages, the whole event might have completely escaped my notice, as I do not get to read all of the paper every day. Here is a photo of the front-page section which caught my attention:

Picture of the cut out article published
 in Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 8, 2010.

When I turned to the feuilleton pages and read the article there I was deeply moved by the whole scene as described through the three pictures of one of the sculptures found: 

the top left picture shows Edwin Scharff’s sculpture of Anni Mewes in its original condition before the war, the top right picture is of the condition it was in when re-excavated, and the lower picture shows the condition after restauration. 
I imagine none of the other sculptures looked much better. One certainly can be glad that the construction workers were so attentive to notice that something unusual was slipping from their excavator shovel!

What touched me most, though, was the last paragraph, which ran as follows:

Die für die Öffentlichkeit neugewonnenen Werke gehören wohl nicht in die erste Reieh der modernen Kunst. Es war, wie Ursel Berger, Direktorin des Kolbe-Museums sagt, keine „Sammlerkunst“, sie wurde nicht von den großen Galerien vertreten und den potenten Kennern gekauft. Ihre Geschichte aber sichert ihnen unseren Respekt.

(translation: The works newly recovered for the public probably do not belong amongst the first range of modern art. They were not, as Ursel Berger, director of the Kolbe-Museum puts it, „collector’s art“, and they were not represented by the known galleries or bought by insiders. Their history, however, makes us think of them with respect.)

I have to admit, I certainly had never heard about Marg Moll, whose recovered „Dancer“ was featured on the Süddeutsche front-page, but because I was so deeply touched by the sculpture in the picture, this last paragraph to me just seemed rather condescending.

So I set about doing a little research on Marg Moll.
I found a few links in the internet, of course.
  • She can be found in English Wikipedia here, and a German entry here.
  • A website features works by Marg Moll and her husband, Oskar Moll, who was the director of Breslau art academy for several years in the 1920s until the Nazis closed the academy down. When I looked through the sculptures presented on this website, I could not decide which one is my favorite, you’ll have to choose for yourself. But I certainly did like the „Black Torso“.
  • You can find more pictures on google, of course.
  • There is even an English link on the news of the excavation.
  • Another very nice sculpture is called „Lovers“ and can beseen here.
  • The New York Times had an essay by Michael Kimmelman on the opening of the exhibition of the recovered sculptures, too, as it was reprinted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s weekly excerpts of articles from the NYT a few weeks later. (The excerpt never indicates the original date of publication.)

On the Moll’s website I found the reference for a recently published biography of Marg Moll by Werner Filmer: Marg Moll. Eine deutsche Bildhauerin 1884 – 1977. Our local library is pretty good about interlibrary loans, so I ordered this biography and could start reading it a few days later.

Marg Moll was a member of the Munich Secession, the first female German student of sculpture at Henry Matisse’s art school in Paris, and had turned to bronze sculptures even before Käthe Kollwitz. When she married painter Oskar Moll she concentrated on working as a sculptor. Together they traveled a lot, repeatedly spent longer stretches of time in Paris and were friends with many renowned artists from different countries: Lovis Corinth, Henry Matisse, Gertrude Stein, August Endell, Marcel Duchamp, Ossip Zadkine, Man Ray, Robert and Sonia Delaunay…

Marg Moll’s artistic development was characterized by a constant process of abstraction. She was a productive and known artist throughout the 1920s and 1930s, with a 1932 exhibition in the Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, together with her husband. During their years in Breslau they were both influential in the development of modernism in Germay, and Marg Moll continuously worked on further abstractions.
Marg Moll had several sculptures in various German museums and repeated solo exhibitions in various locations, until the Nazis included her sculptures in the notorious „Entartete Kunst“-exhibition ("Degenerate Art") in 1937, around which time her works were removed from the museums as well. Together with their two children the Molls remained in Germany, however, trying to keep a low profile, living and working in their house in Berlin, where they had moved after the Breslau academy had been closed down. Other than e.g. Emil Nolde they had not been prohibited to work, but were not allowed to exhibit any of their works. In 1944, when they had left the city out of fear of  the frequent bomb raids, their house was destroyed by Allied bombs the night before Marg Moll returned in order to clear the valuables out. The Molls lost not only both their entire bodies of work, but an invaluable collection of art works by many of their modern artist friends such as Corinth, Matisse, Picasso, Léger, Braque, Kokoschka, and many others. Despite this strike of fate and Oskar Moll’s decreasing health, both Molls always continued their work. They returned to Berlin after the end of the war and had a first post-war exhibition in May 1946. Marg Moll had turned to wood-sculptures during the war, and continued in this line for a while.
Oskar Moll, whose health had been declining for years, passed away on July 19, 1947, while the couple was contemplating moving to England, where one of their daughters was married.
Marg Moll indeed did move to England in September 1947, but returned to Germany in 1952. She continued trying out new things and improving her techniques in different genres, working until the decline of her eye-sight forced her to end her work in the late sixties.
In 1969, she was awarded the German Bundesverdienstkreuz (order of the Federal Republic of Germany). Her last ten years were spent in Munich, where she died on March 15, 1977.

This brief overview of Marg Moll’s life is based mainly on the biography by Werner Filmer. The book includes a number of pictures of her sculptures from various periods, showing a continuous and convincing development in artistic expression. And it clearly shows that her career was on the upswing well into the thirties with a growing reputation and exhibitions in national and international galleries, until it was interrupted by the Nazis. WW II destroyed her entire body of earlier works. She did not give up, continued to work and produced another impressive body of works.

Marg Moll’s sculpture was on the front page of the paper and caught my attention, and I have concentrated my – admittedly limited – research on her. Definitely she deserves much more praise and attention than the condescending „makes us think of them with respect“, and I am almost certain this holds true for the other excavated pieces of work as well. These include works by Edwin Scharff (English entry here), Otto Baum (no English entry in Wikipedia), Otto Freundlich (English entry here), Karl Knappe (no English entry), Emy Roeder (no English entry), Gustav Heinrich Wolff (no English entry) and Naum Slutzky (English entry here). They are now on display at the Neues Museum Berlin. If you are planning a trip to Berlin any time soon, this definitely should be a worthy item on you list of  museums you want to see!

1 comment:

  1. here's the link to the New York Times story you mentioned: