Date:1. July 1928 – 9. September 1928
The exhibition of Sudeten German art in Brno’s House of Arts was probably the largest overview of the art that emerged out of the cultural milieu of German speaking artists from Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. There were several reasons for organizing the exhibition. Fundamentally, it met the demand for national self-reflection and justified the continued existence of the German-speaking art scene in interwar Czechoslovakia. The show built on the previous group exhibition of Czech, Moravian and Silesian Germans in Brno in 1921.
The primary motivation was the need to overcome the sense of injustice caused by the omission of German speaking artists tied to Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia at the national art show organized as part of the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture in Czechoslovakia, which took place at the Brno exhibition grounds between May and September 1928. To participate in this prestigious and highly publicized national exhibition, one had to be a permanent resident of Czechoslovakia. Despite efforts to ensure proportional representation of all minorities, many of the “compatriots”—that is, German speaking artists who decided to move abroad after 1918—were denied participation, even though at one point in their life they were inseparably connected to Czechoslovakia. These artists included for example Willi Nowak, Emil Orlik, Heinrich Hönich, Adolf Hölzel, Alfred Kubin or Friedrich Feigl, whose oeuvre is now perceived as part of the cultural heritage in the Czech lands. Moreover, the first three were professors at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, or aspired to this position.
The exhibition’s central concept was to show the entire scope of the German speaking art scene, including architecture, in a comprehensive and generous manner, and to position German visual culture in Czechoslovakia as a kind of counterpoint to the official state culture. Its conception was reflected in the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture, held in the same period, where some of the Czech, Moravian and Silesian Germans were also represented.
Art historian Otto Kletzl, one of the key national-oriented theorists focusing on the Czech-German art scene, selected the artworks along with Maxim Kopf, a commercially successful and democratically minded painter, an active organizer of Czech-German cultural life and the future co-founder of Prager Secession. In this unique project, they partnered with members of the Mährischer Kunstverein [Moravian Art Association], who were in charge of the selection from Moravia and Silesia: the chairman Moritz Hirsch, the manufacturer Phillip Beran, Paul Bittner, the painter Eduard Csank and the architects Heinrich Fanta and Hanns Jakesch, who together with Kletzl were behind the final installation. This relatively disparate group of people selected 138 artists including roughly thirty compatriots and several deceased artists. A total of 340 paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, applied art objects and architectural designs filled both floors of the Brno House of Arts.
With its emphasis on proportional representation of the individual regions, the exhibition presented a truly all-encompassing cross-section of the contemporary German speaking art scene in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. It included artists of all generations and with few exceptions, maintained a solid standard, even though the works were mostly conservative, traditionalist and in line with the concept of Heimatkunst. The exhibition was accompanied by a 45-page catalogue without reproductions, but with an introductory national-revivalist text by Otto Kletzl, which accentuated the artists of the older and middle generation, aiming to justify their participation.
German periodicals wrote detailed reviews of the exhibition. Its co-author, Otto Kletzl, wrote a review for Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia, while the Brno daily Tagesbote published an extensive essay by Viktor Oppenheimer. Both reviewers explained the circumstances of the show’s origin, namely the impossibility of presenting the work of compatriots within the German-Czech scene in a comprehensive way, and then focused on the description and characteristics of the individual artists and the sections of the exhibition. Both texts mention that the works were arranged according to the artists’ home regions and age. The Künstlerhaus’s main hall was reserved for established Moravian artists of the older generation. Opposite them were works by their generational counterparts from Bohemia, led by Brömse, Krattner, Orlik, and others. The “hall of the moderns” [Kletzl 1928] brought together works by the Moravian painters Oskar Spielmann, Josef Eberhardt Karger, Felix Bibus, Alois Watznauer and Anton Bruder, while on the opposite wall hung works by young Czech Germans, such as Richard Schrötter, Charlotte Schrötter-Radnitz, Maxim Kopf and also Georg Kars. One of the side halls was dedicated to “a more conservative group of Moravian and Silesian Germans” [Kletzl 1928], including Fritz Raida, Hugo Baar, Eduard Csank and Hugo Hodiener.
The exhibition took place at a time when the youngest generation of German-speaking artists was only beginning to emerge on the domestic scene. For this reason, the show brought together relatively conservative works by established artists of the middle and older generations, often bearing traces of national struggle, together with current Parisian or Berlin trends that were just beginning to resonate in Prague, Brno, Liberec or Ostrava, along with reflections on everyday life. The overall character of the exhibition was therefore rather kaleidoscopic. The catalogues suggest that the greater part of what we now consider the most interesting Czech German art of the late 1920s was on display at the Exhibition of Contemporary Culture. The parallel exhibition at the House of Arts offered a rather comprehensive overview of everything else of importance that did not fit into the Exhibition Grounds selection. However, the mere fact that the Brno Künstlerhaus exhibition was organized attested to the vitality of the Czech German art scene and to the feeling of belonging among its artists, commented on in the Czechoslovak German-language media.
The exhibition of Sudeten German art was the largest modern, albeit nationally motivated, interwar showcase of the Czech German scene. It became a stepping stone to the qualitatively more demanding Prager Secession exhibition and a precursor to other, more internationally oriented shows of the Czechoslovak German-speaking art scene in Karlovy Vary in 1930 and 1931, which closed the era of ideologically unfiltered national shows of German-Czech art in Czechoslovakia.
Kletzl 1928: Otto Kletzl, Junge sudetendeutsche Kunst. Ausstellung in Mährischen Kunstverein, Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia CI, 1928, no. 160, 7. 7., p. 6
Ivo Habán, In Sichtweite von Wien, im Schatten von Prag? Die Vereinigung deutscher bildender Künstler Mährens und Schlesiens “Scholle“, in: Anna Habánová (ed.), Junge Löwen im Käfig, Künstlergruppen der deutschsprachigen bildenden Künstler aus Böhmen, Mähren und Schlesien in der Zwischenkriegszeit, Liberec – Řevnice 2013, pp. 60–79
Ivo Habán, Brněnský dům umělců jako výstavní centrum německy hovořících umělců z Moravy, Slezska a Čech, in: Lubomír Slavíček – Jana Vránová (edd.), 100 let Domu umění města Brna (exh. cat.), Brno 2010, pp. 71–9
V. Opp. [Viktor Oppenheimer], Sudetendeutsche Künstler in Brünner Künstlerhaus, Tagesbote LXXVIII, 1928, no. 317, 10. 7., p. 6pdf
V. Opp. [Viktor Oppenheimer], Sudetendeutsche Künstler in Brünner Künstlerhaus II, Tagesbote LXXVIII, 1928, 11. 7., p. 7pdf
Anonymous author, Die Ausstellung sudetendeutscher Künstler im Künstlerhaus, die Sonntag den …, Tagesbote LXXXVIII, 1928, no. 311, 5. 7., p. 6