During the 1940s and 1950s, Erwin Blumenfeld (born 1897 in Wilhelmstraße in Berlin, died and buried 1969 in Rome) was one of the most sought-after fashion photographers in the world. Far less known is the early work of this artist of Jewish origin raised in the late Wilhelminian German capital: the often bitingly humorous Dada collages produced between 1916 and 1933.
His friendship with Paul Citroen and Walter Mehring, who found recognition as painter and poet respectively, the association with Berlin’s bohemia surrounding Else Lasker-Schüler and Herwarth Walden’s Galerie Der Sturm, and his worship of George Grosz collided with Blumenfeld’s career in the garment trade. Blumenfeld sensed the urge to write, paint, and act on stage, but still he pursued the career of a businessman and, in 1923, opened a shop for women’s leather goods in Amsterdam. Theater, film, art, and literature are kneaded together with the artists’ daily experience of life and assembled into a visual entity of most distinct character. Blumenfeld’s cynical and extremely individualistic approach, humor, scorn, and anarchy were perfectly Dada. The bankruptcy of his shop, sealed in 1933 by the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany, finally forced him to try his luck as a professional photographer.
In this exhibition curated by Helen Adkins the focus is for the first time on the montages. The selection of some 50 montages and 30 photographs is chosen from the estate of the artist in Paris and Cambridge, the collection of the Berlinische Galerie, and other collections.
The exhibition is articulated in themes:
The viewer gets to know Blumenfeld through unique self-portraits, discovers his admiration for Charlie Chaplin and the afro-American boxer Jack Johnson, and feels his deep dislike of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the “Great Dictator”.