Museum Hinter Aegidien: Goddess of arts & crafts

Christina/ May 10, 2023/ Culture

„Do it yourself, make it new, make it nice“, this triad is the motto of the artistry of the art nouveau period. The exhibition „Goddess of art nouveau“ is dedicated to this art historical era at the edge of the 19th century to the 20 th century. The composition of the exhibits focuses on the role of women at that time. Last Sunday I visited the show. With a guided tour I enhance my knowledge about this period on the one hand. On the other hand I am once more suprised to what extend men seem to be frightened of (powerful) women.

From historism to art nouveau
At the end of historism in 1895 art nouveau becomes the rising star of the art scene. Whereas in historism there is a focus on historical genres, art nouveau concentrates on new ideas. The radical change due to the industrialization of industries can be compared to the transformation towards digitalization and artificial intelligence of the time being. The reduction of physical stress due to the use of machines does not only improve the working conditions. The improved living conditions let the population numbers jump up. For example the world exhibition in the year 1900 in Paris witnessed an incredible 50 million visitors!

In the course of the industrial revolution a middle class arose in Germany, the bourgeoisie, that does not only accumulate wealth but also wants to show it off. Villas and big townhouses were built which need to be furnished and decorated. Especially floral patterns and prints are popular. A central characteristic are decorative, curved shaped elements which are meant to integrate nature into the modern world.

Magazin „Jugend“ from Munich
The term of „Jugendstil“ (art nouveau) comes from the magazine „Jugend“ which was established in the year 1896. The richly illustrated paper figures itself as art and literature magazine. The views of women coined by the paper mirrors the men’s point of view at that time.

Goddess or avenging angel?
Men’s comprehension of women has only two dimension: as stylized goddess or avenging angel. Due to this paternalistic attitude men are either threatened by the femme fatal or they match the ideal of the submissive wife who knows her assigned place in life. Men skeptically eyeball the progress in women’s self-determination, be it bicycling, wearing comfortable dresses or even trousers or sports activities.
The most liberated representatives of that time are Ricarda Huch, Loïe Fuller, Sarah Bernhardt, Julie Wolfthorn, Käthe Buchler and Änne Koken. The most dazzling ones were Bernhardt and Fuller. The French actress is seen as the first world star. Berndhardt plays men in classic dramas and leads a self-determined life – taking current circumstances into account. She is said to underwent plastic surgery. Her pet was a crocodile and she took it for a walk on Sundays. Her exentric lifestyle earns her the reputation of being a femme fatale. It is almost an implicitness though that she carries on with many men and women.

Her American Ihr amerikanisches match, Loïe Fuller becomes famous by her so called snake dance. Fuller is the first person who puts colourful headlights on the stage that spotlight her unending cloth widths. The artist becomes the symbol of art nouveau. Full does also become a pioneer of modern dance and businesswomen. Moreover she gets her own pavillion on the world exhibition.

The exception proves the rule
Despite all progress it still holds true that the exception proves the rule. On of the most famous artist of art nouveau is the Czech Alfons Mucha. Mucha also created the bronze woman’s bust, the symbol of the exhibition. „The nature“ is the title of it. It is supposed to symbolized nativeness with its fluttering mane and the egg on her head. An alternative version is presendted on the world exhibition of the year 1900.

The „King of the advertisment“ as Mucha is called, is active at a time when mass consumption starts, departments stores and advertisments come into fashion. The posters and advertised products use women as icons of modern times and decorate as hood ornament luxury cars. Still that does not change the social status of women: men are called artists, women „Malweiber“. A lady at the steering wheel of a car symbolizes how easy it is to drive a car. Authors such as Ricarda Huch were not allowed to make her A levels. For that she has to leave Germany for Switzerland. Things that are normal today had to be struggled for.

The exhibition does not only grant insights into the era of art nouveau but also into the troublesome emancipation work of women for equal rights which lasts until today. Rating: worth seeing.

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