Mass || Worker

Hanging together, side-by-side, as if they were made for each other.

Perhaps they were.

Franz Wilhelm Seiwert (1894-1933) Mass, 1931. Oil on wood
Heinrich Hoerle (1895-1936) Worker (Self-Portrait in Front of Trees and Chimneys), 1931. Oil on paper, mounted to board

”In the 1920s and early 1930s, Seiwert and Heinrich Hoerle were a the core of the gruppe progressiver künstler (progressive artists’ group), more commonly known as the Cologne Progressives. Unlike exact contemporaries Willi Baumeister and the Bauhaus artists, the group believed in the unification of modern art and radical politics.

In Mass, Seiwert depicts seven figures in a wide range of paint colours applied in distinct planes with thick, visible brushstrokes. The purest white is reserved for the head of the centermost figure, creating a forward thrust to the group. Despite the absence of symbolically raised fists or, in fact, any arms at all, the figures are clearly joined in collective demonstration. The rectangular planes that flank the group may refer to farm fields and factory buildings. Seiwert hereby challenged the common embodiment of revolution in an idealized singular socialist ”hero”. As critic Enrst Kállai described it at the time, this ”patchwork” forms ”an undividable unity: all for one, one for all”.”


”In an age of new technologies such as film and photography, Hoerle and his close contemporaries, known as the Cologne Progressives, remained committed to the medium of painting as a means to unite artistic form with radical left-wing politics. Their work challenged the notion of the subjective, expressionist brushstroke by embedding it in a strict compositional structure. Hoerle meticulously painted Worker on a horizontal plane, laying the surface flat on a table. Questioning the privileged status of the individual artwork, he conceived the painting as part of a larger numbered series. His aim was to combine multiple painterly concepts into murals — larger, public formats he found more suitable for collective experience. Understanding the role of the artist as vital in the establishment of a new society, in this self-portrait he divides his surroundings and himself into two distinct realms: industry and agriculture. The artist, spanning both, embodies the utopian vision of a classless society, thought achievable only by the combined efforts of industrial workers and farmers.”

Lines @ Harvard Art Museums

May 3rd, 2017


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