Berlin Faces

The Feldberg Collection: Self-Portraits from the 1920s at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (7 Hart House Circle).


The Feldberg
Collection: Self-Portraits from the 1920s
at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery
(7 Hart House Circle) to June 20.
416-978-8398. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN


Drop everything and run to the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery. The Feldberg Collection, 55 self-portraits by Berlin artists of the 1920s and 30s, is astonishing.You’ll find yourself face-to-face with luminaries like Oskar Kokoschka, Max Liebermann and Käthe Kollwitz, as well as lesser-known but equally talented artists whose careers, and sometimes lives, were cut short when Hitler’s boot came down.

Many of these artists were personal friends of Siegbert Feldberg, a German-Jewish garment factory owner. In 1923, Feldberg began swapping suits for self-portraits.

Hyperinflation had made the currency worthless, but new threads were a hot commodity, and word spread like wildfire: if you need clothes, paint yourself and go see Feldberg.

These portraits reveal both sides of Berlin’s cultural life during the Weimar years — its almost unparalleled vibrancy, but also the creeping horror of what was to come. Rudolf Schlichter paints himself as a madman about to bite into what looks like a large green insect. Ines Wetzel’s haggard face suggests severe anxiety-induced insomnia. And Michel Fingesten’s title page is truly chilling: an artist who’s hanged himself on a picture hook.

The intimate setting of the Barnicke Gallery lets you imagine you’re in 20s Berlin at a dinner party with the Feldbergs and the best artists of their generation, before the Nazis blew it all apart.

One of the year’s best shows so far.

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