Deputy Director for External Relations
Nude in Public: Sascha Schneider, Homoeroticism and the Male Form
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Nude in Public: Sascha Schneider
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art Explores a Forgotten Art Giant
and a Cultural Collision in Early 20th Century Europe
First Exhibition in the United States
Nude in Public: Sascha Schneider,
Homoeroticism and the Male Form circa 1900
Curated by Jonathan David Katz
Exhibition dates: September 20 - December 8, 2013
Opening Reception: September 20, 6-8 PM
(New York, June 2013) The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art will kick off its autumn 2013 season by exploring the German painter Sascha Schneider (1870-1927). At the beginning of the 20th Century, Schneider was elevated to a prestigious post at a German university and was one of the most well-known and well-respected public artists of his time. Only a generation later, he was largely relegated to obscurity. This exhibit examines not only Schneider's art, but the strange cultural phenomenon that caused his dramatic rise and fall.
Curated by Jonathan David Katz, this will not only be the single most extensive one-person exhibition of Sascha Schneider's art ever mounted since his premature death, but the very first exhibition of Sascha Schneider's art in the U.S.
A Strange Historical Interval
While the history of art is overwhelmingly a history of imaging the female nude, for a brief moment—and in Germany above all—it is instead a history of the male nude. Sascha Schneider was product and beneficiary of this unusual historical moment, one of the most fraught, contradictory and unresolved periods in the modern history of sexual regulation.
This strange historical interval, more developed in Germany in the early 20th century than anywhere else, goes by the English name of the Health and Hygiene Movement. In part a response to rapid industrialization, urban crowding, and the fear that modern life was weakening the inherent strength and drive of Germany's youth, this reformist movement proposed a bold solution, at once forward and backward looking: it advocated a return to a classical conception of the gymnasium—of training the body as well as the mind through youthful exercise outdoors, preferably in the nude, all in pursuit of a natural health and vitality. Conjoining an idealized youthful beauty, sport and bold nudity, Freikörperkultur (which literally means free body culture) made paintings, photographs, sculptures, and especially public murals that today look strikingly homoerotic, merely part of the visual landscape of early twentieth-century Germany.
Adherents of the movement claimed that only through the confident and shameless exposure of strong, beautiful, male bodies, would young German men throw off the enervating effects of modern life and return to their natural vitality. The emphasis on male nudity had a simple rationale: not only had modern life ostensibly put the German ideal of "manliness" under pressure—a dynamic that would have tragic repercussions with the rise of the Nazis—but since the erotic dimension of female nudity was widely acknowledged, male nudity was paradoxically framed as inherently purer and untainted by eros, as an image of German manhood and its strength and power without any admixture of desire.
The Cultural Conflict
Yet at the same exact moment that Freikörperkultur made the sight of handsome nude young men ubiquitous in public spaces as diverse as stadiums and opera houses, another movement was brewing—the very first modern gay-rights movement. Led by such pioneering figures as Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the Institute for Sexual Research (which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933), this new political movement sought to make same-sex relationships entirely legal, in part through claiming that gay people were born gay, that same-sex desire was as natural to some as heterosexuality was to others. But whereas Freikörperkultur sought to generalize an (unacknowledged) homoerotic sensibility across all of German culture, this new politics essentially set up the first self-described homosexual minority in history. Thus a collision was set in motion between those who worked to make homosexuality more tolerable by generalizing a gay aesthetic (though distinctly not a gay politics) across the culture at large and those who named their homosexuality, who specifically sought civil rights under the guise of inborn and natural difference.
Caught in the Conflict
Schneider, who emblematized Freikörperkultur in almost every work he ever did, nonetheless came to understand the limits of a social world that accepted homoeroticism but not homosexuals. He was forced to resign from his prestigious post at Weimar University and flee to Italy.
Schneider's fortunes as an artist were so intimately bound up with this historical interlude and its inherent contradictions that his career couldn't survive its passing. When he died at age 57 in 1927, of complications from diabetes, his star was already dimming. By the end of World War II, he was largely forgotten. But through the efforts of one man, the German collector Hans-Gerd Röder, who became fascinated by this unknown figure while still in his twenties and began to seek out every work by Schneider he could find, a tattered reputation in modern art history has been painstakingly restored. Mr. and Mrs. Röder and their family have generously agreed to lend their collection of masterworks to the Leslie-Lohman Museum.
About the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Best place for gay culture, Time Out New York: New York's Best 2012
"…invaluable museum." Holland Cotter, New York Times, June 2013
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is the first and only dedicated gay and lesbian art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve gay and lesbian art, and foster the artists who create it. The Museum has a permanent collection of over 22,000 objects, 6-8 major exhibitions annually, artist talks, film screenings, readings, THE ARCHIVE - a quarterly art newsletter, a membership program, and a research library. The Leslie-Lohman Museum is operated by the Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1987 by Charles W. Leslie and Fritz Lohman who have supported gay and lesbian artists for over 30 years. The Leslie-Lohman Museum embraces the rich creative history of the gay and lesbian art community by informing, inspiring, entertaining and challenging all who enter its doors.
The Museum is located at 26 Wooster Street, in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. Admission is free, and hours are 12pm-6pm Tuesday through Sunday. The Museum is closed Monday and all major holidays. The Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation is a non-profit organization and is exempt from taxation under section 501(c)3 of the IRS Code. The Museum can be reached at 212-431-2609.
Jonathan David Katz (curator):
Katz is a pioneering figure in the development of LGBTQ art history, having written extensively about the import of sexuality in post-war art. He is also a pioneering curator, having co-curated with David C. Ward the award-winning exhibition "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" at the National Portrait Gallery, the first major museum exploration of the impact of same-sex desire in the creation of modern American portraiture. Katz is President of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and has curated a number of its exhibitions. He is also currently director of the doctoral program in Visual studies at State University of New York at Buffalo. Previously, Katz served as the executive coordinator of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale University and before that, was chair of the Department of Lesbian and Gay studies at the City College of San Francisco. He was also the first tenured faculty in gay and lesbian studies in the United States.