Nude in Public: Sascha Schneider
Homoeroticism and the Male Form circa 1900
Curated by Jonathan David Katz
September 20 - December 8, 2013
Sascha Schneider (1870 -1927) was an artist who achieved mainstream critical and commercial success in turn-of-the-century Germany despite its striking homoeroticism. Appointed painting chair at the Weimar-Saxon Grand Ducal Art School, and a recipient of prestigious aristocratic commissions, Schneider was once a celebrated painter. Today he is practically unknown, even in Germany. If his name is mentioned at all, it usually is only as the illustrator of the hugely successful Karl May novels, a German adventure series set in the American West. This exhibition seeks to do more than resurrect a forgotten career. It asks why his art was less controversial a hundred years ago than it is today.
Turn-of-the-century Germany was a culture modeled on the classical past, reinvigorating classical ideals in art, architecture, and education. The Greek notion of the gymnasium, where young men developed both mind and body together, continues to be the German word for “high school” even today. Schneider, who actually built a body-building studio in his atelier, was an adherent of this classical ideal. And since this attitude toward mental and physical development was by no means an exclusively homosexual one, it was Schneider’s frank depiction of male beauty that made his art, paradoxically, so mainstream. This exhibition is dedicated to Hans-Gerd Röder, who has almost single-handedly safeguarded Schneider’s work. The art shown is from his collection.
Growing Stronger is a distillation of several of Schneider’s key themes. It features a bearded man whose face and pose are likely drawn from ancient Babylonian relief sculptures excavated by the Germans in the late 19th century and relocated to Germany. This quasi-Babylonian figure is depicted as warmly encouraging the strength of a nude youth. In its original early 20th century context, the image would have been seen as an example of the classical ideal of the gymnasium, where naked youth competed for glory. The paternalism evoked in the image, a celebration of masculine achievement, would have made it in no way controversial in Schneider’s time, when countless such images were painted and sculpted in public settings across the country.
One of the earliest works in this exhibition, this painting was finished when the artist was only twenty-two years old. Its theme is a powerfully nationalist one, the 1278 battle in which the German King Rudolph of Habsburg defeated the incumbent ruler Ottokar of Bohemia. This battle, the dawning moment of the Habsburg Empire, resulted in the uniting of present-day Czech, German, and Austrian lands under a single ruler, a reign soon to be undone at the end of the First World War twenty-six years later.