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Productive Disorder: Music, Film, and Art in Postwar Germany

Arno Fischer, West Berlin 1956, 1956. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchase through the generosity of David and Lisa Rich, 2017.8.


Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy Street
Cambridge MA

This event was recorded. Please view the lecture here.

Cultural production in postwar Germany was shaped by variety of oppositions: memories of the war’s horrors competed with fragile optimism for the future; renewed artistic freedoms came up against material scarcity and widespread destruction; and a growing appetite for experimentation and invention met with a lingering Nazi-inflected suspicion of anything too modern.

On the occasion of the special exhibition Inventur–Art in Germany, 1943–55, this program will consider an expanded field of aesthetic production in Germany between the years 1943 and 1955, bringing together three scholars to consider the cultural resurgence that took place in a wide array of media amid these tensions.

Lynette Roth, the Daimler Curator of the Busch-Reisinger Museum and head of the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art, will offer insights on visual art production in the postwar period; Amy Beal, professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz, will examine how Germany became an international epicenter for the early development of electronic music as military sites were repurposed for radio production and broadcast; and Eric Rentschler, the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, will discuss how German films traced the physical and sometimes moral devastations of the postwar years in a cycle of “rubble films” (Trümmerfilme), while the popular “homeland” genre (Heimatfilm) reflected the desire to return to an untainted past or homeland, laying the groundwork for the New German Cinema of the 1960s and ’70s.

Following these short presentations, the three speakers will come together for a conversation about art, politics, and new technologies in postwar Germany. 

After the program, the Inventur exhibition will remain open until 8pm.

The lecture will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway. Doors will open at 5:30pm.

Free admission, but seating is limited. Tickets will be distributed beginning at 5:30pm at the Broadway entrance. One ticket per person.
Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

Please join us for further explorations of film and sound in postwar Germany through Sound Inventur, a series of listening sessions on March 20 from 8 to 9pm, and The Management of Shattered Identity: German Films, 1945–1957, a film series at the Harvard Film Archive taking place from April 20 to April 23.

Support for the lecture is provided by the M. Victor Leventritt Fund, which was established through the generosity of the wife, children, and friends of the late M. Victor Leventritt, Harvard Class of 1935. The purpose of the fund is to present outstanding scholars of the history and theory of art to the Harvard and Greater Boston communities.

Support for Inventur was provided by the German Friends of the Busch-Reisinger Museum (Verein der Freunde des Busch-Reisinger Museums) and by endowed funds, including the Daimler Curatorship of the Busch-Reisinger Museum Fund, the M. Victor Leventritt Fund, and the Richard L. Menschel Endowment Fund. In addition, modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.