Compiled by: Jack Foley
IN THE turbulent period between the two World Wars, modernism
exploded, and with it came entirely new and radical notions about
what could be expressed in art, and how.
Once relegated to the decorous, art suddenly became dangerous
and public and artists themselves were threatened by political
Perhaps nowhere in history was the intertwined tension between
art and politics felt as strongly as in post-WWI Germany.
And it was here, remarkably, that the historical Adolf Hitler,
as a young man, pursued his career as a struggling artist amidst
a thriving movement of Dadaists, Futurists and radical performance
artists, many of whom his regime would later brutally persecute.
Max takes a fictional route to explore Hitlers unusual
collision with the art world.
But the film and its title character clearly take their spirit
from the daring, highly energized, irreverent art of the period,
particularly the movement known as Dadaism.
As writer/director, Menno Meyjes, observes: "It was a time
when people were looking to change the code of things, and with
a new kind of art they could change the code and if you could
change the code you would change the world."
The spirit of Dada and the other avant-garde art movements were
forged in the trenches of World War One.
In the aftermath of a war that introduced the horrors of chemical
and industrialized warfare for the first time, the world stood
stunned by its own brutality, and Europe was reeling from a new
urban reality made up of widows, the disabled, the starving and
the unemployed masses.
Faced with this jarring and incomprehensible reality, poets,
writers, painters and musicians responded with art forms never
Some called Dadaism the 'anti-art', a kind of electric shock
to a society watching its values crumble and its past fall away
without any clear vision of the future.
As Zurich Dadaist Tristan Tzara wrote of the modern art movement:
"Art is going to sleep for a new world to be born."
Artists of the time took up entirely new subjects: urban grit,
the notion of speed, the worship and fear of machines, the horrors
of war, the very feeling of chaos, irrationality and uncertainty.
Some depicted a brave new world in which destitute war victims
were as common a sight as classical European splendor; others
looked optimistically to the modern future.
Fearlessly, many artists expressed deep political dissatisfaction
in their work and put out the disquieting philosophy that society
could not go back, but had to face a future with new ideas.
Dadaists pioneered new means as well as messages: they began
working in wildly anarchic photo-collages and photo-montages that
reflected the dynamism and randomness of modern life, and they
also developed the first multi-media performance art acts.
The latter were often created specifically to push the audiences
buttons to anger, incite or titillate them, and cause them
to question what they had just seen. In one early Dadaist exhibit,
the gallery-goers were handed axes so that they could destroy
the art they saw if they so chose.
Through the 1920s, Dadaism spread like wildfire through
Europe, especially cities such as Berlin, Zurich, Cologne, Hanover
and Paris. In Germany, a country devastated by defeat in World
War One and subsequent economic ruin, Dadaists such as George
Grosz, Johannes Baeder, Hannah Hoch, Raoul Hausmann and Hans Richter
rose to fame, becoming especially strong in the multi-media art
But Dadaism and modern art in general clashed with another equally
strong movement in Germany a conservative, nationalistic
movement that labeled modern artists as unpatriotic, decadent
and criminally revolutionary.
Although Adolf Hitler had dabbled in modern art once upon a
time after he came to power along with the Nazi Party, the art
world was literally purged.
By 1937, Hitler had labeled all the art he didnt like 'degenerate
art' and those who created it were often brutally prosecuted.
Adolf Zieglar, whom Hitler appointed president of the Reich
Culture Chamber, proclaimed of modern art: "What you are
seeing here are the crippled products of madness, impertinence,
and lack of talent . . .
"I would need several freight trains to clear our galleries
of this rubbish."
Many of Germanys most lauded artists escaped into exile
but others died in concentration camps.
Few artists of that time, no matter what the subjects of their
work, were able to pursue their creative visions without dire
and legitimate fear, or worse.