It took me a while to make my way to the Weinstein Gallery for the first time. I finally stopped in a few months ago to see the Alec Soth exhibition, Bogota Days. Once there I quickly realized why it’s a magnet for great shows. The space is spare and simple, the light natural. Nothing interferes with the art. It’s unusually accessible for such high-caliber fare. The current show, a sampling of photos from August Sander’s influential People of the 20th Century project, is no exception.
The show consists of twenty-three large reproductions of black-and-white photographs taken by Sanders during Germany’s Weimar Republic period following World War I. A painter stands at his easel pasteboard in hand. A bricklayer effortlessly balances a load of bricks. A pair of middle-class children pose in their knickers and ribbons. A high school student strikes a foppish pose, a cigarette dangling for his right hand. Sanders turns an anthropological eye on German society across social strata, his stated goal being “to see things as they are.” But his images are anything but clinical.
The arc of a country road receding into the distance behind a farmer in his Sunday suit, or the perfect symmetry, not to mention the unwitting humor, of three rumpled “revolutionaries” perched on a stoop. Sander excels at simple compositions that hint at a world alive with every sort of person. Even though his intentions may be anthropological and his mindset the product of early twentieth century thought with regard to photography as an art form, his images manage to capture the uniqueness of the subject, and this paradox keeps Sander relevant. It’s also why the Nazis banned his work in the 1930s—because it didn’t support the vision of Germany as an Aryan redoubt.
Fans of the portraits of Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon or the documentary sweep of Robert Frank’s Americans, will recognize Sander’s influence. The direct gaze of the subject, strong compositions striking in their simplicity, the ambitious effort to document a time and place with an objective eye—all are hallmarks of Sanders work, and all good reasons to see this show.
Through April 12 at the Weinstein Gallery.