edited by Deborah Ascher Barnstone and Elizabeth Otto.
Bloomsbury Academic and Professional, November 2018. 265 p. ill. ISBN 9781501344862 (h/c) $120.00
Reviewed May 2019
John Hagood, Head of Library Reader Services, National Gallery of Art, Washington firstname.lastname@example.org
The well-conceived collection of essays seizes the present moment in Europe and US to examine how (and how well) art functions in the service of resistance to power that may be legitimate, but unjust and unmeasured. In and among the dozen case studies, the editors offer concepts of “resistance” digested from sociology and political science, and lay out typologies and tools for measuring the efficacy of those works. Julian Barnes shows in his novel, The Noise of Time, that an artist might hardly know his effect in the flow of history. Art and Resistance asks how—and whether—some acts of imagination in the twentieth century succeeded in their responses to injustice.
Four helpfully delineated sections examine four functions of anti-establishment art-making: art that alters worldviews, art that inspires action, art that critiques symbols, and art that is created qua acts of resistance. One study complicates the Weimar-era efforts of Otto Dix and Kathe Kollwitz. Another exposes the ironic outcomes in Walter Gropius’s vision to liberate men and women from subjugation and exploitation in his worker housing. Another considers a spectrum of sculptors’ responses (from conformity, to complicity to resistance) in the 1940s. An idealistic and politically didactic children’s book by Hermynia Zur Mühlen, illustrated by George Grosz, emerges as a “rearguard, not a vanguard” action. The 1932 film Letzte Wahl reveals the capacities of that medium to address the crucible of that year’s election. A revival of Mother Courage in New York, 2008, is mined for what Brecht would have likely declared ineffective. Sabine Kriebl’s essay on photomontage, old and new, analog and digital, could be the most incisive and is surely the most-cited within the collection. Potent montages from our own decade by Marcel Odenbach and Martha Rosler, and the unique status of Berlin in the planning of the “Topography of Terror” suggest ongoing resistance to prevailing—if shifting—powers both political and architectural. While artistic resistance during the Reformation, the Napoleonic Wars or the Wilhelmine era might have widened the scope too far, coverage of 1997 opera, Little Match Girl, at least manages to remind us of the 1970s Red-Army-Faction.
The book is itself a lively montage, much as juxtapositions in museum exhibitions can be, and sharper printed illustrations would have enhanced the lines of some arguments. Unity of voice among essays speaking to one another feels uneven, but none of the thoughtful conclusions will seal off further discussion—except that even in its gentlest, most ambiguous forms, “resistance matters.”
The content of the individual essays, and the remarkably strong apparatus of bibliographic documentation should render Art and Resistance a solid choice for libraries serving graduate-level programs in history, visual arts, political science, and German studies.