You might think that an exhibit of poster art from the first part of the 20th century in Germany, currently showing at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU, would be another example of the hideous Nazi propaganda art of some of that era.
But in fact the pieces from the once-massive collection of Dr. Hans Sachs are examples from an incredibly vibrant period in art in Central Europe and France, from early art nouveau, Expressionism and Socialist Realism to the fascination with decorative objects. Much of it reflected the turbulent times, the political upheavals, the wars, the social realignments, the gender revolutions — and the rise of Modernism. And also of a 20th century world freed up to travel, attend World Fairs, fall for fashion.
Sachs started collecting the posters, a major and popular form, back in 1911, amassing 12,500 by 1938. But sadly, as the date and place suggest, there would be a Nazi connection. The year they took control (1938) of Germany, they confiscated this collection (which does also include some of the ugly anti-Semitic propaganda of the day) from the German Jewish dentist. What happened to it next is almost as interesting as the posters.
The collection was dispersed, and parts of it reappeared in a show in 1966 in East Berlin, and later at the German Historical Museum. Sachs’ son Peter pursued the rights to them for decades, without success, until 2012, when the German government released more than 4,000 of them to Peter, 75 years after their theft. Some of them make up the Jewish Museum exhibit, and some will remain at the museum as well. The posters — with their back story — are a fascinating summer treat.
“Posters from the Hans Sachs Collection” runs through Dec. 15 at the Jewish Museum of South Florida-FIU, 301 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5044; www.jewishmuseum.com.