- Christian Schad: Catalogue Raisonne Vol. 1: PaintingsBy Thomas Ratzka
- Christian Schad: Catalogue Raisonne, Volume II: PhotographsBy Enno Kaufhold
- Christian Schad and the Neue SachlichkeitOur PickBy Jill Lloyd and Michael Peppiatt
- Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920sBy Sabine Rewald, Ian Buruma, and Matthias Eberle
Important Art by Christian Schad
An early abstract painting of a religious subject, Christian Schad's 1916 Descent from the Cross reflects the influence of Cubism, Futurism, and Expressionism. Comprised of a series of interconnected facets, the nearly monochromatic painting appears fragmented and abstracted, almost to the point of unrecognizability. On closer inspection the vertical figure of Christ, rendered in lighter tones, becomes visible, as do the figures that surround him, which appear like disembodied heads. Limbs and other features dissolve into a series of intersecting planes. The head of Christ, though difficult to make out, is a portrait of his friend Walter Serner. Schad later described his choice of a monochromatic palette as "the single possible expression of our unreserved opposition to the war, which only allowed for an either-or attitude."
Always content to be contrary, Schad was never a strict adherent to any single style or subject. Instead, he borrowed elements from various sources in order to create his own style that incorporated allegory and symbolism. Descent from the Cross demonstrates the ambiguity of meaning evident in many of Schad's paintings. It resists strict categorization as either a religious painting or a portrait and hovers somewhere between the two. Although unusual for Schad, religious subjects were not entirely uncommon among Expressionist and other avant-garde artists. Max Beckmann painted the same subject in 1917 as a response to his experience fighting in World War I, and, indeed, Schad's depiction is equally reflective of his experience of the war.
Schad produced Onéirodynie en Kova, a photogram, by placing bits of detritus, string, paper, and scraps of cloth on a sheet of light-sensitive paper. It was then covered with glass and placed on the windowsill of his basement apartment to expose. Once satisfied with the result, he fixed them and cut the photographic paper in order to "free them from the convention of the square." These small-scale cameraless photographs are reminiscent of collages in their layering of objects and forms, reflecting Zurich Dada's interests in abstraction, chance operations, and the use of new methods and materials. In bringing together photography and the stuff of everyday life, newsprint and other discarded objects, the cameraless photographs were decidedly anti-bourgeois and anti-art, which was in keeping with Dada's iconoclastic approach to art making.
Although use of cameraless photography dates back to the very origins of photography, Schad innovated the process as an avant-garde art form. His photograms predate the earliest use of the process by Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, who came to cameraless photography a few years later. A group of these works were included in the groundbreaking Museum of Modern Art exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism (1936). It was then that Tzara named them "Schadographs," as a play on the artist's name and their shadow-like character. His cameraless photographs were an important Dada discovery that would pave the way for future experimentation with the process.
One of Schad's most important Dada innovations, Composition en M is an abstract relief sculpture constructed from a series of jagged wooden planes. The wood pieces, cut by a carpenter to the artist's specification, were painted and arranged with other objects, including a necklace and several small metal balls. Produced during Schad's brief affiliation with Zurich Dada, Schad explained that the wood reliefs were made when his "penchant for everything lying around on the streets, in shop displays, in cafes, even in the waste bins was at its height." The abstracted forms in Composition en M are reminiscent of Hans Arp's abstract constructions, such as Untitled (Forest) (1917), and Kurt Schwitters's Merz collages. The reliefs similarly transcend the boundaries of a single medium by incorporating random objects associated with modern life. In its use of nontraditional sculptural materials and polychrome, Schad's relief sculptures reflect the influence of Ukranian avant-garde sculptor Alexander Archipenko.
Art historian Leah Dickerman notes that these works were "developed on the principle of creating an object neither rarified through materials nor trained artistic technique by incorporating components associated with machine technology - heavy enamel commercial paints, mass-produced metal hardware, and bits of metallic paper." Schad's early interest in abstraction and the use of detritus as fodder for his art was also evident in his cameraless photographs from the same period. As their sculptural equivalent, Composition en M reflects Schad's understanding of Dada as "the very idea of unrestricted freedom, of having the right to do everything, of having the power to do, to create, without having to feel yourself menaced by the Damoclean sword of dogma."