The Daily Pic

What Germans Looked Like

The Daily Pic: August Sander cataloged his nation – to show it couldn't be done.

05.10.12 5:42 PM ET

August Sander's photographic "inventory" of the German people in the first half of the last century  is endlessly fascinating – as it proved, yet again, in a selection I saw at Edwynn Houk in New York. As I've written before, what interests me about the project isn't its initial premise, but its obvious impossibility and guaranteed failure – a failure that must have been perfectly evident to Sander, as a sophisticated member of the lefty German art scene. An inventory of a people only reveals that a people cannot be inventoried. The whole thing can be read as a repudiation of the idea of national identity, rather than a sober exploration of it.

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