Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: The Golem and its Avatars

Ahmanson Building, Level 2
August 24, 2013–February 16, 2014

A golem—a large, powerful creature made of clay—is a figure from Jewish folklore. The exhibition includes a wide variety of works that address the golem legend: footage from Paul Wegener’s 1920 film Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World); photography; vintage posters; illustrations from the 1915 novel The Golem; modern prints; a designer gown, and comic books.

Wegener’s film, based on the most well-known version of the legend, is set in sixteenth-century Prague, where a cruel emperor persecutes Jewish residents. Rabbi Loew fashions the Golem and brings him to life with a mystical amulet; the creature then rampages through the city, crushing the enemies of the Jews. The monster begins to experience glimmers of human emotion in the aftermath of destruction, before he is disabled, when a little girl removes the amulet and the Golem crumbles to dust.

The Golem legend had heightened currency in Europe during the 1920s, when anti-Semitism was on the rise.The idea of the golem, an inanimate object brought to life, remains potent today and can be seen as a metaphor for the artist’s creative process. 

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Images: Top: Hugo Steiner‑Prag, Czechoslovakia, active Germany and United States, 1880–1945, Die Erscheinung des Golem (The Appearance of the Golem), 1915–16, From the portfolio Der Golem (The Golem) lithograph, 7 5/16 x 4 13/16 in.; Sheet: 13 5/16 x 9 5/8 in. The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, M.82.287.68f. © The Estate of Hugo Steiner-Prag, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA. Bottom: Paul Wegener (director), Germany, 1874–1948, Carl Boese (director) Germany, 1887–1958, Film still from Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World), 1920, Written by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen, Produced by Paul Wegener, B&W, silent.

The Modern Golem

In his 1915 novel The Golem, Austrian novelist Gustav Meyrink wrote, “Who can say he knows anything about the Golem? . . . Always they treat it as a legend, ’til something happens and turns it into actuality again. After which it’s talked of for many a day.” Meyrink is speaking to the eternal nature of the golem myth. This timeless quality is evidenced in the use of the golem figure in contemporary art and pop culture…