Maja (1942)

by Gerhard Marcks (1889-1981)

Photo Caption: Photo Meredith Edlow © 2021 for the Association for Public Art
  • Title

    Maja

  • Artist

    Gerhard Marcks (1889-1981)

  • Year

    1942, cast 1947; purchased and exhibited 1949; installed c. 1954-1992; reinstalled 2021

  • Location

    Maja Park, Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 22nd Street (south side)

  • Medium

    Bronze on granite base

  • Dimensions

    Height 88.25”

Purchased by the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art)

Owned by the Association for Public Art

At A Glance

  • Maja was first exhibited at the Association’s 1949 Sculpture International Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, organized to select artists for the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial

  • The sculpture traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago and MoMA in the early 1950s, and returned to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s East Terrace from 1954-1992 until renovations brought the work into storage

  • An important German sculptor of the 20th century, Marcks taught at the Bauhaus and was labeled a “degenerate artist” by Nazis, who destroyed many of his works

  • After decades in storage, Maja was reinstalled on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in a new park, “Maja Park”

  • Several other casts exist, including on UCLA’s campus; outside Kunsthalle Emden, Germany; at Kunst Museum Winterthur, Switzerland; and in other collections

Gerhard Marcks' bronze Maja sculpture on a sunny day - female nude, arms raise overhead
After decades out of public view, in 2021 the Association for Public Art reinstalled Gerhard Marcks’ Maja in a new public park on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Maja Park, not far from where the sculpture was originally installed on the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s East Terrace from 1954-1992. Photo Meredith Edlow © 2021 for the Association for Public Art.

Maja (pronounced \MAI-uh\) by the German artist Gerhard Marcks was first exhibited in Philadelphia in 1949 at the Association for Public Art’s Third Sculpture International Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where the sculpture was exhibited prominently at the top of the Museum’s steps. This series of sculpture exhibitions in 1933, 1940, and 1949 featured works by hundreds of sculptors from around the world, and was organized by the Association to introduce the public to contemporary sculpture and to identify artists for the Ellen Phillips Samuel Memorial on Kelly Drive. Maja was considered a particularly significant sculpture in the exhibition – which included works by Alexander Calder, Jacques Lipchitz, Pablo Picasso, and Barbara Hepworth – and the Association decided to purchase the sculpture.

Black and white photos of Maja nude female sculpture in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1949
Maja on display at the Association for Public Art’s 1949 Sculpture International Exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photos courtesy Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center.

Maja went on to be part of another notable exhibition, Sculpture of the Twentieth Century. The Philadelphia Museum of Art was the first venue for the exhibition, which then traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago and culminated at MoMA in 1953. When Maja returned to Philadelphia, the sculpture was installed on the East Terrace of the Philadelphia Museum of Art until 1992, when it was removed and placed in storage due to the renovation of the terrace.

The installation of Maja calls attention to the resolve of artists working under duress or persecution. Labeled a “degenerate artist” by the Nazis, many of Marcks’ sculptures were destroyed during WWII, as they were considered by the Nazis to be too expressive, disproportionate, and not serving the German Ideal.

In March 2021, after decades out of public view, the sculpture was installed in a new public park, Maja Park, coming soon to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The development of Maja Park, designed by Ground Reconsidered, has been a private/public partnership between AIR Communities, which owns the adjacent Park Towne Place Museum District Residences, and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, with support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (See all park partners here.)

Born in Berlin, Gerhard Marcks (1889-1981) was a German artist who taught at the Bauhaus and helped revive the art of sculpture in Germany in the early 20th century. He is primarily known for his sculptures, but also for his drawings, woodcuts, lithographs, and ceramics. His figurative artworks, like Maja, never seem heroic or laden with pathos, but instead reflect humanistic moods and a quiet behavior.

undated black and white photo of Gerhard Marcks working in his studio
The artist, Gerhard Marcks. Photo © Gerhard-Marcks-Stiftung, Bremen.

The installation of Maja calls attention to the resolve of artists working under duress or persecution. Labeled a “degenerate artist” by the Nazis, many of Marcks’ sculptures were destroyed during WWII, as they were considered by the Nazis to be too expressive, disproportionate, and not serving the German Ideal. Marcks was subsequently barred from exhibiting or selling his sculptures, and a number of his artworks were confiscated, melted down, and repurposed for war materials.

Learn more about sculpture’s remarkable history, how it was restored after years in storage, and the story behind the artist, Gerhard Marcks >>

 

RESOURCES:

This artwork is part of the Along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway tour, and the Around the Philadelphia Museum of Art tour.

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