Category Archives: Expressionism

Franz Marc’s The Tower of Blue Horses

tower of the blue horses

By Matt Carey-Williams

The evolution of Franz Marc’s pictorial language is one that charts a journey from expressionism via Der Blaue Reiter and then funneled through Cubism and its sunnier dialects of futurism and orphism. Marc’s passion for animals — depicted as dynamically torqued vortices painted in a rainbow of hallucinatory colours — served to signify the social and political angst that so bubbled away at this time and which would, eventually, burst in to the sulphuric horrors of the Great War.

From 1910 through 1913, one witnesses Marc’s beasts become increasingly abstracted; their already amoebic forms experiencing a more intense transmutation into daggers of colour and shards of light. Such is the case with Marc’s masterpiece, The Tower of Blue Horses (1913). A tornado of four beefy blue horses charge at us out of the picture plane. Dynamic diagonals clash with equally virile verticals, eschewing depth and exacerbating compositional propulsion. The horses are made of latticed blue and white arcs, crescents and obliques and are set against a pulsating yellow, bleeding from the sky and raining down on a small village-scape like nuclear fallout, punctuated only by a rainbow. This most vivid of paintings is about fear. The fear of an impending war; the fear of death — a fear captured most profoundly in the hearts of that most Teutonic of subjects, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which Marc clearly alludes to here. But it is also about hope, which Marc saw the colour blue signifying and which is whispered in the distant rainbow.

Sadly, Marc’s fears were not unfounded given that he would die whilst serving for Germany in World War l. The whereabouts of this painting remains unknown. Originally considered degenerate, that status was revoked by the Nazis because of Marc’s ultimate contribution on behalf of his country. The painting ended up in Göring’s infamous collection and, since 1945, has never been seen. It was March 4, 1916 that Franz Marc died. He was 36.

— Matt Carey-Williams, London

Above: Franz Marc (German, 1880-1916): The Tower of Blue Horses, 1913.
Oil on canvas, 200 x 130 cm./79 x 51 in.

 

 

 

“… A New Show — Paul Klee’s Wartime Paintings Reveals the Beloved Artist’s Dark Side,” By Eileen Kinsella

“The Arrows Mean Death: A New Show of
Paul Klee’s Wartime Paintings Reveals the Beloved Artist’s Dark Side”

‘A show of more than 100 works by Swiss-German Surrealist Paul Klee shows the blood and gore behind his oeuvre.’

By Eileen Kinsella


An exhibition of work by Paul Klee aims to reveal a darker side of the Swiss-German painter. Currently on view at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland, “Klee in Wartime” features an array of often fantastical works informed by the artist’s experience during World War I.

“I always thought that the time during the first world war was so important for Klee’s development,” the Swiss museum’s chief curator Fabienne Eggelhôfer told artnet News. “It’s strange because even though he had to go to war, he always found the time to really work and evolve. It’s interesting to see how those two worlds go together.”

In the early 20th century, Klee was already well-established as a member of the avant-garde movement Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), participating in numerous exhibitions in the years before the war. But the buzzing art scene came to an abrupt halt when conflict broke out in the summer of 1914. Klee’s friends and fellow Blue Rider artists, August Macke and Franz Marc, were killed in action in 1914 and 1916, respectively, and abstract pioneer Wassily Kandinsky temporarily fled back home to Russia.

Paul Klee, Farbige und graphische Winkel (1917). Courtesy Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee was drafted into the German army in 1916. Fortunately for him, he was not deployed to the front. Instead, he was posted to airfields far behind the lines where he was responsible for cash administration and painting aircraft with templates in the army’s air corps. Eggelhôfer, who conceived the idea for the Klee show, says she has long been fascinated by the artist’s continued artistic output during this period, as well as his ability “to keep this kind of ironic distance to what was happening during the war.”

The show consists of more than 130 works—including paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, and even hand puppets—rooted in the Expressionist, Cubist, and Surrealist movements for which his oeuvre is known. Almost all are from the museum’s  collection, including an original Kaiser helmet from a Bavarian regiment that was a gift from esteemed Swiss dealer Eberhard Kornfeld. Working with another German institution, the Dreiländermuseum in Loerrach, the Zentrum Paul Klee also obtained loans of materials the artist worked with during his time in uniform.

Paul Klee, Der grosse Kaiser, zum Kampf geruestet (1921). Courtesy Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Eggelhôfer says the periods where Klee was physically separated from his family have proven to be particularly valuable for researchers: “He wrote a lot of postcards and letters to his wife [Bavarian pianist Lily Stumpf]. We know what he’s thinking because he explained to her how his military service was like playacting, with a sense of: ‘I’m just doing what they tell me to do, but I don’t really have anything to do with this.’”

If a sense of detachment offered the artist a kind of mental bunker in wartime, Klee was also extremely inventive during this period. He employed both imagery and materials from his military environment, including linen from airplane wings. “He became very interested in the material because, at the time, it was pretty difficult to get paper, so he began to work more with fabric and use the stencils—numbers and letters that each airplane had—to infuse his work with imagery,” Eggelhöfer says.

Paul Klee, Friedhof (1920). Courtesy Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee’s abstractions also featured weapon-related imagery—such as arrows and exploding zigzags—that the curator says may have been lost on some audiences. The arrows reference “flechettes,” short steel rods with extremely sharp points and fins to facilitate speed. Used by various armies at the time, the brutal weapons—said to be able to easily pierce a steel helmet or human skull—were dropped en masse from planes into the trenches of enemy troops.

In 1917, a year before being discharged, Klee produced a series of works that included what he described as “angular zigzag movements.” The gestures were meant to express the oppression, fear, menace, and destruction wartime populations endured on a mass scale.

The artist’s financial returns may have had a hand in obscuring the true meaning of those symbols. According to background material on the show, Klee “repeatedly addressed the state of war in his works. But he was barely able to sell works like this from 1914 to 1915. This is probably one reason why Klee considered a more abstract pictorial language more appropriate to the expression of contemporary events.”

The approach appears to have paid off—at least in hindsight. Some of Klee’s highest sale prices are for works painted after the war, such as the auction record of $6.8 million paid for Tänzerin (1932), at Christie’s London in June 2011.

As for the works on view in Bern, Eggelhöfer hopes the exhibition will spotlight a deeper, lesser-known side of the artist. “People often think of Klee as a magician of sorts, who created his own sort of mystical dream world,” Eggelhöfer says. “But he was commenting on politics, society and the reality of war and I wanted to present that.”

“Klee in Wartime” is on view at the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland, through June 3, 2018.


Featured image: Paul Klee, betroffener Ort (1922). Courtesy Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern


By Eileen Kinsella, Reprint from Artnet, 12 March 2018, © 2018 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

“Naked and Aflame or Considering Death, Munch Rarely Screamed,” By Jason Farago

Edvard Munch’s “Self-Portrait in Hell” (1903). Munch Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York


“Naked and Aflame or Considering Death, Munch Rarely Screamed”

‘His best-known painting was an outlier among his works, which more often exuded melancholy and resignation, like the ones now at the Met Breuer and Scandinavia House.’

By JASON FARAGO


There are painters in full control of themselves, whose art radiates the tranquillity of lives well lived: the calm Dutch masters Johannes Vermeer or Meindert Hobbema, say, or the Zen monochrome brush painters of the Muromachi era in Japan. And then — hold onto your Xanax — there is the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

Anguished, restless, high-strung, desolate, Munch (1863-1944) was a young boy when his mother died of tuberculosis; his beloved older sister, Sophie, succumbed to the same disease. He suffered from asthmatic bronchitis and other frequent illnesses, was haunted by depression, and drank and smoked too much. Relationships with women were difficult, and at the end of one affair, he shot himself in the hand.

Out of that torment, though, came an oeuvre of raw focus that sometimes shrieked into the abyss — as in his most famous painting, “The Scream” — but, far more often, embraced melancholy, resignation and the inevitability of decline.

Who better to guide us through our own fatalistic age? “Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed,” a calibrated and unostentatious exhibition now at the Met Breuer, reintroduces this nervous genius to New York and makes a point of highlighting his later paintings: He completed the first version of “The Scream” in 1893, and worked for 50 years afterward. (This show initially appeared at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and tours next to the Munchmuseet in Oslo.) Munch has received greater consideration in these angsty days — last year brought “Munch and Expressionism” to the Neue Galerie, as well as a Munch-Jasper Johns two-hander to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts — and the Met Breuer’s show is running concurrently with a smaller, informative exhibition of Munch’s photography, at the nonprofit Scandinavia House on Park Avenue.

The Met Breuer’s exhibition doesn’t rewrite art history. It’s presented thematically, and it includes just 43 paintings, a substantially smaller cache than the Museum of Modern Art’s Munch retrospective had in 2006, or the Art Institute of Chicago’s show in 2009. More than a dozen of the works here, though, are self-portraits, and the central gallery in which they hang functions as an encapsulation of his whole career

Munch self-portraits at the Met Breuer, with, center, the painting that gives the exhibition its name, “Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed” (1940-43). Munch Museum/The Munch-Ellingsen Group, via Artists Rights Society, New York; Karsten Moran for The New York Times

His first mature one, done in Oslo in 1886, pictures the 23-year-old artist as a solid, self-confident looker, lips pursed, eyes wandering. But he’s abraded the surface of the painting with a metal spatula, and so his neck appears gashed by vertical scuffs and scrapes — a scratchiness he would also employ seven years later in his stern, ghoulish “Self-Portrait Under the Mask of a Woman.” By 1903, naked in his summer studio in Asgardstrand, Munch was painting himself as a bundle of flesh swallowed up in thin brush strokes of burnt ocher and black, and lit only by fierce light from below.

The title clarifies any doubts: “Self-Portrait in Hell.” Yet compared with “The Scream” — a real outlier in Munch’s career, represented in this show by a lithograph of that tormented howler printed in Berlin in 1895 — “Self-Portrait in Hell” and its fellows step back from outward manifestations of distress. Though naked and aflame, Munch here appears quite at home in Hades-on-the-Oslofjord, and the broad strokes that constitute his face cohere into the emptiest of expressions.

Munch’s “Self Portrait With Cigarette” (1895). Nasjonalmuseet, Oslo/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

Even with his clothes on — in the dapper “Self-Portrait With Cigarette” of 1895, or the alienated “Self-Portrait With a Bottle of Wine” of 1906, when Munch was struggling with alcoholism — this Norwegian painted himself in cool isolation, and by the new century, his face had begun to deform into downcast jumbles of loose, watery strokes that never quite coalesce. In two self-portraits of the ailing Munch from 1919-20, his facial features withdraw into drippy, hastily painted backgrounds that seethe with blue, green and mauve.

Munch’s last major self-portrait, which gives this show its title and is on loan from Oslo, has pride of place at the Met Breuer. “Self-Portrait: Between the Clock and the Bed” (1940-43), features the painter standing ramrod-straight, beside a grandfather clock whose wooden panels are painted with the same bold, vertical strokes Munch uses for his own baggy suit. His eyes are sunken. His mouth is nearly absent, as are the hands of the clock. To the right is a cot, covered with a bedspread whose crosshatched pattern has been rendered with stunningly free parallel strokes. Why finish a painting, Munch seems to reason, when you are caught between the clock and the bed: between the daily ravages of time and life’s inevitable conclusion?

Visitors with the lithograph version of “The Scream” (1895) that is in the exhibition at the Met Breuer. The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society, New York; Karsten Moran for The New York Times

I know I’m pushing hard the gloomy Nordic clichés — though not as hard as the novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard does in an essay in this show’s catalog. Munch, though heartsick, was not a recluse; he was, in fact, a canny self-promoter who relished the opposition of Norway’s conservative establishment and used news media controversy to build an international career. But clichés take hold for a reason. Munch brooded and fretted, and though he worked nearly through the end of World War II, his art bristles with the romantic excesses of the late 19th century. (Friedrich Nietzsche, whom Munch painted in a posthumous portrait not included in this exhibition, was a major influence.) And in the other thematic galleries here, with such cheery themes as “Nocturnes” or “Sickness and Death,” we see Munch repeat motifs of regret and isolation over decades.

The death of his sister Sophie inspired six versions of “The Sick Child,” in which Munch painted a redheaded invalid sitting upright on her deathbed, her pallid face seen in profile against the pillow. Two of them are here: a version from 1896, roughened with the same scraping technique used in that early self-portrait, and another, from 1915, whose vertical brush strokes are bolder and more discordant. (The same theme inspired one of Munch’s greatest paintings: “Death in the Sick Room,” from 1893, in which a half-dozen mourners in a room of nauseating green look everywhere but at one another, while the ailing child sits hidden in an armchair.)

Munch’s “Self Portrait With Bottles,” circa 1938. Munch Museum/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York

“Ashes” and “The Dance of Life,” two major early allegories of lust and human remoteness, are repainted a quarter-century later with brasher color and bolder outlines. The Met Breuer wants to insist that these more freely painted works from the 1910s onward have been overlooked, though that is an overstatement. The High Museum in Atlanta offered a late Munch show in 2002. MoMA’s 2006 show trod this ground, too, with far more paintings, as did the widely praised retrospective earlier this decade at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Tate Modern in London.

The estrangement continues at Scandinavia House, where the exhibition “The Experimental Self” presents Munch’s lesser-known photography — although the 50-odd images here are, regrettably, facsimiles and not original prints. Munch used the camera with an intimate, even playful informality, and relied on blurring effects and ornery cropping to capture the same discord he brought to painting and printmaking.

In the foreground, Munch’s “The Sick Child” (1907). The Munch-Ellingsen Group/Artists Rights Society, New York; Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Many of the photographs here rhyme with paintings at the Met Breuer show. “Self-Portrait in Hell,” for one, is complemented at Scandinavia House by a nude self-portrait shot that same summer in Asgardstrand, Munch’s left arm cocked above his hip. A close-up selfie made while recumbent at his doctor’s office is called “Self-Portrait à la Marat” — a reference to the French revolutionary hero murdered in the bathtub, painted by Jacques-Louis David and messily by Munch, too, in 1907.

As much as the painted portraits, these photographic images of the artist rise to the level of what Munch called “self-scrutinies”: emotional but hard-edged, and pierced with a dread of modern life that has outlived the Modernist era. In Munch’s day, the dread came from within. Now, our fears lie outside — in dysfunctional algorithms, in a climate out of joint, in bombs triggered by unstable fingers. Munch’s alienated gaze on aging, illness and lost love can feel a little soppy if you are waylaid by the Nordic atmospherics. But scrutinize them as carefully as Munch scrutinized himself, and they offer a more substantial confession: that the social moorings we cling to may not be as firm as we think.


Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed
Through Feb. 4 at the Met Breuer, Manhattan; 212-731-1675, metmuseum.org.

The Experimental Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography
Through March 5 at Scandinavia House, Manhattan; 212-779-3587, scandinaviahouse.org.

A version of this review appears in print on December 1, 2017, on Page C17 of the New York edition with the headline: More Than ‘The Scream’.


By Jason Farago, Reprint from The New York Times, ART & DESIGN, 30 November 2017, © 2017 The New York Times Company

“You know the names Klee, Kandinsky… you also should know Galka Scheyer,” By Jessica Gelt

A detail from a photo of art collector and dealer Galka Scheyer in her home built by architect Richard Neutra. (Lette Valeska)


You know the names Klee and Kandinsky. A new exhibition explains why you also should know Galka Scheyer

By JESSICA GELT


Galka Scheyer wasn’t just interested in art, she was obsessed with it. She devoted her life to turning others on to her single-minded passion.

During the tumultuous 1930s and ’40s, the prominent German-born art dealer and collector organized exhibitions, lectures, publications — and ultimately sales — of work by the beloved artists she dubbed the Blue Four: Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky and Vasily Kandinsky.

“It’s hard to underestimate the impact she had when it came to raising consciousness about these artists in the state of California,” says Gloria Williams, who the current show about Scheyer’s life, “Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California,” on view at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena through Sept. 25.

Scheyer (1889-1945) became friends with a number of prominent artists during her years in Los Angeles, including John Cage, Walter and Louise Arensberg, Josef von Sternberg, Peter Krasnow and architect Richard Neutra, whom she hired to design her home in the Hollywood Hills.

“If you want to leave the establishment, California is where you come to really let your hair down and do something new,” Williams says of Scheyer’s arrival in the state in 1925, and her ultimate success in cultivating a popular taste for avante garde art.

People loved her exuberant energy, and many of the items on display contain tender inscriptions with terms of endearment, such as one by Feininger on a piece of personal correspondence that begins with, “My Dear Little Friend.”

Williams selected each object in the exhibition — including work by Alexander Archipenko, László Moholy-Nagy, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera — based on its close and meaningful connection to Scheyer.

Untitled, 1945, by American artist Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) (Lyonel Feininger)

Untitled, 1945, by American artist Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956) (Lyonel Feininger)

"Head in Profile," 1919, by German artist Emile Nolde (1867-1956) (Emile Nolde)

“Head in Profile,” 1919, by German artist Emile Nolde (1867-1956) (Emile Nolde)

"Plants in the Courtyard," 1932, by Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) (Paul Klee)

“Plants in the Courtyard,” 1932, by Swiss artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) (Paul Klee)

"Recalling Happy Memories," circa 1927, by American artist Peter Krasnow (1886-1979) (Peter Krasnow)

“Recalling Happy Memories,” circa 1927, by American artist Peter Krasnow (1886-1979) (Peter Krasnow)


Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California
Through September 25, 2017
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California
Info: http://bit.ly/2pmIWcy


By Jessica Gelt, Reprint from Los Angeles Times, 19 April 2017, © 2017 Los Angeles Times.

Egon Schiele

“And all the instabilities do shiver and run…” *

Brutal. Raw. Tenuous. Fragile. Such were the times into which Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918) was cast.

The significant hallmarks of his age are precisely the hallmarks of his controversial body of work. The gross instabilities of his time, his culture, his future, flowed through him, through his creative artistic filter, as through a sponge. And thus filtered, through Schiele’s brush, flowed creations that reflect in their imagery and in their style of painting, all of these powerful, debilitating and overwhelming forces — including the lusty, explosive explorations of a young man with an insatiable passion to live.

The outcome of the World War I years was the collapse and perhaps perversion of cultural institutions and mores, of personal hopes and expectations, of lives. From this milieu, we view the ordinary through Schiele’s bold vision, oddly transfixed, askew and raw. Within Schiele’s oeuvre are powerful moments. A painted burst of red flowers, or a rendering of four trees set against an inflamed sky, reflect as much a glimpse of beauty and profound lust for life, as they reflect the fragility of hope, the unlikelihood of a life fulfilled. Likewise, his self-portraits and portraits are of unsettling intensity and distortion. Landscapes quiver with complexities of color and form. And his searing, widely known works which explore human sexuality with an unfettered and unapologetic eye, continue to engage and enthrall. Over the top? Depends on whom you ask. Powerful art? Yes!

Egon Schiele’s life was cut short at age twenty-eight by the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918.

(*Jules Cavanaugh, I Require Art™)