The Neue Galerie focuses on early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design. The collection features art from Vienna circa 1900, exploring the special relationship that existed between the fine arts (of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Richard Gerstl, and Alfred Kubin) and the decorative arts (created at the Wiener Werkstätte by such well-known figures as Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, and Dagobert Peche, and by such celebrated architects as Adolf Loos, Joseph Urban, and Otto Wagner).
The German art collection represents various movements of the early twentieth century: the Blaue Reiter and its circle (Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, August Macke, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter); the Brücke (Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Hermann Max Pechstein, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff); the Bauhaus (Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer); the Neue Sachlichkeit (Otto Dix, George Grosz, Christian Schad); as well as applied arts from the German Werkbund (Peter Behrens) and the Bauhaus (Marianne Brandt, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Wilhelm Wagenfeld).
Munch and Expressionism
In 2016, we visited a Munch exhibit which highlighted one of the versions of Edvard Munch’s iconic, and much imitated, “The Scream”. This exhibit focuses so much on Munch himself, as on the interaction between and influence that the Norwegian and other Expressionist artists had on each other.
The exhibit began with an exhibit of and discussion of his pioneering role in printmaking, and especially his woodcut prints, in which he had the grain of the wood show through to the finished print. Many works, from his early “Madonna” prints, though his moody “Melancholy” oil, his “White Nights” landscape, and especially the existential crisis embodied in the displayed pastel version of “The Scream”, displayed the deep, dark emotions, the bold colors and daring compositions for which Munch became famous.
The exhibit also showed and discussed some of the artist’s later works in which he took then unconventional approaches of portraying subjects as staring straight out at the viewer and people standing or walking along roads, either alone or especially winding roads.
The Gallery also had two other temporary exhibits, in addition to part of its permanent collection that consists primarily of works by Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and period decorative arts. The other temporary exhibits were:
- “The Expressionist Nude” examines the ways in which Expressionists changed the ways in which the adult human body was represented, from realistic and idealized caricatures that portray disturbingly distorted and vulnerable figures that were characteristic of their vision of the helplessness of the human condition in the post-war era. Some also focused on a number of traditionally taboo subjects, such as pregnant women, the elderly and disfigured, and other frail people. One particularly evocative Alfred Kubin print, “Back to the Womb” portrayed a woman, lying in a birthing position, and a line of body-bearing coffins moving into her open abdominal cavity. In contrast to this rather dystopian view of adults, children are typically portrayed in a state of hopeful innocence.
- “German Advertising Posters of the Early 20th Century” showed a small lightly curated exhibit of posters, especially so-called “Object Posters” in which a single, often vibrantly colored, realistic image of the subject-object dominates the frame, and in which words are kept to a minimum.
In 2014, we went to an exhibit on what the Third Reich termed “Degenerate Art”. By 1937″ Hitler, the frustrated artist, was firmly in power and committed to ridding the country of the primitive and Jewish modern art that was polluting the country. After confiscating some 20,000 pieces of art, and destroying about 5,000, he banned some artists from working at all and greatly restricted the activities of many others. He then staged two simultaneous exhibitions. One of Nazi favored art (such as idealized, classical, and heroic realistic figures with subdued palette sand delicate brushwork) was staged in a monumental new building that was light and airy. One of degenerate art (such as the brash designs, colors, shapes, and brushstrokes of Expressionist paintings, political art, abstract art, and even the clean, modern architectural designs of the internationally influential Bauhaus school) was staged in a small, old, dingy, cramped and poorly lit building. (The Degenerate exhibit drew huge lines of people; the exhibit of favored art, not so much.) Although the small but representative exhibit focused overwhelmingly on serving items of the degenerate show, it began with examples of Nazi-favored art to demonstrate the comparisons–including a triptych that hung in Hitler’s living room. It was a fascinating exhibit with a particularly strong representation of artists including Max Bechman and Paul Klee.
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