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Neue Galerie

1048 Fifth Avenue

Southeast corner at 86th Street

"New Worlds: German and Austrian Art, 1890-1940"

Nov. 16, 2001 - Feb. 18, 2002

Neue Gallerie exterior

Neue Galerie is housed in former Yivo Institute building that was originally designed by Carrere & Hastings for William Starr Miller on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 86th Street


By Carter B. Horsley

German Expressionist Art is one of the most spectacular "schools" in art history. While the Fauves in France took Impressionism and applied very bold and bright palettes to their images, the German Expressionists took the Fauves palette and applied it to urban rather than bucolic subjects generally and their works were often highly emotionally charged portraits.

"Portrait of Baroness Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt" by Klimt

"Portrait of Baroness Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt," by Gustav Klimt, circa 1914

In a good article entitled "Neue Challenges" at Artnet ( http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit1-10-02.asp), Donald Kuspit makes a vigorous case for German Expressionist Art as manifested by the members of the School of Vienna, the Brucke, and the Blaue Reiter schools in the first decades of the 20th Century were a strong antidote to the dead-end abstraction of Cubism:

"Indeed, just as the Cubist pioneers are losing sight of the body, the Austrian and German artists and repossessing and rediscovering it. [Egon] Schiele re-asserts it with a vehemence not seen in art since Caravaggio and Goya. Every part of it becomes a pscychological terra incognita as well as a sensual discovery. And beyond the body there is the nature to which it belongs: just as landscape is drying up into a dessicated, colorless, sterile remnant[Gustav] Klimt paints such flourishing, luminous, colorful landscapes as Pond of Schloss Kammer on the Atterseeand his house in Weissenbach on the Attersee, Schiele paints Stein on Danube Seen from the South and River Landscape with Two Trees - to my mind the revelation of the exhibition - and the German Expressionists are painting their vivid, explosive Sturm-und-Drang landscapes. What we see in cubism is a narrowing down of the expressive possiblities of art, supposedly in the name of truth to the medium, while what we see in the School of Vienna, the Brucke, and the Blaue Reiter is an expansion of the medium to new expressive effect."

"The Dancer" by Gustav Klimt

"The Dancer," by Gustav Klimt, circa 1916-8

"The Dancer," the large painting shown above, by Klimt (1862-1918) adorns the cover of the huge catalogue.

Vienna, of course, was one of the great Art Nouveau centers in Europe and the sinuous, sensual and organic nature of that style carries over into much of the work of the German Expressionists who also quite obviously were fascinated with new insights into psychology of that period and they often explored narcissistic and sexual subjects.

"Forester House in Weissenbach on the Attersee" by Klimt

"Forester House in Weissenbach on the Attersee," by Gustav Klimt, 1912

Certainly, they were not immune to the "rawness" of Cubism. One cannot help but think of Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" when looking at some of Schiele's agonized, raw torsos, or at Ernest Heckel's nudes, which also apparently draw some inspiration from Gauguin.

This new museum is long overdue in New York. The Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, of course, have long included some German Expressionists in their permanent collections, but they are not much of a presence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and there can be no question that they are among the major talents of the 20th Century.

"Self-Portrait with Horn" by Max Beckmann

"Self-Portrait with Horn," by Max Beckmann, 1938

Last year, the museum acquired at auction for more than $20 million "Self-Portrait with Horn," a large 1938 self-portrait by Max Beckmann that was executed in 1938. It is one of several stunning Beckman paintings in the inaugural exhibition. Another self-portrait, shown below left, being a 1923 self-portrait that shows the artist in evening clothes looking quite suave, a reflection of his alignment then with artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit. The later self-portrait, on the other hand, is much starker with a bold palette of pink, orange and black and the artist's pose, with horn raised to his ear near a wall, hints of concerns and anxieties. Another fine Beckmann, "Gallerie Umberto," shown below right," is a raucous and strong work. The exhibition has two other excellent Beckmann paintings, "Field Workers" of 1928 and "Sunrise" of 1929.

Two works by Max Beckmann

"Self-Portrait in Front of Red Curtain," 1923, left, and "Gallerie Umberto," 1925, right, both by Max Beckmann

The museum was founded by Serge Sabarsky, a collector and dealer, who died in 1996, and Ronald S. Lauder, the philanthropist who is also the chairman of the Museum of Modern Art and of Estée Lauder International. It is housed in the very impressive, Georgian-style mansion that was designed by Carrere & Hastings, the architects of the New York Public Library further down the avenue at 41st Street, and originally built in 1914 for William Starr Miller and was lived in for many years by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt before being acquired as the headquarters of the Yivo Institute, an organization dedicated to the study of Yiddish culture.

(The Yivo Institute eventually sold its air-rights to the new owners of the adjoining former hotel property so that they could give their condominium apartment conversion project a Fifth Avenue address despite the fact that it is a mid-block building on 86th Street. It was preposterous of the Manhattan Borough President to grant such an address as it makes a mockery of the city's address system, but in retrospect it helped the institute raise enough funds combined with the sale of the building to this museum to move and thus was responsible in part for the creation of this museum, which is a major plus for the city.)

In his November 26, 2001 review ( http://www.observer.com/pages/story.asp?ID=5153 ) of the opening exhibition in The New York Observer, Hilton Kramer remarked that the museum should hold a special place in the city apart from its fine collections and architecture: "What our own cultural life in the 20th Century might have been without the arrival on our shores of German émigré artists, art scholars and writers, art dealers, art collectors, museum curators and teachers, is beyond imagining."

The renovation of the museum was designed by Anabelle Selldorf and is superb and elegant. The museum's quite sumptuous interiors have been nicely preserved and while not as spectacular as those at The Frick Collection they nonetheless provide visitors with a good sense of what nice townhouse living was all about. Indeed, the wood-paneled bookstore is the nicest in the city with the possible exception of the Urban Book Store in the Villard Houses on Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets and the Café Sabarsky on the first floor overlooking Central Park offers one of the nicest dining experiences in the city.

Cafe Sabarsky

Cafe Sabarsky is to the right of the main entrance and handsome staircase

(The Café Sabarsky is run by Kurt Gutenbrunner, the chef and owner of Wallse, a Viennese restaurant here in New York, and it specializes in Viennese pastries such as Sacher torte and apple strudel and traditional Viennese fare such as beef goulash with quark spatzle and roasted pepers, and tafelspitz, boil beef with creamed spinach and sauteed potatoes, and coffees from Meinl in Vienna. Its telephone is 212-288-0665.)

"Stein on the Danube, Seen from the South Large" by Schiele

"Stein on the Danube, Seen from the South (Large)," by Egon Schiele, 1913

Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is the artist with the most works in the exhibition including a great study of a nude couple, numerous of his frenzied and visceral watercolors and some impressive large landscapes including "Stein on the Danube, Seen from the South (Large)," a 1913 work, shown above, "River Landscape with Two Trees" from the same year.

While Schiele is best known for his often lurid portraits of apparently tortured souls, his landscapes are exceptional - strong delineations that are both realistic and abstract with intense and somber palette.

Schiele died when he was only 28 and yet his oeuvre is overwhelmingly impressive. Another artist who died young was Richard Gerstl, who committed suicide at the age of 25. His "Portrait of a Man on the Lawn," executed in 1907, is quite striking and haunting.

The museum's holdings of Klimt and Schiele are the largest outside of Vienna.

"The Russian Dancer Meia" by Kirchner

"The Russian Dancer Meia," by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1911

"Kirchner," according to an catalogue essay, "worked and exhibited as a member of Brücke, and the artists together evolved an Expressionist style rooted in varied Post-Impressionist and Fauvist tendencies, and influenced by 'primitive' African and Oceanic works. Thematically, they focused on land- and cityscapes and on the human figure, notably in portraits of one another and of friends, in scenes of oopular cabaret an circus entertainment, and in nudes - the latter viewed either in the Brücke studios or outdoors, and frequently erotically charged in their depiction. Their studios were hung with 'tapestries' painted with erotic scenes, and were filled with furnishings they themselves constructed. These workplaces, and the themes of their paintings, sculptures, and prints, depicted (indeed, created) a utopian, bohemian alternative to the 'older powers' and values of Wilheiminian German society. The artists' concept of their personal bohemia, and their art was an eclectic synthesis derived from the writings of various nineteenth-century European authors including Friedrich Nietzche, Oscar Wilde, Arno Holz and - though probably indirectly, the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier. But perhspas the major guide for Brücke artists, throuh the enthused explorations of personal, sensual, and sexual freedom, was the American poet Walt Whitman." The essay quotes a letter from Kirchner in which he stated that "The great poet Walt Whitman was responsible for my outlook on life. During my dismal days of want and hunger in Desden, his Leaves of Grass was and still is my comfort and encouragement."

There are very few major Kirchners in the United States and Kirchner (1880-1938) is one of the very best of the German Expressionists. The museum has several fine Kirchners including "The Russian Dancer Meia," a 1911 work shown above, "Tightrope Walk, a 1908-1910 work and "Female Nude at The Stove," a 1914 work.

"Sunset" by Emil Nolde
"Sunset," by Emil Nolde, 1909

Emil Nolde (1867-1956) was briefly a member of the Dresden artists' group, Brücke, and in 1907 came into contact wiht Edvard Munch and he became a member of the Berliner Secession the next year. "Within a year," the catalogue essay by Olaf Peters noted, "he was at odds with several of the group's other members and began to consider founding a new international artists' society. In 1910, he was expelled from the Secession. In 1912, Noolde showed work in the second exhibition mounted by the artists of Der Blaue Reiter....Nolde and his wife partcipated in an expedition to the South seas in 1913-14....In 1933 or 11934, now a Danish citizen, he became a member of the Danish section of the National Socialist party ... - at this point Fermany's ruling political party. Nonetheless, in 1936, he was among the first artists to be banned from exhibiting in germany, and in 1941...the Nazis prohibited him from working altogether. Beginning in 1938, Nolde surreptitiously worked on 'unpainted pictures,' small watercolors with which he responded to the repressive aesthetic politics of the regime. In 1944, during a bombing raid on the city, his Berlin studio was destroyed.

Peters provides the following quotation from Paul Ferdinand Schmidt's 1929 Nolde monograph:

"He is obsessed by color as if it were his demon; and depending on the mood of this demon, the painter can be tremendous, truly great, overpowering, and somettimes alienating and difficult. Nolde is a sorcerer of the North: possessed of inexhaustible powers, he produces figures and mythical images of enormous resonance. And he is an extremely German barbarian who clothes his Viking figures in sumptuous brocades and jewels. He arouses panic in the heart of every merely cultivated Formalist, but he is a true model of Germanic greatness in search of an as yet unidentified god. And who, among today's artists, has more to say to us with the danerous and as if newly discovered painters' weapon - color - than Nolde does!"

A large oil painting if 1909 of a sunset scene by Nolde, shown above, is fiery and captures the artist's bursts of energy so evident in his famous watercolors. Turner would have greatly appreciated this very fine work. It is one of the museum's greatest masterpieces.

"A XI" by Moholy-Nagy
"A XI," by László Moholy-Nagy, 1923


In 1922, according to Magdalena Droste's essay on the artist in the catalogue, László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) began "to make photograms (camera-free photographs produced by placing objects directly onto light-sensitive paper) - around the same time that Christian Schad and Man Ray were experimenting with the same technique." "Throughout his career, Moholy-Nagy would continue to produce photo-based works, and in recent years his photograms have come to be regarded as some of his most original contribitons to the art of the twentieth century. In March, 1923, Walter Gropius invited him to join the Bauhaus teaching staff. Moholoy-Nagy became head of the school's metal workshop; he also occasionally taught the preliminary core class taken by all Bauhaus students....In 1928, Moholy-Nagy joined Gropius in leaving the Bauhaus...." In 1934, he left Germany for Amsterdam and the following year moved to London before coming in 1937 to the United States where he would found schools in Chicago based on Bauhaus principles. Moholy-Nagy believed in a synthesis of the arts and became an important theoretician. "A XI," a 1923 painting, shown above, is a very lovely painting that is reminiscent of Russian Constructivism.

"Geimeroda II" by Feininger

"Gelmeroda II," by Lyonel Feininger, 1913

If Klimt, Schiele, Beckmann, Kirchner and Nolde are the big stars of the exhibition, there are many other bright lights such as Lyonel Feininger. "Gelmeroda II," shown above, is a marvelous 1913 work by Feininger that is perhaps the most dazzling work in the exhibition and in contrast to his often cool approach to his subject matter with a quite limited blue-green palette of which the museum happens to own a prime example, "The Blue Cloud," a 1925 work. Feininger is best known for his delicate, Cubistic cityscapes and marines, but he also did so wonderful early street scenes that are raucously colorful and full of inspired distortions in contrast to his almost scientific delineations of his mature style. Feininger (who was born in New York City in 1871 and died in New York City in 1956) is the most underrated of the major German Expressionist artists. He moved to Germany when he was 16 and became, according to Barbara McCloskey in her catalogue essay on the artist, "a leading figure first in the Expressionist avant-garde and later as an instructor and resident artist at the Bauhaus. While in Germany, he developed a signature style of shimmering color planes and a timeless pictorial vocabulary of neo-Gothic churches and nostalgic village streets that marked his attempt at aethetic escape from the period of turmoil through which he lived." He fled to the United States in 1937. McCloskey noted that the artist was so captivated by the church in the small village of Gelmeroda, shown above, that it "would figure to an obsessive degree in this work..., serving as an emblem of the artist's fascination with architectural form." "In his images of Gelmeroda," she continued, "Feininger drew on Cubism's faceted color planes in order to achieve in painting the structured immateriality and purity of form he so closely asosciated with music's highest achievements. Polyphony had a visual equivalent in his use of overlapping planes and multidimensional pictorial strucure that wove into a unified whole the independent 'melodic parts' of light and form, space and mass, foreground and background....Feininger gave the name 'Prisma-ismus' to what became his highly individual interpretation of current Cubist and Expressionist tendencies."

"Black Form" by Kandinsky

"Black Form," by Vasily Kandinsky, 1913

Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was born in Moscow but moved to Munich in 1897 and is one of the giants of abstract art and is well represented here by a great watercolor of 1913, two years after he and Franz Marc organized Der Blaue Reiter. From 1914 to 1921, Kandinsky lived again in Moscow but he returned to Germany in 1922 to accept a teaching post at the Bauhaus in Weimar where he stayed until 1933 when he relocated to Paris. Kandinsky worked in several styles, some looser than others, but all united by his vibrant palettes and energetic compositions, of which "Black Form," shown above, a 1913 work, is a fine example.

Many of the artists included in this splendid exhibition were termed "degenerate" by the Nazis and while some images are a bit lurid and/or harrowing most of the art they produced is evocative and thrilling and memorable.

The museum has an exquisite sculpture of a woman by George Minne (1866-1941), several intriguing works by Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) who was a forerunner of Surrealism, several great and powerful works by George Grosz (1893-1959), an important work by Franz Marc (1880-1916), and a very fine work by Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948).

The museum displays paintings and drawings along with furnishings of the period such as a chair by Adolph Loos, a chest by Otto Wagner, a drawing cabinet in ebony, boxwood and mother-of-pearl marquetry by Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill (1862-1961), a table designed by Mies van der Rohe for the German Exhibition and Pavilion at the 1938 Barcelona World's Fair, and a brooch by Josef Hoffmann, all of which are of very high quality and charm.

With only a 4,300 square feet of exhibition space, the Neue Gallerie is compact but its refined rewards are great.

The 600-page catalogue for the exhibition includes many illustrations and is a very fine, albeit hefty, research resource and is available from the museum for $75. It was published by the museum in association with DuMont Verlag and is edited by Renée Price, the museum's director. It has a fine essay on the Viennese cultural scene and interesting essays on the individual artists and their reception in the United States. Unfortunately, the essays do not not comment on the specific works in the exhibition.

The museum is open Friday, Saturday and Monday from 11 A.M. to 7 P.M. and on Sunday from 1 to 6 P.M. Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for seniors and students. Children under 12 are not admitted and children between 12 and 16 must be accompanied by an adult. The museum can only accommodate about 375 visitors at one time, so waits, particularly on weekends, are to be expected. In March, 2002, the museum announced it would stay open another hour daily.

 

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