Published: October 29, 2012
“German Expressionism from the Detroit Institute of Arts” will be on view in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ Upper-Level Galleries through February 10. Featuring paintings, sculpture and works on paper from the Detroit Institute’s distinguished collection of German Expressionist art, the exhibition explores the full breadth of this artistic movement from 1905 to 1950 and includes works by Max Beckmann, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Käthe Kollwitz, Franz Marc and other major masters.
One of the major movements in modern art, German Expressionism is known for two groups of painters: Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Die Brücke was founded in Dresden by four young architecture students who worked and exhibited together. Although not formally trained as artists, the members of Die Brücke developed the movement’s distinctive style, which is defined by vivid colors, distorted forms and vigorous brush strokes.
“The artists of Die Brücke sought a more intuitive form of expression,” explains Frist Center curator Trinita Kennedy. “Following in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch, they focused on conveying psychological states and emotions rather than outward appearances, which became the fundamental premise of German Expressionism.”
Der Blaue Reiter was founded in Munich by Russian émigré Wassily Kandinsky and German Franz Marc. The group was a loosely organized international association of older, academically trained artists. “What united Der Blaue Reiter was a strong interest in color theory, spiritual values, the relationship between visual art and music, and a tendency toward abstraction,” Kennedy said.
The outbreak of World War I and the subsequent rise of Germany’s National Socialist (Nazi) party had drastic consequences for German Expressionism. The Nazis began a destructive campaign of vilification against modern art, claiming that it did not conform to “healthy” Aryan values. The infamous Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937 featured more than 700 works of modern art, including Otto Mueller’s “Gypsy Encampment,” which is on view in this exhibition.
Thousands of other modern artworks were destroyed by the Nazi regime. The Detroit Institute of Arts acquired its significant German Expressionism collection largely under the guidance of director W.R. Valentiner, a German art historian. “After befriending Franz Marc during his service in the Germany army in World War I, Valentiner became deeply engaged with the art of his own time,” says Kennedy. “He befriended many German artists, and made great efforts to support their work and secure exhibitions for many of them in the United States. This exhibition is comprised as much of tokens of friendship as it is extraordinary works of art.”
The Frist is at 919 Broadway. For general information, www.fristcenter.org or 615-244-3340.
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