Published: August 27, 2002
CHICAGO, ILL. – An exhibition of works on paper created by German artists ranging over the past two centuries highlights the summer’s exhibition schedule at The Art Institute of Chicago. “: Prints and Drawings from Friedrich to Baselitz,” on view through September 22, brings together 40 important prints and drawings. The exhibition features selected works recently acquired by the Art Institute by, among others, Philip Otto Runge (1777-1810), Erich Heckel (1883-1970) and Sigmar Polke (born 1941). In all, nearly 30 artists are represented.
Released in conjunction with the exhibition is The Art Institute of Chicago’s latest issue of Museum Studies, entitled Negotiating History; (volume 28, number 1). The publication explores the various ways in which German artists have, at widely different historical moments, reconsidered and responded to their national past. Fighting repeated battles over what constitutes a distinctly German aesthetic, artists, political figures and cultural commentators alike have brought to light (or attempted just as strongly to avoid) a mythical, idealized history in the face of an uncertain present.
Recently, a significant number of German works on paper have entered the Art Institute’s permanent collection, including hundreds of prints and drawings from the Romantic, Expressionist and postwar periods. These additions amplify the strength and diversity of the permanent collection and serve as the focus for .
“This exhibition and related publication investigate the German artistic impulse to reconsider and reformulate the past,” stated Jay A. Clarke, associate curator of the department of prints and drawings. “The concept of German art, like that of Germany itself, is complex and even problematic. During the Romantic era (roughly 1780-1820), the German nation as we now know it did not exist. The country was split between East and West Germany only to be united as one Germany again in 1989.”
Due in part to these changes and the turmoil that often accompanied them, German artists frequently used their work to construct a sense of national identity and cohesiveness by mining their cultural heritage. Alternately, contemporary artists have adopted this self-same past in order to critique historical concepts of nationalism. The exhibition presents works that demonstrate artists’ often precarious attempts to negotiate history, and reveal their struggles to define a distinctly German art.
In the last 15 years, the Art Institute has acquired numerous German works, which enhance the strength and diversity of the museum’s permanent collection. The arduous selection process has allowed the newly acquired works to join in conversation with pieces that entered the Art Institute collection decades ago.
Among the other artists represented in exhibition are Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), Max Klinger (1857-1920), Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945), Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), Paul Klee (1879-1940), Ludwig Meidner (1884-1966) and Markus Lupertz (born 1941).
While the exhibition is devoted exclusively to works on paper, the publication includes painting, sculpture and photography that range chronologically from Caspar David Friedrich’s poetic, Romantic symbolism to the Northern Renaissance-inspired woodcuts of the Expressionists, from the seething political satire of Weimar-era artists George Grosz and Otto Dix to Georg Baselitz’s deeply personal response to the legacy of World War II.
Negotiating History is the first publication devoted entirely to the museum’s important and growing collections of German art, one that now ranks among America’s most prominent. This is an exciting opportunity for collectors, steeped in the legacy of late-Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century collectors who were passionate about French Impressionism but less enthusiastic about the art of German-speaking Europe, to learn more about the sweep of German art. In an effort to further educate the public as to the wide range of German art in the permanent collection, this show accompanies two other exhibitions on view: “Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting” and “Postwar German Works on Paper: Gifts of Susan and Lewis Manilow.”
The profusely illustrated 112-page book includes five essays and 94 illustrations that thoroughly explore Germany’s art history. Complete with a special portfolio section highlighting 20 recent acquisitions, this issue offers both a compelling, accessible introduction to, and an important reassessment of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century German art.
In the opening article, “German Romanticism: The Search for ‘A Quiet Place,'” author Marsha Morton shows how visual art, literature and philosophy intersected in the early Nineteenth Century, as the German Romantics constructed a national aesthetic based on the graphic styles of the late Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance, and on the native spiritual traditions of Pietism and mysticism. In her essay “Neo-Idealism, Expressionism and the Writing of Art History,” Jay A. Clarke takes a different approach, focusing on art criticism in order to reveal the unexpected correspondences between Neo-Idealism and Expressionism, two turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century movements that sought to revive the Germanic past in order to combat the imagined threat of French Impressionism and other “foreign” influences.
In the essay that follows, “‘A Clear and Simple Style’: Traditional and Typology in New Objectivity,” Maria Makela explores the role of the New Objectivity movement in the tumultuous Weimar era (1918-33) arguing that practitioners of this style returned to representational art, revived Old Master painting techniques and used social stereotyping as a way to impose order on a culture in disarray. Richard Shiff, in an essay entitled “Georg Baselitz Grounded,” writes on this postwar artist’s work of the 1960s. Drawing on both Baselitz’s biographical experience and on his elusive art, Shiff suggests that the artist’s works and methods can be seen as a powerful, deeply individual response to the “destroyed order” of World War II-era Germany.
In the issue’s final article, “History by Degrees: The Place of the Past in Contemporary German Art,” Stephanie D’Alessandro addresses the broader terrain of German art from 1945 to 2000, charting the divergent paths that different generations of artists have taken in grappling with their nation’s historical and cultural legacy.
Moving beyond the essays’ theme of history and its uses, a concluding portfolio highlights the recent acquisitions. These entries — which cover works by such German and German-speaking artists as Karl Blechen, Kathe Kollwitz, Paul Klee and Sigmar Polke — offer, like the articles that precede them, eloquent testimony to the scope, riches and vitality of the museum’s collection.
Museum Studies, published twice annually, is devoted to exploring the museum’s extensive holdings and history through a wide variety of articles written for a general audience. Each issue features a selection of absorbing, accessible essays on a variety of subjects and viewpoints, written by Art Institute curators and staff, as well as other nationally and internationally renowned scholars, these articles contain the most recent information on the Art Institute and its collections and are richly illustrated with both color and halftone reproductions. Museum Studies has won design awards from the American Association of Museums, the American Federation of the Arts, Chicago Women in Publishing, and others.
Negotiating History: is available at The Museum Shop for $14.95. An annual subscription to Museum Studies is available to members of the Art Institute for $20 and to nonmembers for $25. For subscription information, call 312-443-3786 or visit www.artic.edu.
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