Published: April 26, 2011
On view through July 11 at the Museum of Modern Art, “German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse” focuses on the explosive production of graphic art †prints, drawings, posters, illustrated books, and periodicals †associated with the Expressionism movement that developed in Germany and Austria during the early decades of the Twentieth Century.
A confluence of forces †aesthetic, social, political and commercial †encouraged virtually every painter and sculptor working in Germany at the time to take up the graphic mediums, giving rise to an renaissance, particularly in printmaking. This graphic impulse extends from the birth of Expressionism, around 1905, through the difficult war years of the 1910s into the turbulent postwar years of the early 1920s.
Artists in the exhibition include Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Otto Dix, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Oskar Kokoschka, Max Pechstein and Egon Schiele.
The exhibition, featuring more than 250 works by nearly 30 artists, is drawn from the museum’s holdings of German Expressionist prints, enhanced by selected drawings, paintings and sculptures from its collection.
The first major exhibition devoted to German Expressionism at MoMA since 1957, it marks the culmination of a major four-year grant from the Annenberg Foundation to digitize, catalog and conserve all of the approximately 3,200 Expressionist works on paper in the museum’s collection. MoMA’s holdings represent one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of this material outside Germany.
Through printmaking, the Expressionists were able to pioneer key formal innovations, to disseminate their images and ideas more broadly, and to engage with the urgent social and political issues of the day.
The exhibition is organized in loosely chronological order, starting with three intimate galleries devoted to the three distinct urban centers in which Expressionism first arose: Dresden, where the artists’ group Brücke (Bridge) was formed in 1905; Munich, where the artist association Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) was established in 1911 by Vasily Kandinsky and Franz Marc; and Vienna, where an Austrian strain of Expressionism first began to express itself around 1908 and was represented by two major figures, Kokoschka and Schiele.
By the early 1920s, artists in Germany had become increasingly disaffected. The final gallery of the exhibition focuses on the new style that emerged as an outgrowth of Expressionism during the postwar climate of disillusion. Their works, including Beckmann’s coldly detailed etching “Self Portrait in Bowler Hat,” 1921, and Dix’s acidly colored lithograph “Procuress,” 1923, emphasize the skepticism and decadence of postwar German society.
Dramatic portfolios such as Beckmann’s “Trip to Berlin,” 1922, Dix’s “Nine Woodcuts,” 1922, Pechstein’s “The Lord’s Prayer,” 1921, and Grosz’s “In the Shadows,” 1921, confront the contradictions and uncertainties of postwar life.
A major publication accompanies the exhibition, containing more than 250 full-color plates showcasing the museum’s holdings of German Expressionist prints along with a careful selection of drawings, paintings and sculptures from the museum’s collection. It is available at the MoMA stores and online for $60.
A dedicated website, www.MoMA.org/germanexpressionism , features a searchable inventory of the museum’s collection in this genre.
The museum is at 11 West 53rd Street. For information, www.moma.org or 212-708-9400.
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