Exhibition Features Major Paintings by Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
NEW YORK (February 4, 2004)—On March 12, the Neue Galerie opens “Arcadia and Metropolis: Masterworks of German Expressionism from the Nationalgalerie Berlin,” a selection of important paintings from one of Germany’s great collections of twentieth-century art. Covering the period from 1907 to 1926, the exhibition demonstrates German artists’ varied responses to their country’s abrupt encounter with industrialization and urbanization. It has been organized by Dr. Roland März, curator at the Nationalgalerie Berlin. The exhibition will remain on view through June 7.
“Arcadia and Metropolis” features Expressionist and Neue Sachlichkeit paintings by a number of seminal artists, among them Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Highlights include Max Pechstein’s idyllic nude, Seated Female Nude (Moritzburg) (1910); Kirchner’s angular cityscape, Potsdamer Platz (1914); and Grosz’s brutal depiction of post-World War I society, Gloomy Day (1921).
“Throughout its history, Berlin has been a great cultural capital, one that has influenced a number of artistic movements,” said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the Neue Galerie. “It is a privilege to show masterworks of German Expressionism from the Nationalgalerie Berlin, which houses such a fantastic collection of early twentieth-century paintings.”
“The turbulent history of the Nationalgalerie represents an important chapter in the larger story of Wilhelminian and Weimar Germany,” said Renée Price, director of the Neue Galerie. “At stake was nothing less than the survival and flourishing of modern German art.”
The exhibition begins with the work of the German Expressionists, artists who sought simplicity of form and directness of emotional expression in their paintings. At first, the Expressionists most often worked in rural idylls far removed from the city: the placid Moritzburg Ponds near Dresden, the deserted shores of the Baltic, and in the so-called Blue Country around the village of Murnau, south of Munich. The paintings of Kirchner, Pechstein, and Erich Heckel from 1907-1910 are suffused with lyrical eroticism; nudes, especially bathers, are frequent subjects.
After 1910, the Expressionists moved their activities to the cities, notably Dresden, Munich, and Berlin. Their work shifted from romantic notions of a natural utopia to the sometimes-frantic reality of metropolitan life, depicted in a sharply contoured and angular style. This style reaches it apogee in Kirchner’s Potsdamer Platz, with its demonic vision of streetwalkers in Berlin.
The exhibition also traces the rise of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement following World War I. Artists such as Otto Dix and George Grosz depicted a ravaged society in satirical paintings such as Grosz’s Gloomy Day and Dix’s The Skat Players (1920). Their cynical frankness and emphasis on bodily fragmentation and decay pointed to a culture on the brink of disaster.
The Nationagalerie Berlin reflected the changes that convulsed Germany in the twentieth century. The Nationalgalerie first occupied a neo-classical structure on Berlin’s Museum Island. Under the leadership of Ludwig Justi, the museum acquired and exhibited important Modernist works years before its peer museums in New York, Paris, and London. Paintings by great modern German artists such as Heckel, Nolde, Kirchner, and Max Beckmann could still be seen in its galleries as late as July 1933. With the rise of the National Socialists, this work was soon vilified and expelled. The Nationalgalerie Berlin became a museum looted by its own state authorities.
Following World War II, the collection was gradually rebuilt through a combination of state and private support. It was split between two buildings: the original site, now known as the Alte Nationalgalerie, and a Mies van der Rohe-designed building, opened in 1968, known as the Neue Nationalgalerie. These institutions have led the way in the re-emergence of German museums.
The Neue Galerie will host three lectures in connection with this exhibition. On Monday, March 15, at 6:30 p.m., Peter Selz, renowned art historian and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, will deliver a lecture entitled, “From Free Love to Prostitution to the New Woman: The Representation of Women in German Expressionist and Post-Expressionist Art.” On Monday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m., Dietrich Neumann, Professor for the History of Modern Architecture at Brown University, will address “Berlin on Film,” in conjunction with the film series of the same name at the Neue Galerie. On Monday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m., Roger Cohen, columnist for the International Herald Tribune and former Berlin Bureau Chief for The New York Times, will speak on “Berlin: The Flash of the Gray City.”
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