Exhibition Features More than 70 Paintings and Works on Paper by Major Figure of Expressionism
Museum Expands Programming to Include Lectures, Film, Chamber Music, and Cabaret Series
NEW YORK (March 8, 2002)—On March 15, 2002, Neue Galerie New York opens its first major loan exhibition, "Oskar Kokoschka: Early Portraits from Vienna and Berlin, 1909-1914." This exhibition, which is on view from March 15 to June 10, 2002, will fill the third-floor galleries. After being on view at the Neue Galerie, the exhibition travels to the Hamburger Kunsthalle from July 5 to September 29, 2002. The guest curator of the exhibition is Dr. Tobias Natter, Keeper of the 20th-Century Collection of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
Concurrent with the exhibition, the Neue Galerie will introduce expanded programming, including lectures by distinguished curators and historians, documentary films, chamber music, and cabaret performances. These initiatives significantly broaden the scope of the museum's mission.
"Oskar Kokoschka's early portraits constitute one of the most important aspects of this prodigious artist's oeuvre," noted Renée Price, Director of the Neue Galerie New York. "We are pleased to present these vibrant works as the first of the museum's traveling exhibitions."
In addition to the oil portraits-probably the best-known and most esteemed part of Kokoschka's oeuvre-the exhibition includes a selection of the artist's drawings, many featuring the same sitters he portrayed in oil. Examples of Kokoschka's work for the Wiener Werkstätte (postcards, fans) demonstrate the artist's swift passage from Jugendstil to Expressionism, and from illustrator to artist Of particular note are items made for Alma Mahler, with whom Kokoschka had a legendary love affair. A section of the exhibition is devoted to the architect Adolf Loos, who had a guiding role in the artistic development of the young Kokoschka.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that includes a critical essay by Dr. Natter, as well as essays by a number of leading scholars in this field. The catalogue is published by DuMont and is distributed in the United States by Yale University Press.
In the second-floor galleries, selected works from the museum's collection remain on long-term view. From February 22 to June 10, 2002, the focus is on Austrian fine and decorative arts. Featured artists include Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Alfred Kubin, as well as the decorative artists of the Wiener Werkstätte, such as Josef Hoffmann, Dagobert Peche, and Koloman Moser.
At the age of twenty-two, Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) became famous overnight for his appearance in the seminal Vienna Kunstschau of 1908. Gustav Klimt, president of the Vienna Secession, described Kokoschka as "the outstanding talent among the younger generation."
Critics were generally disapproving; one, referring to the artist's agitated Expressionist style, called Kokoschka the "Oberwilding [super savage] of Vienna." The artist reacted with defiance: "1 was angry at the insults 1 read every day in the Press where 1 saw myself treated as a criminal, so 1 had my head shaved in order to look the part."
Kokoschka made no preparatory studies for his portraits. He was able to fix his reactions to a sitter directly on the canvas, without intermediary stages. That he could produce his characteristic "images of the soul" in this way is all the more remarkable in that often he barely knew his sitters. Probably no one described the genesis of Kokoschka's early portraits and their exceptional quality better that the art historian Hans Tietze (depicted in the exhibition in a landmark double-portrait with his wife, Erica). Relating the paintings' spontaneity of manner to the intensity of their effect, Tietze wrote, "Kokoschka's spiritual force and his gifts as a painter manifest themselves most immediately in these paintings, in which, like a young giant who had just become aware of his strength, he lets himself go with complete abandon and achieves effects that in some respects surpass those he was to obtain in later years by more considered means."
The subjects of these portraits are illuminated from within rather than from an exterior light source. In this way, Kokoschka breathes life into his sitters. They frequently appear surrounded by a fluorescent aura, their fragile frames anchored against it by contoured lines. Kokoschka often combined iridescent hues with sulphurous shades to create a ghostly atmosphere.
The colors in his portraits became darker and duller around 1911-heavier, more opaque, and more unified. At this time, Kokoschka began modeling with color. The webs of lines were discarded as he started to incorporate into his painting influences derived from the months he had spent in Berlin. In 1912 Kokoschka adopted a palette of pastel shades and began employing an increased density of form. The final portraits made before the outbreak of World War 1 are marked by a return to dark, heavy colors and patches of reflected light.
Kokoschka himself seldom commented on his methods and aims when painting portraits. In a letter to Lotte Franzos, who sat for the artist in 1909 and who found it difficult to recognize "the truth" in his results, he wrote caustically, "I do not paint anatomical specimens." A 1912 lecture he gave in Vienna, titled "Vom Bewusstsein der Gesichte" ("On the Nature of Visions"), contains his most detailed comments on his approach to portraiture. Explaining that the condition of the soul finds living expression in a face, Kokoschka describes trying to capture a state that "can be evoked but never defined" in his portraits. The history of a human being can never be fixed, he concluded, because it is "a part of life itself." As Kokoschka put it on another occasion, "Human beings are not still lifes."
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