Emil Nolde, Expressions in Watercolor, at Van Doren Waxter Gallery, New York

by leslierankowfinearts

EMIL NOLDE: EXPRESSIONS IN WATERCOLOR Van Doren Waxter Gallery, New York

EMIL NOLDE: EXPRESSIONS IN WATERCOLOR
Van Doren Waxter Gallery, New York

VAN DOREN WAXTER, IN COLLABORATION WITH BECK & EGGELING, DUSSELDORF, IS CURRENTLY EXHIBITING AN EXTRAORDINARY GROUP OF FIFTEEN WATERCOLORS BY GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST, EMIL NOLDE. THESE WORKS CAPTURE THE ETHEREAL MOMENTS OF NATURE AND HUMAN LIFE WITH AN UNSURPASSED IMMEDIACY AND VIBRANCY.  THE EXHIBIT CERTAINLY BROADENED MY KNOWLEDGE OF NOLDE’S WORK AND RANGE OF SUBJECT MATTER AND CONFIRMED MY LONG STANDING APPRECIATION OF THIS ARTIST, CELEBRATED FOR HIS MASTERFUL COMMAND OF THE DIFFICULT MEDIUM OF WATERCOLOR. THIS SOLO EXHIBITION ENDS WILL BE ON VIEW AT THE GALLERY ONLY THROUGH FEBRUARY 28TH ALTHOUGH I ASSUME WORKS WILL BE AT THE GALLERY TO VIEW FOR A WHILE FOLLOWING THE EXHIBIT. http://www.vandorenwaxter.com/

RUN, DO NOT WALK!

VAN DOREN WAXTER PUBLISHED A BEAUTIFUL SMALL BOOK AS THE CATALOGUE THAT ACCOMPANIES THE EXHIBITION WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY THE DIRECTOR OF THE ADA AND EMIL NOLDE FOUNDATION AND A PERCEPTIVE AND RICHLY DETAILED ESSAY BY ART HISTORIAN JEFFREY HOFFELD, CURATOR OF THE EXHIBITION. JEFFREY’S CAREER IN THE ARTS IS DIVERSE BUT ALWAYS DISTINGUISHED. HIS MUSEUM EXPERIENCES INCLUDE CURATORIAL POSITIONS AT THE CLOISTERS OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM; CURATOR AND THEN DIRECTOR OF THE NEUBERGER MUSEUM. HE IS A PRIVATE ADVISOR AND CONSULTANT TO MANY DISTINGUISHED ARTISTS AND ARTISTS’ ESTATES.

IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO PRESENT THE  ESSAY AND IMAGES FROM THE EXHIBIT IN A SERIES OF POSTS IN THE  LRFA BLOG.

EMIL NOLDE Red Flowers, c. 1925

EMIL NOLDE
Red Flowers, ca. 1925

GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM IN AMERICA:  THE CASE OF EMIL NOLDE

Although there has been considerable enthusiasm for postwar German art during the last twenty-five years, since World War I the interest in German culture, overall, has been generally capricious outside Germany.  The tearing down of the Berlin wall played a pivotal role in awakening interest in contemporary German art, creating excitement about the possibility of discovering previously unrecognized talents, formerly kept under wraps in the GDR.  Renewed concern for figurative painting during the 1980s, especially in the United States, also helped spark an infatuation with works by a relatively small number of German artists.

Viewed from a somewhat broader historical perspective, the stage was set well before the eighties for this warming up to German art.  A fascination with earlier German painting surfaced during the 1950s and ‘60s when the German Expressionists of the early decades of the twentieth century were often seen as forbearers of the Abstract Expressionists.  The paintings, watercolors, and prints of Emil Nolde, who died in 1956, enjoyed special favor during this period of retrospection, demonstrated most clearly, in 1963, when the Museum of Modern Art,  joined by the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Pasadena Art Museum, presented the first American retrospective of Nolde’s work.

EMIL NOLDE The Homestead,  Seebull,  ca. 1940

EMIL NOLDE
The Homestead, Seebull, ca. 1940

With the exception of an inner circle of better informed collectors, critics and art historians, museum curators and directors, and German émigrés, German art of the first three decades of the twentieth century was largely unknown to American audiences during the years when it was being created and exhibited widely in German galleries and museums.  The Armory Show of 1913 would have been a perfect opportunity to introduce art lovers in New York, Chicago, and Boston to German art.  However, in spite of the fact that the organizers travelled to Cologne in 1912 to see the International Exhibition of the Sonderbund, which included Dutch, French, and German art, only three artists from Germany, represented by a total of four works, made it into the legendary Armory Show.  In its New York phase, Kandinsky and Kirchner were represented by one painting each, and two sculptures by Lehmbruck were included, in contrast to scores of works by French artists, as well as generous samplings of paintings by van Gogh and Munch.

The resounding impact of the Armory show on the subsequent course of American painting is well documented.  Some consideration has also been given to the specific influence of European art on American modernists, including the Synchromists, Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright, as well as Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and John Marin, who travelled abroad, came under the influence of what they saw there, and, in some instances, even had opportunities to exhibit their own work in Europe   However, very little attention has been paid to the specific influence of German art on American modernism during the early decades of the twentieth century.  One can only imagine what impact the Armory Show would have had on American art between the wars, were German art of the period more amply represented.  European artists, especially the surrealists who took refuge in New York in the thirties and forties, are customarily identified as critical influences during the formative years of Abstract Expressionism.  However, the impact of prominent exhibitions of German Expressionism on the artists of the New York School, as well as upon the “figurative fifties,” generally, topics which are beyond the scope this essay, have been largely neglected as subjects of inquiry.

EMIL NOLDE Two Women, red-violet, 1938-1945

EMIL NOLDE
Two Women, red-violet, 1938-1945

 Although it has become fashionable to criticize Alfred Barr, as founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, for allegedly setting in stone a French-leaning perspective on the origins and development of modernism, the actual record of Barr’s exhibition program and acquisitions during his tenure tell quite a different story.  In 1931, just two years after the museum opened its doors, he presented an ambitious exhibition, “German Painting and Sculpture,” comprised of more than one hundred works created during the years 1905 to 1930, many of which were borrowed from German museums.  Barr’s tribute to German art was not an isolated or groundbreaking case of attention to this subject in New York City and elsewhere in the country, but it definitely was not organized in response to popular demand.  Previous efforts to present modern German art at New York galleries were often ridiculed in the press, where the art was called crude and symptomatic of “a declension in artistic feeling.” Some critics seized the opportunity to interpret the art on view as expressions of “the soul of the German people,” concluding that a “racial quality” accounts for its apparent lack of exquisiteness.

IN THE SECOND POST OF JEFFREY HOFFELD’S ESSAY, THE CONSEQUENCES OF NAZI RULE AND ITS EFFECTS ON MODERN GERMAN ART, ITS SUPPORT BY ALFRED BARR OF THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART AND PRESENCE IN AMERICA IS EXPLORED. I WELCOME QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS AND AM DELIGHTED THAT JEFFREY HOFFELD CAN SHARE HIS SCHOLARSHIP ON THIS EXHIBITION AND THIS REMARKABLE ARTIST.

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