20th Century Modern German Art, here and abroad

by leslierankowfinearts

EMIL NOLDE Garden Flowers, no date

EMIL NOLDE
Garden Flowers, no date

THE FEBRUARY EXHIBITION, EMIL NOLDE: EXPRESSIONS IN WATERCOLOR, AT VAN DOREN WAXTER, NEW YORK, BEAUTIFULLY ANTICIPATED THE CURRENT MUSEUM  FOCUS BOTH IN NEW YORK AND IN EUROPE ON THE WORK OF  EMIL NOLDE AND THE GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST MOVEMENT.  http://www.vandorenwaxter.com/   ON MARCH 13, NEW YORK’S ELEGANT NEUE GALLERY OPENED A MAJOR EXHIBITION ENTITLED, “DEGENERATE ART: THE ATTACK ON MODERN ART IN NAZI GERMANY” THAT REFERENCES AN INFAMOUS DISPLAY OF MODERN ART LAUNCHED BY THE NAZIS IN 1937 AS PART OF  THEIR CAMPAIGN TO UNDERMINE THE WORK OF “DIE BRUCKE” (THE BRIDGE) MODERN GERMAN ARTISTS.  IN A RECENT NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF THE EXHIBIT, CRITIC HOLLAND COTTER DESCRIBES NOLDE’S WORK AS  “SMALL, BRILLIANT WATERCOLORS (CREATED) IN PRIVATE (THAT) KEPT A KIND OF CREATIVE RESISTANCE ALIVE”. http://www.neuegalerie.org/

CONCURRENTLY, AT THE PRESTIGIOUS STÄDEL MUSEUM IN FRANKFURT, A MAJOR RETROSPECTIVE OPENED ON MARCH 5 THAT FEATURES 140 WORKS BY EMIL NOLDE.  JUST AS NOLDE IS CONSIDERED TO BE ONE OF THE GREATEST PAINTERS OF THE 20TH CENTURY, THE MUSEUM IS VIEWED AS ONE OF THE LEADING ART MUSEUMS IN EUROPE,  RECENTLY  EXPANDING ITS FOOTPRINT  WITH THE ADDITION OF  INNOVATIVE UNDERGROUND GALLERIES. THE MUSEUM, PARTICULARLY RICH IN THE FINEST EXAMPLES OF 20TH GERMAN ART, HOUSES OVER 3000 PAINTINGS AND 100,000 DRAWINGS AND PROVIDES  A COMPREHENSIVE INSIGHT INTO MORE THAN 700 YEARS OF EUROPEAN ART.  http://www.staedelmuseum.de/sm/index.php?websiteLang=en

IT IS WITH GREAT PLEASURE THAT THE LRFA BLOG FEATURES CURATOR AND ART HISTORIAN JEFFREY HOFFELD’S CRITICAL ESSAY THAT CONTRIBUTES MUCH TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF EMIL NOLDE, GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM AND ITS POLITICAL AND SOCIAL  HISTORY.

In 1963, when the Museum of Modern Art, together with museums in San Francisco and Pasadena, presented a retrospective of Nolde’s paintings, watercolors, and prints, Peter Selz, reiterating many of the same themes found in Haftmann’s earlier writing, described Nolde’s “symbolic language of tumultuous color” which, he observed, “serves as the primary element in a newly structured picture space” through which his figures move with “eruptive anxiety.”  Commenting on expressionist paintings, generally, Selz observed that the most successful of them “strikes home without the intervention of rational thought,” deriving, instead, from the artist’s “inner necessity.”

These observations from the 1950s and ‘60s about Nolde’s art, including a great deal of nearly identical descriptive language used to talk about his work, are also found, during the same period of time, in artists’ statements and the writings of critics and art historians who were attempting to characterize what Clement Greenberg referred to, in 1955, as the new “American-Type” painting.  In an interview, in 1950, for example, Jackson Pollock was asked by William Wright if classical artists had adequate means of expressing their age.  Pollock insisted that “all cultures have had means and techniques of expressing their immediate aims,” but he went on to distinguish the aims of artists of the past from present-day concerns: “The thing that interests me is that today painters do not have to go to a subject matter outside of themselves.  Most modern painters work from a different source.  They work from within.”

In 1957, Meyer Schapiro characterized the role of the personal and spontaneous in recent art as welcomed signs of new freedoms for both the artist and the viewer.  In his essay, “The Liberating Quality of Avant-Garde Art,” Schapiro celebrated the fact that the object of art had become “more passionately than ever before, the occasion of spontaneity or intense feeling,” and that the painting resulting from such spontaneity and intensity of feeling “symbolizes an individual who realizes freedom and deep engagement with the self within his work.”

EMIL NOLDE Nudes, Man and Woman, 1938-45

EMIL NOLDE
Nudes, Man and Woman, 1938-45

In their writings about Abstract Expressionism, Greenberg, Schapiro, Harold Rosenberg, and others repeatedly refer to the role of impulse, spontaneity, improvisation, and accident.  Each of these terms has also been employed to describe Nolde’s watercolors.  Peter Selz, who referred to Nolde’s watercolors in his 1963 catalogue essay as “fluid images,” described their qualities of “improvisation and expressive spontaneity,” in which Nolde “captures his subject matter almost by accident in a manner suggestive of later more abstract painters.”  Just as works of short prose, by Carl Sternheim and other writers, were especially well-suited as an art form to capture the intensity of German Expressionist fiction and drama, the rapidity and chance operations associated with watercolors, particularly in Nolde’s hands, were a remarkable vehicle for expressing his intense feelings and “dark spirit.”  As early as 1908 Nolde had consolidated and perfected his powers as a watercolorist; his confidence with the medium enabled him to experiment freely with its capacity to express his inner self.  He even embraced and cherished the accidental and haphazard in these works.

EMIL NOLDE Fisherman's Children, 1926

EMIL NOLDE
Fisherman’s Children, 1926

Working outdoors, under extremely cold conditions, after failing, as Selz described it, with a group of paintings, Nolde turned to watercolors, and used pieces of ice to paint with.  Traces of ice crystals, formed by the frozen water, can still be seen in several works. We are fortunate to have Nolde’s own words on the subject:  “At times I also painted in the freezing evening hours and was glad to see the frozen colors turn into crystal stars and rays on the paper.  I loved this collaboration with nature, yes, the whole natural alliance of painter, reality, and picture.”

MANY THANKS TO JEFFREY HOFFELD AND DORSEY WAXTER FOR THIS WONDERFUL CONTRIBUTION TO THE LRFA BLOG.

IN THE NEXT POSTING, I AM DELIGHTED TO INTRODUCE CARLA CAMACHO, A PARTNER AT LEHMANN MAUPIN GALLERY.  THE GALLERY HAS TWO BEAUTIFUL SPACES IN NEW YORK, AND MOST RECENTLY, ONE IN THE PEDDER BUILDING IN HONG KONG. THEIR COMMITMENT TO THEIR ARTISTS’ WORK AND PROFESSIONAL EXPANSION IS IMPRESSIVE AND THE SCOPE AND DIVERSITY OF THE ARTISTS THEY REPRESENT ALWAYS INSTRUCTIVE AND ENLIGHTENING.  I LOOK FORWARD TO SHARING CARLA’S PROFESSIONAL HISTORY AS WELL AS THE GALLERY’S CONTRIBUTION TO CONTEMPORARY ART.

I APPRECIATE OUR DIALOGUE, YOUR SUGGESTIONS AND COMMENTS, AND ENCOURAGE ANY QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT WANT TO POSE TO OUR NEXT EXPERT, GALLERIST CARLA CAMACHO.