Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MUNCH and EXPRESSIONISM at Neue Galerie: Review by Polly Guerin

The Scream 1895, Pastel on board 
Edvard Munch's The Scream may be one of the best recognized paintings and a symbol of modern angst, but the exhibition MUNCH and EXPRESSIONISM  at  the Neue Galerie, Museum for German and Austrian Art, is a show that offers a a compelling look not only at Munch's work but examines Munch's influence on his German and Austrian contemporaries.   Opens to the public, February 18 and will be on view through June 13, 2016.    
        Is Munch relevant today? Munch's poem describes on the frame of The Scream: "My friends walked on - I stayed behind-quaking with Angst - I felt the great Scream of Nature." This seems to me to resonate with the great uprising of environmentalist, who are screaming, even today, to protect our planet. Be prepared to visit the deep blue, grotto-like gallery, that pays homage to the process and variations of The Scream. Image: Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895, Pastel on board in the original frame, Private Collection.
        Although, much has been written about the relationship between Munch's personal life and his art, preoccupied with matters of chronic illness, sexual liberation, and religious torment, he expressed these obsessions through works of intense color, semi abstractionism and mysterious undertones. Munch once said, "No longer will I paint interiors with men reading and women knitting. I will paint paint living people who breath and feel and suffer and love," and indeed that is exacting what you will find in Munch and Expressionism.  
       However, this exhibition, the first to thoroughly study artist's work, presents a broader venue in the context of his German and Austrian peers including Max Beckmann, Gabriele Munter, Emile Nolde, Egon Schiele and others. 
Erich Heckel Girl with Doll (Franzi) (Oil on Canvas (1910)
 Munch enjoyed a strong following in the German-speaking world, Expressionist artists including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel in Dresden and Richard Gerstl and Oskar Kokoschka in Vienna, had ample opportunity to view Munch's work firsthand and to draw inspiration from his highly personal and original way of depicting the world.  Image: Erich Heckel Girl with Doll (Franzi) Oil on Canvas, Private Collection.

     Munch was innovative in his technique of cutting wooden blocks into sections so that he could apply different colors and reassemble them for printing. Artists Kirchner and Heckel both adopted this method and, like Munch, combined woodcut with lithography in highly experimental prints, which sometimes had hand-colored additions.
Madonna, Edvard Munch 1895/1902
Artists were also influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche's idea that nature was a vital source of renewal with lush depictions of nude bathers include Munch's oil on canvas, Standing Nude against Blue Background (1935-30) and Bathing Men (1918) and Erich Heckel's Bathers in a Pond (1908). Heckel's Girl 
Girl with Doll 1910, oil on canvas, is another most beguiling image.
Left: Edvard Munch's Madonna: Colored lithograph in black, red and light olive green, and woodblock or stencil in blue on light golden Japan paper. 
     Emil Nolde was particularly impressed by Munch's expressive color variations in sequences of prints, no two of which are alike. This "one-off" approach to printmaking attracted the Expressionists, who favored small hand printed editions that were unique works of art.
    Munch use of vivid color intensives, the emotional power of his subject matter, helped to pave the way for an entirely new attitude towards art in the early 20th century and Munch began to express his tormented inner world through his artistic creations, giving birth to the art style that would be known as Expressionism.
          To understand Munch's torment one need only dig deeper into childhood events; the premature death of his mother from tuberculosis when he was five years old, that tragedy compounded by the death of his older sister Sophie, from the same illness, his own fragile health added to his misery. And during his crucial stages of development, his father became emotionally unavailable when he suffered an agitated psychotic depression.  In a never ending saga of woe these traumatic events no doubt underscore his statement, "I will paint living people who breath and feel and suffer and love."
     A fully illustrated catalogue, published by Prestel Verlag, is available with contributions by leading scholars in the field. This authoritative and beautifully illustrated book explores Munch's impact  on German and Austrian artists of the period with an Expressionist context.
     Ta Ta Darlings!!! Munch and Expressionism is a monumental installation, a broad spectrum of innovation that influenced other artists of the era. At Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue @ 86th St. Fan mail always welcome at Visit Polly's Blogs at and in the left hand column click on the link to the Blog that resonates with your interest.

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