Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ekspressioita / Expressions (exhibition at Sara Hildén Art Museum)

Ekspressioita / Expressions. Näyttely saksalaisesta ekspressionismista [An Exhibition on German Expressionism], [1907-1923], 15.9.2012–13.1.2013. Curator: Riitta Valorinta. Commissioner: Raimund Stecker (LehmbruckMuseum), Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere, viewed on 22 Dec 2012.

Catalogue: Sarianne Soikkonen, Riitta Valorinta (ed.): Ekspressioita / Expressions. Writers: Riitta Valorinta, Jari Martikainen, Raimund Stecker, Denise Wendel-Poray, Christian Meyer, Lars Holmström. Capsule biographies of Alexander Archipenko, Ernst Barlach, Heinrich Campendonk, Otto Gutfreund, Erich Heckel, Oswald Herzog, Alexej von Jawlensky, Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Käthe Kollwitz, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Jacques Lipchitz, August Macke, Franz Marc, Otto Mueller, Emil Nolde, Hermann Max Pechstein, Christian Rohlfs, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Arnold Schönberg. Full colour illustrations of the entire exhibition and a lot of bonus illustrations. Tampere: Sara Hildénin taidemuseo, 2012.

Official introduction: "The autumn exhibition of the Sara Hildén Art Museum presents the works of the major German expressionist artists from a century ago. The museum held an exhibition of graphic art by members of the group Die Brücke in 1993. The present Expressions exhibition shows the works of the most important artists not only of this group but also of the group Der Blaue Reiter. The artists exhibited include Wassily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Franz Marc, Heinrich Campendonk, Erich Heckel, Alexej von Jawlensky, Käthe Kollwitz, August Macke, Otto Mueller, Hermann Max Pechstein, Christian Rohlfs, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Arnold Schönberg and Emil Nolde."

"One of the gems of the exhibition is Franz Marc's famous masterpiece Three Cats (1914). The expressionists favoured subjects taken from nature and animals, through which they strove to express the lost connection between Man and Nature. Their yearning for Nature is manifested in their works in the form of animals, landscapes and gardens. Emil Nolde, in particular, painted many lusciously coloured garden scenes, several of which are on display in this exhibition. The tone for the exhibition as a whole is set by Wilhelm Lehmbruck's Kneeling Woman, one of the major works of expressionist sculpture."

"A collaborating partner for the exhibition has been the Arnold Schönberg Center in Vienna, which has loaned paintings by the composer Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951) as well as supplementary material related to his music. The Expressions exhibition has been assembled in cooperation with German art museums, in particular those of the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. The main collaborating institution has been the Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg, and loans have also been received from Tampere's twin city Essen."

"In the 1930s, the Nazis declared expressionism a degenerate form of art; they confiscated works of art and banned painters from working. Many of the expressionists fought in the First World War, and some of them fell at the front. Thus the oeuvre of many of them remained rather small, and these works of a major period in the history of art often form part of the core of art museums’ standing exhibitions. They are loaned only in exceptional circumstances, and for this reason, too, this exhibition is a unique event. Altogether about a hundred paintings and sculptures will be on display, and the Sara Hildén Art Museum is producing a richly illustrated guide to the exhibition. An English-language audio guide will also be available."

"The exhibition has been supported by the Ministerium für Familie, Kinder, Jugend, Kultur und Sport des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen and the German and Austrian Embassies in Finland."

This excellent exhibition on expressionism alone is a sufficient reason to visit Tampere. Expressionism is a central and winding concept in art (it can be argued that it exists everywhere in all periods), but this exhibition focuses on the core of German expressionism as manifested in Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter and their contemporaries in Germany.

They were among the first great German revolutionaries of modern art. Die Brücke (Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde, etc.) brought an original inner vision to images of nature and the naked form, also emphasizing visions of society and political protest. Der Blaue Reiter (Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, August Macke, Paul Klee, Arnold Schönberg, etc.) withdrew from society and sought spiritual and cosmic values, their manifesto being Kandinsky's book Concerning the Spiritual in Art.

The selection is versatile and provocative. We get to see the elements of nature in the sensual nude sunbathing views of  Die Brücke and abstract forms in the watercolours of Wassily Kandinsky. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner impresses with bold strokes and unrealistic colours. Hermann Max Pechstein's acrobats have been selected as the poster motif of the exhibition. Franz Marc's cats are among the most memorable paintings.

A striking feature of the exhibition is the sculptures: by Otto Gutfreund (Don Quixote), Ernst Barlach (The Walker), Käthe Kollwitz (Mother and Two Children), Alexander Archipenko (The Sitting Woman: A Woman with a Cloth), and Jacques Lipchitz (The Sitting Man with a Guitar).

Special emphasis is given to Arnold Schönberg, the great composer, pioneer of new music, and teacher of other great composers. Schönberg, a close friend of Kandinsky, also exhibited with Der Blaue Reiter as a painter. There are many of his drawings and oil paintings on display in Tampere. Schönberg's series of self-portraits, visions and Blicke [looks / gazes] belongs to the most haunting in 20th century art. His abstract art is original and compelling. Schönberg, always obsessed with numbers, also created brilliant sets of bridge card decks with watercolour. Schönberg was a professional in everything he did. If these card decks would be put into production, I'd be a buyer.

The Sara Hildén Museum, surrounded by its sculpture park, always elevates the artworks on display. Today was a bright and sunny day in snowbound Tampere, and from the large museum windows there were beautiful views towards Lake Näsijärvi. Alas, some paintings were covered by reflecting glass. For those studying the exhibition via the catalogue only: the catalogue illustrations do not do justice to the haunting colours of the paintings and the watercolours. The extraordinary radiation of the images is not conveyed via the catalogue illustrations. But the photographs of the sculptures and the black and white artworks are very good.

The catalogue is worth reading. It examines expressionism as a crossover phenomenon in the arts, mostly visual art, literature, music, opera, and theatre.

Cinema is mentioned but fleetingly. Also in the cinema expressionism was Germany's first breakthrough into the forefront of modern art. Although there was only a handful of purely expressionistic films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, there was a continuing haunting expressionistic dimension in German cinema until 1933 (The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse, still a direct reflection of Caligari). The impact continued in the French cinema of the 1930s, in the film noir in Hollywood in the 1940s, and in world cinema to this day (The Dark Knight Returns, Tim Burton, Aleksandr Sokurov's Faust, etc.).

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