In the early 20th century, Berlin emerged as the center of German commercial, cultural, industrial, and social spheres. The business sector demanded new and exciting advertising to capitalize on the expanding markets. Companies regularly held poster competitions to identify young talent for their campaigns. Lucian Bernhard was one notable artist who emerged.
In 1905, Bernhard entered a poster contest for the Priester Match Company. He submitted a stark design that included a pair of matches and the brand name. Initially it was rejected by the panel of judges and discarded. However, Ernst Growald, the deciding judge, was underwhelmed by the remaining submissions, fished Bernhard’s from the trash, and proclaimed his design the winner. Bernhard subsequently won a contract with Hollerbaum & Schmidt, Germany’s leading poster printing company, and went on to revolutionize the advertising world by popularizing the Sachplakat (object poster).
Bernhard was not the only artist to embrace the Sachplakat, also known as Plakatstil (poster style) design. Hans Rudi Erdt and Ludwig Hohlwein were other notable figures in the movement. Plakatstil was a marked contrast to earlier more ornate advertisements. Here words were kept to a minimum and the object or figure dominated the composition. The simple imagery reflected a shift towards more realistic depictions. “Art is boring—one wants facts,” wrote Alfred Döblin in defining this wave of reality-focused art and design.
While these designers may have benefitted from the rise in commercial activity, they were nonetheless sympathetic to the concerns of the day and they captured the spirit of Berlin. Many worried that modernization would erode traditional values and corrupt social mores. The vibrant colors, crisp images, and effervescent materialism belie the undercurrent of anxiety that was a hallmark of urbanization, coupled with a longing for a perceived simpler past.
On February 18, 2016, Neue Galerie New York will open “Munch and Expressionism,” an exhibition that examines Edvard Munch’s influence on his German and Austrian contemporaries, as well as their influence upon him. The show will offer a compelling new look at works by the Norwegian artist, whose painting The Scream has become a symbol of modern angst. The Neue Galerie is the sole venue for the exhibition, where it will be on view through June 13, 2016. This exhibition has been organized in partnership with The Munch Museum, Oslo.
The show, curated by Expressionist scholar Dr. Jill Lloyd, has been organized in tandem with Munch specialist Dr. Reinhold Heller. Dr. Lloyd has assembled several important exhibitions for the Neue Galerie, including “Van Gogh and Expressionism” in 2007 and “Ferdinand Hodler: View to Infinity” in 2012. As an independent art historian, she has also curated exhibitions at the Tate, the Royal Academy in London, and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. She has written extensively on Expressionist art.
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was highly regarded for his exploration of dark themes, including alienation, sin, and human vulnerability. Munch’s use of vivid color intensifies the emotional power of his subject matter, an approach which helped to pave the way for an entirely new attitude towards art during the early twentieth century. Although much has been written about the relationship between Munch’s personal life and his art, this exhibition is the first thorough study of the artist’s work in the context of his German and Austrian peers.
The exhibition will be comprised of approximately 35 paintings and 50 works on paper from both public and private collections worldwide. The German artists included in the exhibition are Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, and Emile Nolde, and the Austrians included are Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. The curator will compare all of these artists’ approaches to key themes such as adolescence, urban anxiety, and self-portraiture, and to innovative developments in printmaking during this time. The exhibition will include several works that have never before been seen in the United States.
A fully illustrated catalogue, published by Prestel Verlag, will accompany the exhibition featuring contributions by leading scholars in the field, including Patricia Berman, Nelson Blitz, Alison Chang, Jay Clarke, Reinhold Heller, Jill Lloyd, Nils Ohlsen, and Øystein Uvstedt. This authoritative and beautifully illustrated book will explore Munch’s impact on German and Austrian artists of the period within an Expressionist context.
This exhibition considers the shift in treatment of the human figure in the early twentieth century through a selection of works on paper from Austria and Germany. Traditionally the nude had been presented in an idealized fashion. Proponents of the late nineteenth-century Symbolist movement in Europe were among the first to offer near caricatures of the nude, often imbued with psychological undertones.
In Austria, Alfred Kubin’s disturbing drawings are macabre in their nightmarish visions, coupling sexual perversion with ghastly scenes of death. In the early twentieth century, Gustav Klimt, drawing inspiration from the work of Auguste Rodin, challenged taboos of the day through his allegorical depictions of nude pregnant women and the elderly, vulnerable in their frailty. A subsequent generation of Expressionist artists, such as Richard Gerstl, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka, explored other forbidden topics, including the male nude. Among Schiele’s most powerful works are his brazen nude self-portraits. Schiele also made almost clinically accurate nude studies of young children, seeking a fresh approach through working with untrained models.
Similarly, German Expressionist artists admired the innocence of youth and employed child models. They were equally drawn to non-Western art, spending time studying and collecting art from Africa and the South Pacific, believing these so-called “primitive” works were imbued with a greater sophistication and honesty than most contemporary European art. Members of the artists’ group Brücke, for example, even moved the nude from the comfortable studio space to more natural al fresco settings in response to the so-called Lebensreform (life reform) social movement, which espoused a back-to-nature ethos of nudism, free love, and healthful living.
The show is organized by Janis Staggs, Director of Curatorial and Manager of Publications at Neue Galerie New York.