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and pinned butterflies. The anachronisms

Time:2018-03-09 13:23Shoes websites Click:

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With diligence and even-handedness, the Neue Galerie has sorted the pictures in Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930s, into categories, such as “Still Life,” “Landscapes,” and “The Individual.” But the images here, with their sometimes gloomy and sometimes magical subjects, pumped with the adrenaline that comes before a fight, keep willfully reshuffling themselves in my mind. Before the Fall, opening this week, is the third show in a trilogy curated by Olaf Peters, focusing on art that signaled and responded to the fissures in German and Austrian culture and politics, ultimately rupturing and leading to war and the Holocaust. Whether they intended it or not, the artists who made these paintings, drawings, photographs, and graphic works during the first decade of the Nazi regime were witnesses and messengers—or, as the Austrian painter and graphic artist Wilhelm Traeger put it, they were seismographs of upheaval.

Unlike the often gritty, experimental, and perplexing work at Harvard Art Museums’ Inventur: Art in Germany 1943-55, which is running contemporaneously, the art in this exhibit was made while the disaster was still unfolding. Social and political conditions were disintegrating but the future hadn’t arrived; the art was laden with intimations of the tragedy to come and this is incorporated in the installation design with its gigantic mourning veil and blackened tree roots projecting down from the gallery’s ceilings. Most of the artists remained in Germany or Austria and skirted their way cautiously around National Socialist constraints (in at least one case, even embracing them). Several were attacked as degenerate artists and lost their jobs. Some were internationally famous, such as Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka, or Max Beckmann, and chose to live abroad in exile. The selection includes a number of Jews—Felix Nussbaum, Hans Ludwig Katz, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Erwin Blumenfeld, Erika Giovanna Klein, and Helmar Lerski—each of whom experienced a different fate. The images are almost entirely figurative and stylistically diverse, reflecting principles of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and Surrealism, but also reaching back to Romanticism and sometimes even farther back to vanitas still lifes with flowers, figurines, and pinned butterflies. The anachronisms, particularly the still lifes with odd juxtapositions—a Japanese doll and a wilting poppy, for instance—are chilling harbingers of something deeply unsettling.

Neue Galerie tends to recirculate key pieces from their collection in these special exhibits and two of their paintings, Beckmann’s 1938 Self-Portrait with a Horn and Felix Nussbaum’s 1940 Self-Portrait in the Camp literally form book ends to the exhibition, appearing on the front and back covers of the beautifully published catalogue. Beckmann painted his masterpiece when he was living in Amsterdam. Like much of his work, the painting is designed as the tableau of a dramatic performance with the main and only character—the imposing figure of the artist himself—positioned just behind a not-quite pulled-back curtain. Dressed in a bold black-and-orange-striped dressing gown, with his hand comfortably placed inside the hollow of a horn, he holds out his single prop and his message comes across as an un-hearable but instantly understood call of distress coming from inside the frame of a silent movie. For Beckmann who had served as a medical orderly during WWI, the horn’s role in signaling the arrival of something to come was obvious. With darkly shadowed eyes and a wrinkled brow, he looks out of the shadows and you wonder if he’s still listening to the echoes of WWI or the approaching rumblings of the one that was to follow.

Beckmann’s self-portrait looks forward to an unavoidable cataclysm. It’s answered by Nussbaum’s self-portrait that gazes backwards at a recent and devastating past and then half-questioningly forward to tragedy postponed. Painted in Brussels while he was in hiding. Nussbaum’s story is not so well known but should be. He was a German-born Jewish artist who spent much of the 1930s in flight, trying to find a safe place to live and work. In 1940, while he was with his wife In Belgium, he was arrested as an enemy alien and sent to St. Cyprien in France. Later, he escaped from a transport that was taking him back to Germany. Fleeing to Brussels, he reunited with his wife and went into hiding, continuing to paint in a basement space provided by a friend. The couple was denounced and arrested in 1944 and deported to Auschwitz where they perished. Unshaved, wearing a patched jacket and frayed cap, the artist looks out from the profound depth of suffering (and, I would say, accusation) while the grotesque backdrop of St. Cyprien, with the pitched roofs of its huts and barbed wire, surrounds him.  Like the Flemish portraits he studied and admired, the painting tells his story, presenting a shocking depiction of the wasteland of the French internment camp with bones scattered in the sand. In the background, a despairing prisoner sits at a jerry-built table, while a man, stripped to his underwear and clutching some straw for cleaning himself, bends over with dysentery. Another, just a blanket over his shoulder to protect from the cold or his shame, empties his bowels in a waste pot.

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