Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Die Brücke Woodcuts on Display at the National Gallery of Art

Head of Dr. Bauer, Kirchner
While I was in DC this past weekend checking out the Kiyochika exhibition, I also took a stroll inside the National Gallery of Art to check out Modern German Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection (on display through June 29.)

I was specifically hoping to find woodcuts by members of Die Brücke, and I was not disappointed. All my favorites were represented: Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Otto Mueller, and of course the unmatched Ernst Kirchner. It was the first time I've had a chance to see more than a mere reproduction in an art history book of Kirchner's Five Women In the Street.

I was struck by the large size of many of the portraits, figures, and some landscapes hanging on the walls. All of Kirchner's portraits were larger than life-sized. This, combined by the crude and expressive style, made me feel not only captivated, but shrunk and quieted by their charismatic presence. Kirchner's vividly-colored woodcut Head of Dr. Bauer - with its beady, blue eyes - was particularly monstrous.

Five Women In the Street, Kirchner
This exhibition isn't a particularly complete look at German Expressionism; it definitely left me wanting more, as I I felt it didn't present enough of the most powerful work to really get across the drama and passion behind the movement. But this sampling does at least include work representing all the major players.

It is interesting in that the exhibition includes these heavy hitters alongside other, lesser-known artists who were not part of that movement, but who were working at the same time and speaking the same language. At first I felt a little confused by the array of works, but after a while it seemed to make sense in that it took Die Brücke out of its own narrow focus and put it in the appropriate larger cultural context.

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