From Kirchner to Kandinsky: German Expressionism
in Dutch Museums 1919-1964
25 March - 18 September 2005
Groninger Museum, Netherlands
In summer 2005, the new art gallery in the Groninger
Museum (designed by Alessandro Mendini, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Michele De Lucchi, Philippe Starck) is showing an excellent
exhibition dealing with a substantial resource of German Expressionist
works. These were acquired during and after the most active period
of the movement by various galleries, museums and private buyers
in the Netherlands.
Predictably, the paintings by Wassily Kandinsky
stand out. The superb 1914 study from the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen,
in Rotterdam, is accompanied by a fine abstract watercolour, 'No.
6' (1911-1912) from the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. From an art
historical point of view, his depiction of Moscow, captured from
the Kandinsky family apartment in 1916-1917, is most intriguing.
The painting is rather conventional, appearing to be a farewell
on leaving the city. There is also 'Weisse Scharfe', a fine work
from the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. From George Grosz comes one
particularly important figurative painting, 'The Agitator' (1928).
Outstanding among works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner is his painting
of three girls entitled 'Czardastänzerinnen', dated from 1908
to 1920. Another of Kirchner's works, 'Applaus vragende artiste'
(1909), has also come from the Stedelijk. There are several works
by Paul Klee, notably a topographical semi-abstract work entitled
Among a myriad of works by Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein, is a fine
assemblage of paintings from 'Der Blaue Reiter' (The Blue Rider)
association of artists, including Heinrich Campendonck, Oskar Kokoschka,
Otto Dix and Max Beckmann, along with a host of lesser luminaries.
The work of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), who left Dresden
to study in Paris and was familiar with the work of Van Gogh, looks
intriguing and she is an artist about whom more might be learnt.
The contribution of German theorist, Wilhelm Worringer, stands behind
the confident growth of the German Expressionists, with his influential
essay entitled Abstraction and Empathy (1910), of which the painter
Franz Marc had written to Kandinsky, 'I am just reading Worringer's
Abstraction and Empathy, a good mind whom we need very much. Marvellously
disciplined thinking, concise and cool, extremely cool.' Both were
to be founders of 'Der Blaue Reiter' in Munich in 1911. A familiarity
with this groundbreaking essay by Marc seems to have been instrumental
in Dutch circles, turning the direction of collections strongly
into the mainstream of German Expressionism.
This excellently curated exhibition brings to mind the way in which
museums and galleries of one nation come to reflect the particular
interests and nature of its enthusiasts, whether curatorial or in
the private realm. As a field, German Expressionism is totally in
contrast to the flat world of Dutch cities. The idea of creating
such a localised exhibition was original and the museums are to
be congratulated. The only small curatorial drawback is that the
descriptive plaques for each painting are invariably placed 18 inches
from the floor and feature extremely small lettering.
The museum design seems to empathise with this Expressionist
exhibition. Into this relatively small university city, comfortably
three hours north of Amsterdam by train or by car, the museum is
attracting notably original exhibitions.