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Leaving the Bucolic Behind

Published on
April 14

The German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse exhibit at MoMA begins with a burst of color. Kirchner’s large canvases dominate your view –  eye candy from the turn of the century. In Street, Dresden, Kirchner makes the streets glow a bright pink, and faces are depicted in dayglo oranges and greens. Fluorescent oranges lines delineate ladies wide brimmed hats in the background. It is a feast for the eyes. Kirchner is part of die Bruecke (the Bridge), a group of artists intent on leading the way to the future.

In the next gallery Vasily Kandinsky makes a splashy appearance with a large canvas  that seems to quilt together jolly rancher hued happiness. The strong influence of music on his work seems to show in the movement and rhythm on the canvas.

Even in the second gallery among the gentle cows of Franz Macke (Cows of the World) and the multi-hued skies of Kandinsky, the curators foreshadow rough waters ahead. In a few years, at the outbreak of WWI, Kandinksy will be sent back to Russia, and Macke to the front where he will eventually perish.

The bulk of the graphics in the show detail the atrocity of war, making me wonder about the US’s own geo-political climate. Have our own recent wars become so roboticized, so detached that those killed in Iraq or Afghanistan don’t inspire similar haunting images? In WWI, the atrocities of new automated ways to kill (poison gas, tanks, planes, among others) manifest themselves in this show with prints of  eery figures in gas masks, and in a very quietly powerful work, a pitted battle field, empty save the crates from artillery.

As a whole, it was thrilling to see so many wonderful works in person. I’d seen many representations of Macke’s, Kandinsky’s, Kirchner’s before on the web, art history books, calendars, etc. Details that are lost in Gardner’s Art through the Ages are revealed – brush stroke, the actual colors of a work. I was surprised by Macke’s cows, for example, that in person had a delicacy to the shading that is really lost when photographed (and shrunk). I strongly recommend this exhibit – esp. seniors who have only through May to take advantage of the free entry through your CUID and see the show. Perhaps on the way out, after you’ve experienced the hell of WWI and the graft of the  Weimar, you’ll return to the beginning for one last look at the artwork of the Bruecke and dream about a new bridge to the future.

Exhibit runs through July 11, 2011.