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The Graphic Impulse at MoMA

July 6, 2011

I finally made the trip up to the Museum of Modern Art for German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse. The exhibition will only run until July 11th. The Neue Galerie has offered many opportunities to view Expressionist works, I was fortunate to attend the Otto Dix and Brücke exhibitions there. The current MoMA exhibit has a variety of mediums but most interestingly, to me, are the portfolios and books. I enjoyed seeing Kandinsky, Beckman, Grosz works and how incredibly printed all these works are. An exhibition should be dedicated to the master printers and print shops of this period.
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The two artists I was most excited to see were Otto Dix and Kåthe Kollwitz. The German Expressionists have had strong influence over many Justseeds artists, as well as our projects. The War (Der Krieg) Portfolio by Otto Dix is an incredibly dark and visceral depiction of the destructiveness of battle. Drawn from his memories of World War I is the fear and horror that soldiers, dead or dying, experience. According to the MoMA’s website the publisher, Karl Nierendorf in Berlin,

circulated the portfolio throughout Germany with a pacifist organization, Never Again War, though Dix himself doubted that his prints could have any bearing on future wars. Despite the intensive publicity, Nierendorf sold only one complete portfolio from the edition of seventy.

(It’s hard to imagine a contemporary body of work selling nothing yet making it into a Museum collection…)


I have rarely had the chance to view Kollwitz, and hope to have a second chance before the exhibition comes down. Kollwitz’s talents as a sculptor are visible in the first print I approached, Widow II, it’s possible to see the horizontal figure carved just as easily out of stone. From the portfolio entitled War (Kreig) the images are so perfectly printed, stark and contrast, so amazingly composed, while the varying shapes of the blocks make the images stand out from the paper even more.

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The anguish expressed on the faces in The People is so palpable, their wrenching hands and contorted faces remind me of my most extreme feelings of sadness. The figure of a mother with an innocent looking child balances and reinforces the despair of the piece. I felt similarly to all of her pieces, and was in awe of her talent as a printmaker and found myself going back to “her” gallery two more times!
The themes of war, materialism, and excessive consumption should be easily identifiable to a contemporary audience. While the talent and skill with which these artists attained should stop most viewers in their tracks. It did for me.
The MoMA has a fairly extensive multimedia website for German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse at Interactives: German Expressionism. You can look through various portfolios, books, and watch slideshows.
For my favorites check out:
Kåthe Kollwitz
Otto Dix
There are a handful of really good exhibitions currently up at the MoMA. Also Check out:
Francis Alys: A Story of Deception
Impressions From South Africa, 1965 to Now
Harun Faocki: Images of War (at a distance)

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