Exhibition text

If one looks at the paintings that Ernst Ludwig Kirchner created around 1930, of which Galerie Henze & Ketterer can show some of the best and most important without exaggeration, it is striking that the lines and surfaces here free themselves from clearly delimiting bodies and objects from one another: Some lines continue from one body into the next. Other lines can be assigned to one body or the other at the same time, depending on the perspective. The lines are multiplied and show bodies in motion. Color, too, becomes independent of the object: parts of the body are connected to other parts of the body by light or shadow fields to form new non-representational forms. Thus, it can neither be clearly determined where a body or an object begins nor where it ends, where is inside and where is outside, where is in front and where is behind.

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Kirchner is thus preoccupied with the same questions that preoccupy the other artists of his time: In Cubism, the body is shown in the plane in several perspectives at once; in Purism, which strives for a minimum of means, lines serve as boundaries for several objects at once. The non-representational forms that Kirchner forms through lines and color fields across various bodies are reminiscent of biomorphic forms such as amoebae, the female torso, the egg as found especially in Hans Arp but also, for example, in Brancusi's sculptures. They are primordial forms from which all others emerge, in which all others are already contained. Today we might think of stem cells. In Fritz Winter's work, the biomorphic outlines, which contain a nucleus and partially overlap and thus seem to merge or divide, actually give the impression of cells.

Winter visited Kirchner several times in Davos between 1928 and 1932. At the same time that he was a student at the Bauhaus. He thus certainly represents the most important connection between Kirchner and the Bauhaus teachers: The biomorphic archetypes can also be found in Klee, whose student Winter was. As for Klee, for Kirchner the line is not so much an unambiguous delimitation of an object as a process of development that leads from the point where the pencil starts to the form, followed first by the artist's hand and then by the viewer's eye. This is particularly evident in figure drawings that emerge from a single continuous line. A technique also used by Picasso. But the Bauhaus was also the place for material experiments. Fritz Winter was employed in the studio of Naum Gabo, who created abstract biomorphic sculptures with new transparent material such as cellophane and used parallel strings. In Winter's and Kirchner's painting, this is seen in translucent fields of color through which what appear to be partially hidden fields behind them become visible. Cords become lines that can sometimes represent shadows and sometimes vibrations.

Up to this point, the change of form was about the formal side. Around 1930, however, the change of form always attaches itself to something, it always represents something, even if abstract, such as order, dynamics, chaos, chance, which makes up the content of painting. Kandinsky and Klee combine the means of painting color, shapes and lines, etc. with music, poetry, nature, etc.. Kandinsky, for example, equates colors, shapes and lines with sounds and emotions. His paintings become compositions whose course can be followed with the eyes through the picture. In Klee's work, strokes become characters with unknown meanings, symbols captured in their emergence or dissolution, thereby opening up to their possibilities. Where the reference to characters is also missing, the form itself becomes the content, strokes are set and continued only for their own sake, no longer to represent anything. In nature, the change of form for Klee is shown in the simultaneity of different stages of plant growth. The content of Kirchner's paintings, on the other hand, is to depict the change of form primarily in the interpersonal dimension: In the large painting "Lovers," the lines keep alternating back and forth between the two intertwined persons; the painting "Large Lovers" shows the female torso of Mrs. Hembus on her husband's lap. In the painting "Man and Cat" the two intimately connected beings together form a self-contained shape. A highlight are certainly the "Three nudes in the forest" a series of color woodcuts on which Kirchner worked for several years. The different color fields, which correspond to different printing blocks, are reminiscent of Hans Arp's abstract biomorphic wood stencils and connect and separate different parts of the figures into abstract forms. Finally, in the woodblock print "Palucca", the time factor is added; due to the multiple outlines, it is impossible to tell exactly where the dancer is at any given moment.    

In the mid-1920s Kirchner set out to reinvent himself once again - a claim he lived up to, especially between 1928 and 1933. At the same time, he had to keep telling himself that what was new now he had already done from the beginning and was thus ahead of his time. Kirchner's beginnings as an artist lie in Munich, among other places. Here, around 1900, the so-called empathy theory of Theodor Lipps was taught, which was artistically implemented by Hermann Obrist and taught to young artists in the Munich Debschitz School. Kirchner attended this school in 1903/1904. The empathy theory states, among other things, that lines are comprehended by the eyes, physically and emotionally: Lines, for example, can be dynamic-moving or inhibiting, ascending or descending, and can trigger positive or negative feelings accordingly. The artist, to whom a particularly great empathy is attributed, can understand the lines in nature with eye and hand particularly well. In the work of art, these lines are then also clearly before the eyes of the viewer, who can then in turn comprehend and empathize with them. It is less the product, the work of art, that is important here than the reception, the perception. The young Kirchner and the other bridge artists developed movement drawing from this: Through constant practice, the drawing of bodies in motion is supposed to lead to an immediacy that brings out the essence of the object as well as the artist unreflectively by itself and contributes to developing an individual handwriting over time. Kirchner can therefore justifiably claim that he has been concerned with the transformation of form since his earliest beginnings. However, his contemporaries around 1930 can also claim the same, as the Blue Riders and Bauhaus artists Klee and Kandinsky and many others were also in Munich around 1900 and, like Kirchner, were still grappling with these theories around 1930. With regard to the empathy theory, one could claim for Kirchner around 1930 that with him the three-step of nature - artist - viewer has become that of artist - artist - viewer: Kirchner looks at his own art under the aspect of current developments in art, which again leads to new works of art. Kirchner himself makes this clearest with the poster he designed for his own exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1933: Kirchner's face contemplates itself reflected in a mountain lake. However, Kirchner was reproached for this self-reflection with the claim that he was only an artist in the first sense, that he could only create from his own experience and not from reflection. To this it must be said that although Kirchner probably never created completely independently of his own experience, this does not exclude self-reflection. As early as the Brücke period, Kirchner designed his studios into a Gesamtkunstwerk, in which everything from furniture, everyday objects, painted walls, and, of course, his own artworks were designed by the artist himself. These things then reappear in simplified form in his paintings. Often without being able to distinguish between foreground and background, art and life. His experience here is thus directed entirely towards his own art and is at the same time self-reflection. Instead of clarifying the course of lines in nature in the sense of the empathy theory, in order to make them more intensely experienceable for the viewer, he now clarifies around 1930 - and as Kirchner can rightly claim, always has - the lines in his own works of art, in order to achieve an enhancement of himself in this way.

Just as spontaneity and ecstasy are reflected and calculated in the early Kirchner, reflection in the later Kirchner is obsessive and inseparable from his art-making: Like Chamisso's Schlemihl, which he illustrates with elaborate color woodcuts in 1915, Kirchner is on the hunt for his own shadow: beginning in 1919, he attempts to create his own work in retrospect as anticipation through overpainting. Around 1920, he invents the critic Louis de Marsalle, who is, of course, the only one capable of correctly judging Kirchner's work. The fact that he is French is at the same time intended to show that Kirchner is appreciated above all in France, which at the time was considered the most progressive country in art matters. The creative but also paranoid and delusional way in which Kirchner conducts his self-reflection thus has artistic quality itself and is more worthy of an art-historical study than that it should be used to devalue Kirchner.

Kai Schupke

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