Exhibition text

At the beginning of every human relationship is the encounter. In the coming together of two or more people, the recognition, understanding, and response of a "you," another person, is made conscious.By engaging with the other or others, recognizing common and distinguishing themes, and entering into dialogue, the "I" contributes to a form of its existential fulfillment. This also applies to art, since some of the most important developments of the Modern art are based on encounters, as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) described the beginning of his artistic work in his diary: "So I met another student who saw my work and brought me his brother, Erich Heckel, so that he could draw with me. That's how we became friends. I saw immediately that I had a born painter before me. [...] One day he brought Schmidt-Rottluff, a person with the same flaming eyes as he had [...]."The meeting of Kirchner, Erich Heckel (1883-1979) and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976) resulted in 1905 in Dresden in the founding of the artists' association "Brücke" and a henceforth beginning search for a new pictorial language: strengthened by the common realization to free art from its academic doctrines, they developed the revolutionary, radical and unmistakable "Brücke" style. It is the birth of German Expressionism.

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But not only the meeting among themselves had a fruitful effect and contributed to the foundation of the "Brücke", also the meeting with friends, partners, collectors, art dealers, dancers and other artists became a source of inspiration for the common art. In dozens of works, people can be found who met the "Brücke" and became her companions, sometimes for years. The new exhibition "MOMENTS OF ENCOUNTER - The 'Brücke' and its models" follows in their footsteps and brings the manifold relationships of the painters with their models into the light. These portraits, nudes and figures, painted in oil, drawn on paper, cut in wood or carved in panels, bear witness to the respective moments of encounter with Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Otto Mueller (1874-1930), Hermann Max Pechstein (1881-1955) and Emil Nolde (1867-1956). They give judgment on life stages, developments and artistic interests of the artists, are often a reflection of their very own emotional state.

Thus Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's personal "sense of beauty for the design of the physically beautiful woman of our time"[5] was significantly shaped in 1911, when he met the sisters Gerda and Erna Schilling (1884-1945) in a Berlin nightclub. The latter was to accompany him until his death and become the muse for countless portrait and nude studies. In "The Work of E.L. Kirchner," Kirchner records: "The design of the human being was strongly influenced by my third wife (Erna), a Berliner who from then on shared my life, and her sister. The beautiful architecturally constructed austere bodies of these two girls replaced the soft Saxon bodies." The acquaintance with Erna led to a new contemporary form of expression in the big city of Berlin, to which the artist moved in 1911, and which differed from the Dresden years by a more jagged stroke and colors that were diminishing in their luminosity. The ink drawing "Frau im Grünen (Erna)" (Woman in the Green), created around 1912, exemplifies this stylistic change: Restless brushstrokes collide with angular, overstretched facial forms.

Another significant encounter of Kirchner's can be seen in the woodcut "Kopf Ludwig Schames" (1918). Ludwig Schames (1852-1922), who ran a gallery in Frankfurt and promoted the German Expressionists from 1913, was Kirchner's most important art dealer. Commissioned by the Frankfurt Kunstverein in 1918, this monumental and moving portrait of the gallery owner was created by the artist shortly after his relocation to the secluded Davos Mountains, Switzerland, after tumultuous years of World War I and in the midst of a serious addiction. The work is a testament not only to his observational skills in impressively capturing Schame's characteristic features on paper, but also to his own meager living conditions at the time: since Kirchner had no printing press available in the mountains above Davos, each sheet had to be laboriously rubbed over the block from behind with a hard tool.

In addition to psychologically vivid portraits that capture the individuality of the portrayed person and come from Kirchner's direct environment - be it the Davos physician Dr. Luzius Spengler, the art critic Will Grohmann, the artist friend Paul Camenisch and many other companions - the works in the exhibition also equally illuminate the artistic development using the example of the portrayed models. The portrait "Kopf Wehrlin" (1924-26), which shows Kirchner's student Robert Wehrlin (1903-1964), is at the transition from Expressionism to New Objectivity and Abstraction Création. The three criteria of Expressionism, exaggeration of form, color and gesture, are still present: Oversized head in relation to the narrow, short torso, most violent color contrasts applied two-dimensionally and frozen gesture as well as direction of view slightly to the left past the viewer. In this stiffness and in the colors applied over a wide area, however, there is already an unmistakable neo-objective and abstract, calmed and independent quality.

The extent to which the nudes and portraits testify to the artist's diverse sources of inspiration can be seen in the color lithograph "Head Mary Wigman" (1926). During a stay in Dresden in January 1926, Kirchner visited Mary Wigman's dance school. For many hours he observed as a spectator and draftsman the Expressionist dance (New German Dance) developed by Wigman, a stimulating moment of encounter for the artist, as he enthusiastically records in his diary of the time: "The new art is here. M. W.[Note: Mary Wigman] uses much of the modern imagery unconsciously, and the creation of a modern concept of beauty is at work as much in her dances as in my paintings." In Wigman's free dance, designed to depict different states of mind, Kirchner found again all those criteria of Expressionism that had been laid out together in the program of the "Brücke" years before: "Everyone belongs to us who directly and unadulteratedly reproduces what urges him to create."

The artistic credo that Ernst Ludwig Kirchner carved in wood in 1906 was a revolutionary call to break away from the academism of the time and to reproduce "directly and unadulteratedly" what moves and stimulates the artist. These were sometimes women, especially nudes, because nude drawing was for the members of the "Brücke" one of the important foundations of their artistic work, the source that nourished their art, but also decisively shaped the private cohesion of the group in many ways.

For this, the group used acquaintances and girlfriends, as well as their own partners. Erich Heckel's favorite model was his girlfriend Siddi Riha (1891-1982), whom he married in 1915. The painting "Child and Naked Woman" from 1910 is an extraordinarily expressive and typically Expressionist painting and shows Siddi as nude sitting in a landscape. To her right is a clothed young girl, the then barely ten-year-old Lina Franziska Fehrmann ("Fränzi") (1900-1950), the most important child model and a muse of the "Brücke" artists immortalized in many works. The haunting painting was created during the wedding of the artist group "Brücke". 1910 is also considered the high point of the close collaboration with Kirchner. Between 1909 and 1911, the two artist friends ventured into the great outdoors during the summers and sketched their models and their wives at the Moritzburg ponds in an informal atmosphere while bathing. Often both painted the same motif side by side. During this time, Erich Heckel also created the woodcut "Ballspielende" (1911). In 1912, a year before the dissolution of the artist community "Brücke", Heckel and Kirchner had spent the summer together with their models in Fehmarn. This also resulted in many works of nudes in the landscape and on the beach, as can be seen in Heckel's etching "Women on the Beach" (1912). Women from the movies also found their way into Erich Heckel's work. In 1919 he portrayed Asta Nielsen (1881-1972), shown in the exhibition in a woodcut. She was considered Germany's most popular film star after World War I. The relationship between the Expressionist movement and film was very close and fruitful. Erich Heckel was not only interested in film, but was considered very well-read, especially in the field of German classics. This reading can be seen in the woodcut "Roquairol" from 1917. The title is taken from a character in the novel "Titan" by Jean Paul, which the poet wrote between 1800 and 1803. In it, Roquairol is a typical Romantic character, oversensitive, divided, and deeply burdened by the knowledge of his own guilt. Heckel identified this broken figure with Kirchner and gave it the features of his old friend in the woodcut. The work was created at a very difficult time, when the two artists were already going their separate ways, both artistically and privately, and were called up for war duties. In 1915 Kirchner had to go to Halle for a military exercise and subsequently stayed in German and Swiss sanatoriums, while Heckel worked as a medic in Flanders until the armistice.

Portraits of women still run through Heckel's oeuvre years later, and he produced a series of drawings and watercolors in 1921/22. The works show his writing, reading or sleeping companion Siddi. The style of these sheets is entirely appropriate to the subject matter, "serene and loving in the clarified image of the appearance of his intimate affection."[9] This can be seen in the lithograph "Frauenkopf (Siddi Heckel)" (1922).

In the same years Otto Mueller, who had a close friendship with Erich Heckel since the "Brücke" period, also created portraits of women such as "Mädchen auf dem Kanapee" (Girl on the Canapé) or the double portrait "Selbstportrait mit Modell und Maske" (Self-Portrait with Model and Mask). The latter shows the artist himself next to Irene Altmann, a student at the Breslau Academy 28 years his junior, with whom he cultivated a relationship that turned out to be problematic, not least for religious reasons. In a series of double portraits like this one, but also full-figure and allegorically alienated ones, Otto Mueller tried to cope with his "unhappy passion" in a compensatory way. The mask over Irene's head with the frightened, wide-open eyes indicates the precariousness of the situation. It is significant that Irene here bears the features of Maria ("Maschka") Mayerhofer, from whom he divorced in this year, but with whom he met again and again.

A double portrait by Emil Nolde is also represented in the exhibition: "Doppelbildnis" from 1937. This is based on a series that the artist created in watercolor with mostly portrait-like half-figures or heads of very special color intensity. From these watercolors he drew, of all things, in the fateful year of his art and the art of the entire Modern art a sum in black and white woodcut. Self-portraits, on the other hand, are rather rare in Nolde's work. Moreover, these are hidden, as so often with the artists of his generation, behind general titles such as "head", "man" or - as in the exhibition shown etching of 1908 "E.N." - behind initials. This also happened with potraits of others. The results of the questioning of the self and the other should lead to general statements, to the representation of the "conditio humana".

Max Pechstein also worked and reworked themes of his immediate surroundings in his works. In 1917 he was transferred from the front to Berlin as a picture observer in the air force. This gave him plenty of time to work in his studio. It was to be one of his most fruitful years as an artist. In particular, he worked up the experiences of his South Seas trip to the Palau Islands in 1914/15, which was interrupted by the war, in numerous works of all techniques, which had been impossible until then due to military service. Most of Pechstein's South Seas works were created in 1917, including the head with special decoration in the woodcut series "Exotic Heads", which is shown in the exhibition.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was stationed at the press office in Kowno, Lithuania, during the First World War. He was fortunate to be able to continue his artistic work during this time. In addition to some landscape depictions and religious motifs, he also painted a portrait of a girl from Kowno. Like his portraits in the previous years, this one shows hardly any individualized facial features. The face is more reminiscent of the exotic masks of the South Seas, which inspired the artists of the "Brücke" to create their works. In Kowno Schmidt-Rottluff also created over 40 sculptures, including numerous heads, which are based on African models, among others. The woodcut shown is therefore to be seen in the context of the sculptures created at the same time.

The genre of sculpture is represented in the exhibition by the earliest German sculptor of abstraction: Karl Hartung (1908-1967). On his way to an absolute formal language detached from the object, he nevertheless approached the figure again and again, especially the representation of man. He created numerous female and male nudes of a high degree of abstraction in flowing surfaces but with clear legibility. The organic abstract and human forms can be traced in the exhibition in six sculptures of the artist.

The artists of the "Brücke" were inspired by all the "moments of encounter" to numerous works, their life situation or certain models served as a template and source of inspiration. These moments can be traced through the paintings, drawings and graphics in the exhibition. Some can be named precisely, others remain unknown to this day,

In the exhibition, we invite you to embark on a journey to the life stories of the "Brücke" artists, creating their personal "moments of encounter" with the works of art.

Susanne Kirchner and Katharina Sagel

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