German Expressionism at The Frist [Installation View]

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"Study for Painting of White Form," Wassily Kandinsky, 1913

German Expressionism From the Detroit Institute for the Arts
Through Feb. 10 at The Frist

The Frist's exhibition of German Expressionism opened last weekend, and I took some snapshots and made some quick notes about what I was thinking during the media preview. I'll write more about the exhibit in upcoming Country Life posts, but for now I thought I'd share my initial ideas. Here's the pick I wrote:

In 1924, a year lodged firmly amid the tumult of the Weimar Republic and the U.S. Immigration Act, the Detroit Institute for the Arts promoted German art historian W.R. Valentiner to director of the museum. Almost all the works in The Frist’s exhibition of German Expressionism were acquired by the DIA during Valentiner’s tenure, including Kandinsky’s “Study for Painting with White Form” — a painting that may not sound familiar but has undoubtedly made its way into your visual subconscious — and Ernst Kirchner’s “Winter Landscape in Moonlight” — a primary-colored piece that could just as easily stand in for a King Crimson album cover as it could hang beside Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on a museum wall. Come learn more about history through an art historical lens at the exhibition’s opening tonight — you might be surprised by how current and abrasive these important works are.

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In our modern age of bad school pictures, this Otto Dix self-portrait is oddly hilarious. It's the only Dix piece in the exhibit, and it's one of my favorites.


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I snapped this one quickly because I wanted to make a mental note of what in 2012 we might call a classic bit of yellow-face racism, in an etching by Emil Nolde. I ended up posting it because the theme of perceived racism appeared again in the exhibit, and it's interesting to me. More on that later.


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"Woman," Erich Heckel, 1920


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Max Pechstein's "Under the Trees" from 1911 shows similarities to both Matisse and Van Gogh.


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There are several sculptures in this exhibit, but this one, "The Avenger" by Ernst Barlach, is by far my favorite. It's badass in a Sleepy Hollow kind of way, and it's positioned on a pedestal in the center of the gallery space, so you can walk around it and inspect it from up close.


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"Gyspy Encampment," Otto Mueller, ca. 1925. Here's where my inner monologue continued its debate about hindsight and our world's collective awareness of racism. It's in our nature — or mine, at least — to connect these sorts of fantasy-laden depictions of an impoverished "other" with our contemporary views on racism and classism, especially when considering the harsh political climate of Wiemar Germany. Is that fair to the artist, who was working in a drastically different time period? Probably not. But what can you do.


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"Bathers," Otto Mueller, 1920. Another piece that would be read differently if it were painted today. What seems racist and sexist, or at least naive, to our contemporary eyes was probably not the artist's intention. It's an interesting example of how our changing perceptions of race and gender affects how we see history. Mueller was apparently nicknamed "Gyspy Mueller" because of his affinity to these types of subjects.


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"The Cat," by Oskar Kokoschka, one of my favorite Expressionist artists. The painting instantly reminded me of this 2011 painting by Allison Schulnik. The extra-gaudy frame is an added bonus!


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Is it just me, or has everyone else always associated this Max Beckmann portrait with Hannibal Lecter? (Side note: Beckmann's triptych "The Actors" is one of my very favorites, and although it's not in the Frist exhibit, it's so great I had to look for an excuse to include it in this post.)


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This woodcut is at the exhibition's entrance. It's a portrait of W. R. Valentiner, whose importance I spoke of in the Critic's Pick — and it solidifies his place as the first mover of this exhibit.

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Right after Valentiner was presented with the woodcut, he gave it away! Here's a close-up of the inscription he wrote.

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