Posts Tagged ‘WWI’

Art | Women Artists Kick up a Storm in Frankfurt

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Maria Uhden, Four Nudes,
Woodcut, reproduced in Der Sturm, 1915

Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg,
Frankfurt am Main

Storm Women
Women Artists of the Avant-Garde in Berlin 1910 > 1932
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
Frankfurt | Germany
30 October 2015 > 7 February 2016

Lavinia Schulz
Toboggan Woman, original, c 1924
Linen, papier mâché, wire, leather
© Photo Museum für Kunst
und Gewerbe Hamburg

One man, Herwarth Walden, made certain that women’s early 20th century avant-garde art got the exposure it deserved. Despite his efforts, however, many of them and much of their work vanished into obscurity. Most of us are familiar with their work or have at least heard of Sonia Delaunay, Natalja Goncharova and Gabriele Münter, but such names as Alexandra Exter, Else Lasker-Schüler, Marianne von Werefkin, Marthe Donas, Jacoba van Heemskerck, Hilla von Rebay, Lavinia Schulz, and Maria Uhden probably ring few bells. A new exhibition in Frankfurt, for the first time ever, brings together work by 18 of the 30 female artists, representing expressionism, cubism, futurism, constructivism and the new objectivity, which Walden promoted, and aims to set the record straight.

Walden wasn’t exclusively concerned with female artists, indeed he began by publishing woodcuts by, mostly by male, expressionist, Die Brucke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) artists, Oskar Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, and Max Pechstein amongst them, via the mass-produced and inexpensive Der Sturm / The Storm periodical, which he established in Berlin in 1910. It ran as a weekly up until in 1914 then changed to monthly publication, becoming a quarterly in 1924, before ceasing publication in 1932, when Walden, fleeing the Nazis emigrated to the USSR.

Composed of friends with similar interests, the international network Walden was eventually to develop served as a forum for intense discussion on the buzzing ideas, theories, and concepts of the avant-garde. In Berlin, the Sturm evening events, the Sturm academy he founded, the Sturm theatre and bookshop, as well as the occasional balls and a cabaret, offered those who were interested a broad variety of opportunities to gain access to the diverse artistic currents and trends from 1910 to until the early thirties.

To celebrate Der Sturm’s 100th issue in 1912, Walden opened Galerie der Sturm, with an exhibition of fauvist and Der Blaue Reiter work, soon followed by the Italian futurists. Particularly during in the years preceding the outbreak of World War I, Sturm played a crucial role in the development of a special relationship between Berlin and Paris, exhibiting work by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, as well as the Franco-German artist, Jean (aka Hans) Arp and Robert Delaunay. Walden showed Edvard Munch, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall: Kurt Schwitters’ would have his first one-man exhibition at the Galerie Der Sturm, in 1920.

Gabriele Münter
Apples on Blue, 1908
Oil on cardboard
Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz
- Museum Gunzenhauser
Property of Stiftung Gunzenhauser,
Chemnitz VG Bild-Kunst,
Bonn 2015

Jacoba van Heemskerck
Houses in Suiderland, Drawing No 13, 1914
Ink on paper
Kunstmuseum Bern, Donation Nell Walden

Sigrid Hjertén
Woman with Fur and Red Hat, 1915
Oil on canvas
Private collection
Photo ©

In the early decades of the 20th century, women artists were barely recognised by society and had no access to the academic training their male colleagues enjoyed. The subject of women in visual art was openly discussed in many publications during those years, but their claims to originality and creativity were generally brushed aside. The more broad-minded Herwarth Walden, however, claimed it was the individual work of art that was most important to him, regardless of whether the maker was a man or a woman. Sharp and always on the lookout for the new and the cutting edge, he disregarded the typical prejudices of the time and gave women artists their first big chance. Roughly one fifth of the Sturm gallery artists were female. A disparate group, their life stories, personal circumstances, and critical reception varied enormously, as did their styles and approach to creating art.

The expressionist painter Gabrielle Münter (1877 > 1962), who would gain only moderate success throughout her life, was honoured with a posthumous major retrospective exhibition, celebrating the artistic achievements of her early career, at London’s prestigious Courtauld Gallery in 2005, and has since become more widely appreciated. During the pre-World War I years, she lived with Wassily Kandinsky in Mürnau (Bavaria), where their home became an important meeting place for the highly-influential Der Blaue Reiter group. In 1913, Münther had an exhibition of eighty-four paintings at the Sturm, Walden arranging for some of the work to be shown later at galleries in Munich, Copenhagen, Dresden, and Stuttgart.

Along with Münther, Maria Uhden and Nell Walden (Herwarth’s second wife, her predecessor, Else Lasker-Schüler was an artist and poet), Marianne von Werefkin (1860−1938) was one of the most frequently exhibited female artists at the Sturm. Walden, who was impressed by her passion for the concepts and forms of expression in modern art, shared many of her views and was responsible for introducing her work to a broader public throughout Germany and Europe. Dutch artist Jacoba van Heemskerck (1876−1923) was featured in ten solo shows at the gallery, and, with a total of twenty woodcuts, was represented more often than any other artist on the cover of Der Sturm.

Sonia Delaunay, Design B53, 1924
Gouache and pencil on paper
Private collection
Foto © Privatarchiv

Maria Uhden (1892−1918), some of whose woodcuts anticipate the 1980s work of the American graffiti artist Keith Haring, drew inspiration from historical prints and book illustrations that had been revived in the Almanach Der Blaue Reiter. Walden continued to show her works at his gallery and in touring exhibitions well after her premature death.

‘Sonia Delaunay is now rightly seen as a stronger and more complex artist than her husband, who died in 1941,’ wrote The Guardian in April this year, in a review of The EY Exhibition: Sonia Delaunay, her retrospective at Tate Modern, that had started life in 2014 at Paris’s Musée d’Art Moderne, for which over 400 works: paintings, wall decorations, gouaches, prints, fashion items and textiles, tracing her career from the early 20th century to the 1970s were assembled. Born Sonia Terk (1885 > 1979) into a well-to-do family in the Ukraine, she studied painting in Germany but travelled to Paris before settling there in 1905. Already under the influence of Gaugin and German expressionism, she encountered Picasso and by 1908 was exhibiting alongside him, Braque, Derain, and Dufy. By about 1912, in conjunction with her second husband, Robert, she was producing pioneering abstract work in a style that the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire was to christen Orphism. Coming to Paris in search of new work Herwarth Walden and Nell stayed with the Delaunays, returning to Berlin with many of their pieces of which twenty-one of Robert’s and twenty-five of Sonia’s were included in the Erster Deutscher Herbst Salon / First German Autumn Salon exhibition at the Sturm Gallery in 1913. In 1920, Walden presented a selection of Sonia’s works in a solo exhibition.

A friend of the Delaunays and also from the Ukraine, Alexandra Exter (1882−1949) served as a mediator between the East European and Western avant-garde circles in Paris, producing her own cubo-futurist style work in several different media. The Schirn is presenting her Female costume design for Aelita (a silent film that premiered in Berlin in 1924). In 1927, her unique cubist and constructivist marionettes, were given a solo show at the Sturm.

Storm Women: Women Artists of the Avant-Garde in Berlin 1910 > 1932, at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt honours each of the artists included with a separate room and features some 250 works.

All images courtesy Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt

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Show & Auction | Lucio Fontana, The Last Futurist

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Modern & Contemporary Art and Identita’ Italiana

Sotheby’s Milan, Exhibition until 22nd November, 2011
Auction 22nd & 23rd November, 2011

‘And what is there to see in an old picture except the laborious contortions of an artist throwing himself against the barriers that thwart his desire to express his dream completely?’ – Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, first published in France’s Le Figaro in 1909.

Much as the Italian Futurists, whom he would have been aware of in this youth, Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) was perhaps seen as getting rather carried away by his own enthusiasm when in the 1950s he declared: ‘I make holes; infinity passes through them; light passes through them, there is no need to paint.’

This is the man who slashed his own canvases and slit open his sculptures. I’d like to use the occasion of this Sotheby’s auction in Milan, in which six of his works go under the hammer, alongside paintings and sculpture from many of Italy’s most revered 20th century artists, among them: Giacomo Balla, Arturo Martini,Giorgio de Chirico, Massimo Campigli, Mario Sironi, Alberto Savinio, Renato Birolli, Luigi Ontani, Gastone Novelli and Domenico Gnoli, to extrapolate a theory I have developed concerning Lucio Fontana.

Fontana, was born in Argentina of Italian immigrant parents, his father being a sculptor. He was in Italy studying engineering when WWI broke out and fought in it. Afterwards he studied sculpture in Milan but soon returned to Argentina before settling once more in Italy. Despite having, with some Italian artist friends, gone to Paris – like de Chirico had, more than a decade before – to join one of the many factions of modern artists there – the Abstraction-Création group – contradictorily, his first one-man abstract art show having happened the year before, Fontana’s sensitive, equine, figurative bronze Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936, (above middle, and included in the sale) dates from this period. It’s interesting to note, though, that these horses are moving, not static, and the younger one is a little ahead of its parent. 1939 finds Fontana back in Argentina where he founds a private academy and with some of his students writes the Manifesto Blanco, demanding the synthesis of artistic genres and the renunciation of traditional art materials. It recognised that: ’We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist.’ In their place, his idea was to merge technology and art to create something entirely new and more suited to the time. Back in Milan in 1947 he wrote another manifesto: Primo Manifesto dello Spezialismo, demanding a new form of space-oriented art. At the time his concept would have seemed improbable and grandiose: to synthesize space, sound, colour, movement and time into a new kind of art.

In 1949, his fiftieth year, Fontana punched holes through painted canvases and created his first spatial environment: an experiment with shapeless objects painted in fluorescent colours illuminated by ultra-violet light to be viewed in a darkened room. Seemingly manifesto-mad, in the 1950s he wrote another three of them and continued to conduct further experiments, slashing and perforating his paintings and sculptures, and even including neon lights, memorably at the 1966 Venice Biennale where he installed an ultra-violet light-room and a violet neon-room. His uncompromising Concetto spaziale, Attesa,1964 (above top, and in the sale), is perhaps the most bald and direct of his attempts to shock the viewer into the realisation that he is not looking at a flat plane. In slashing the canvas he attempts to bring the background – the wall behind – into the painting, giving it another dimension, making the painting into an object or sculpture. Earlier in the century, the Cubists had of course already experimented with this idea but Fontana wanted to push it further. Around about this time, many of his pieces were named Concetto Spaziele, the pierced sculptural form (above bottom, and in the sale) is one of them; here his object is to blur the difference between a solid, rounded, bean-shaped object and a hollow one, thus allowing the inside as well as the outside surface to have a presence.

Looking beyond the limits of the picture, exploring space and science fiction to connect the new art to the dramatic technological and social changes taking place in the middle of the 20th Century, Fontana’s outlook was enormously influential. Ahead of his time, with so many vague and unformed but interesting ideas, it is fair to say that his spatial concept foreshadowed installation and environmental art and his promotion of gesture as art prompted performance as art. A long list of artists emerging in the 1960s and later all owe him a great debt, among them: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Jenny Holzer, James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, Bill Viola, Christo, Fiona BannerMartin Creed

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicoloured, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd. Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, 1909.

Lucio Fontana may well have been the last Futurist.

Works from top
Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964
Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936
Concetto Spaziale, Undated

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Auction | Modern & Post-War British Art

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Modern & Post-War British Art

Sotheby’s, London. Evening Sale, 15th November, 2011

Exhausted. Broke. Britain, after Hitler’s war was a barren and desolate landscape. But while the rest of Europe rapidly recovered, rebuilding both their shattered cities and economies, Britain lagged behind, its population having to endure food rationing – that had begun in 1940 – until 1954. The country’s economy never really got going again until the latter half of the 1980s. It might be surprising and seem ironic then that a group of paintings, drawings and sculpture representative of the prodigious output by British artists from the post-war years, together with others from the 21-year inter-war period – itself dogged by unemployment and poverty, and hit hard by the 1929 Wall Street Crash – are expected to reach a combined total of £7.2 – 10.8 m ($11.9 – 17.3m) in this forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s, London.

Born in 1878 – well before WWI during which he was a war artist – master-draughtsman, Augustus John’s, David at the Table portrays the somewhat idealised image of a haggard though handsome, wild-eyed young man in work clothes sat slumped at a plain table on which one senses there is no food and might not have been for some time. Generally considered to be the most famous British artist of his day, John himself was never short of money or commissions, however he cultivated a bohemian image inspired by his admiration for the lifestyle of gypsies. Perhaps the bluntness of Laurence Stephen Lowry’s painting, The Cripples (Political Argument) executed shortly after WWII comes closer to reality. Along with other Lowry’s it is also included in the sale.

Bridget Riley, born to middle-class London parents in 1931, would have been eight years old when war broke out in 1939. Raised in the relative safety of the west country, she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College before coming up to London to study at Goldsmiths then at The Royal College of Art. Her signature, disorientating Op Art painting style matured at the beginning of the 60s with which it and she became synonymous. At a time when the younger generation, anxious to escape the dullness and squalor of the 1950s, living in the shadow of the Cold War and of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, these paintings were said to inspire audience participation. Becoming disillusioned when her style was exploited for commercial purposes, Riley abandoned it in favour of pursuing ideas concerned with colour, in so doing backing away from the limelight. She was fifty-one when she painted the strikingly linear Praise 1 at the dawn of the 80s.

The same age as Riley, Frank Auerbach, whose gaunt work, Head of Gerda Boehm, among others is also included in the sale, was born of Jewish parentage in Berlin. Sent to England in 1939 to escape Nazism, his mother and father remained behind and perished in concentration camps. Young Frank was evacuated to Shropshire but ended up attending London’s St Martin’s School of Art and going on to the RCA, where he and Bridget Riley were contemporaries.

Painter, William Roberts, started out as a poster designer and studied at the Slade; leaving the school in 1913 he travelled in France and Italy and fought in the trenches during WWI, the sheer horror of the experience, as with many other artists who went to fight, significantly changing the direction of his work. Roberts was one of the signatories to the first issue of BLAST, the short-lived literary magazine of the Vorticist movement in Britain. He developed an interest for representing and interpreting the predominantly working class elements of metropolitan London’s everyday life and events – visits to the cinema, the dancehall but treating them with dignity and humour. Roberts’ painting:s The Boxing Match, produced between 1919-25 and The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946, along with Bath Night, 1929, are all in this sale.In contrast, Barbara Hepworth’s Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, created in 1971, only four years before the sculptor’s death and, although small in size – only 16.5 cm high, excluding black, polished stone base – is unashamedly extravagant and luxurious in use of materials.

Hepworth, from Wakefield in Yorkshire was born in 1903 to middle class parents and died in 1975; her adulthood spans much of the scope of this sale. Aged 17, not long after the Great War ended, she went to Leeds School of Art before being accepted at the RCA, soon becoming well-connected to the up-and-coming art cognescenti including sculptors Henry Moore and John Skeaping. Marrying the latter, the couple regularly exhibited together to great acclaim but drifted apart and separated in 1931. Soon after Hepworth met Ben Nicholson whom she was later to marry and to form a long-standing creative relationship with in which together they moved into abstraction. Both artists benefited enormously from forging links to the continental avant gardists – Picasso, Mondrian, Brancusi – and from those artists who fled Europe and came to England prior to WWII – Gabo, Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy. When the war began Hepworth and Nicholson relocated to St Ives in Cornwall where they continued to work and succeeded in their efforts to attract international attention. In the 50s, after divorcing Nicholson, Hepworth confirmed her reputation as one of Britain’s major artists producing two sculptures for 1951’s Festival of Britain and retrospective shows in Wakefield and at London’s Whitechapel. Both the 50s and 60s were good to her; Hepworth’s international stature grew. She was awarded the CBE and later, the DBE. She had a further retrospective in 1962 at the Whitechapel, became a trustee of the Tate and had a retrospective exhibition there in 1968. Barbara Hepworth died in St Ives in 1975 – her studio and garden there are now a museum administered by the Tate – after a long battle with cancer. Celebrating her achievement and named in her honour, 2011 saw the opening of the Hepworth Wakefield gallery in her home town.

Sold earlier this year through Christies and significantly surpassing its estimated sale price of £70,000 – £100,000, ($112,980 – $161,400) selling at £145,000 ($236,612), the Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, sculpture is of 18 carat gold (Apparently, the best gold you can get for making precious objects, 22 carat is too soft). Deep in the current world recession, apparently far worse than that of the 30s and in post WWII Britain, and as gold prices head towards $5,000 (£3,127) an ounce, curiously in Sotheby’s Modern & Post-war British Art sale the estimated price for this piece exactly matches the earlier Christie’s estimate.

Works from top
Bridget Riley, Praise 1, circa 1981. Estimate £150,000-250,000
Augustus John OM, RA, David at the Table. Estimate £20,000-30,00
Dame Barbara Hepworth, Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, 1971.
Estimate £70,000-100,000
Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm, 1971. Estimate £180,000-250,000
William Roberts RA, The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946. Estimate, £70,000-100,000

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