Saturday, March 1, 2014

Modern German Prints and Drawings from the Kainen Collection

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through June 29, 2014

I'll confess right up front that I'm not a big fan of prints and drawings.  I prefer my art to be of the  paint on canvas variety, so I went with fairly low expectations to this show of German offerings.

In May 2012, the National Gallery received a large bequest from Ruth Cole Kainen: 781 works.  This was in addition to the many works she and her late husband had given the National Gallery previously.  I can't imagine owning so much art, let alone being in a position to be a major art gallery donor.  Many thanks to you, Mr. and Mrs. Kainen, for sharing your collection with the world.

This show focuses on German art from 1910 - 1930s, largely on expressionism.  Expressionism, in case you don't know (like me), rejected the idea of idealized beauty and concentrated on dynamic art that was a reflection of life and experience in the modern world.  The show proceeds chronologically, with early works in the first room.  Some by Carl Wilhelm Kolbe reminded me of Durer, with their precise depictions of nature.

Kainen's favorite artist was Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, so we see lots of him.  I found his early work to be rather scribbly, as if he'd doodled on a napkin and left it behind.  If I'm ever going to get over my disinterest in drawings, this is not the artist to help me do it.  I couldn't help but think, "Really?  This is your favorite artist?  Out of all of the artists who have ever worked; this guy is your favorite?"

I did like a work by Emil Nolde entitled "Hamburg Jetty."  When you look at it, you can almost feel the waves lapping at the pier.

There's yet more Kirchner further on in the show, and his later work is less scribbly and more Picasso-esque.  Several of his works would have been right at home in the Picasso drawing exhibit I saw here a couple of years ago.

Verdict: All in all, if you like German expressionism, I can recommend this show wholeheartedly.  Otherwise, there wasn't anything that really stood out for me.

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