It would be easy to imagine modern German art as far more creative than the German art of the early twentieth century.
Exploring the Ackland Art Museum’s latest galleries — “Romantic Dreams, Rude Awakenings” and “DE-NATURED” — will quickly change that assumption.
VISIT THE GALLERY
Time: April 8 through July 10, every day but Monday and Tuesday.
Location: Ackland Art Museum
“DE-NATURED,” which explores German artwork from the late 1940s to the present, is an underwhelming gallery of underwhelming pieces.
The mix of Gerhard Richter’s abstract overpainted photographs is deep with metaphors, but lacks aesthetic.
Two of his canvases are almost identical, both painted completely brown with no other details.
The exhibition is missing a real human element.
Besides two large portraits of unsmiling characters and a posed photograph of a family in a living room, there are few faces to represent the new Germany of the last half-century.
The focus on buildings, streets and structural urban design highlights a post-war ideal of German nationalism. The loss of identity during this period is apparent in the lackluster collection.
The gallery is almost redeemed by a collection of pieces from Martin Kippenberger.
However, Ackland’s exhibition of pre-war artwork, “Romantic Dreams, Rude Awakenings,” is a surprising treat.
The various works explore religion and music, identity and rebirth.
Many are sketches or woodcuts, filled with characters and diverse emotions.
Reality and fantasy are in play throughout. An older sketch combines animals and demons while in more recent works, human characters are depicted as larger-than-life and sometimes demonic.
A series of pieces from the early twentieth century through the 1920s is an obvious exploration of German reconstruction after the devastation of World War I.
Two distinct prints, hung beside each other, depict a large shadowy figure standing over desolation.
Lovis Cornith’s “Cain,” from 1915, is painted in hues of pink and then colored over with charcoal. Behind the huge, dark character is a nondescript but obviously destroyed landscape.
Ernst Barlach’s “From a Modern Dance of Death” (1916) offers a similar scene. Sketched with lines of movement blurring the foreground, the painting’s principal figure swings a massive hammer above its head.
It stands above a pile of bones and, again, the background is destroyed.
In works from the early 1920s, chaotic fantasies continue with flat sketches of a man with no arms, women kissing in a blown out building and a face that could be confused for a bony skull.
The progression of “Romantic Dreams, Rude Awakenings” from tall tales to terror is largely colorless, but the collection tells a much more descriptive story of German history than does “DE-NATURED.”
Taken as a whole, the galleries offer an unusual perspective on the development of German art and creative national identity.
Contact the Arts Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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