Skip to main content

The German Revolution: Expressionist Prints

Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow until August 25th
Four stars

In the beginning was the woodcut. So said art historian Gustav Hartlaub in his Die neue Deutsche Grafik volume in 1920. It’s a suitably dramatic epithet immortalised at the start of this major retrospective of an era-defining burst of energy that captured the disaffected and ever so slightly lost spirit of a defeated Germany following the First World War and the failed revolution of 1918-19. The products of the cultural coup it prompted and gathered here are the result.

With multiple editions now possible beyond painting, the more democratised artform of woodcuts and lithographs were disseminated with the last-gasp urgency of something subversive being passed around in the after-hours shadows of the short-lived Weimar republic.

Gathered together largely from the Hunterian’s own collection, it’s a black and white world that is occupied here behind the monumental headings of each section. ‘LOVE AND ANXIETY’; ‘A BRIDGE TO UTOPIA’; ‘CONFLICT AND DESPAIR. The stakes are high, the drama intense.

The only brighter colours come in two works by Austrian painter Marie-Louise von Motesiczky that predate her tutelage under one of expressionism’s unwilling figureheads, Max Beckmann, and an exhibition poster by Gabriele Munter. Even these seem pale and washed-out by the societal sickness that rumbles throughout much of the work on show by the likes of Beckmann and Otto Dix.

Any exhibition of expressionism wouldn’t be a show without Munch, and there are other familiar names, including Picasso, Goya and Gauguin. There is even a fleeting appearance by an on-the-make Egon Schiele.

A stark sombreness pervades throughout. Figures are all angles, their faces blank or else pinched and flint-eyed, their body language contorted, so razor-sharp elbows jut out like weapons hiding in plain sight. It’s as if survivors of the Great War had come stumbling onto the streets, shell-shocked after the blast, but the damage already done in a world set to explode once more in a fervour of political, moral and sexual taboo-busting.

In their messy immediacy, some of the publications archived here are almost punk in execution, as, finally, we get straight to ‘HELL’, Beckmann’s twelve-print cycle of ‘impressively grim’ images of the collective fallout.

As darkly incendiary as this mix of emotional nihilism, existential dread and oppositionist provocation might have been, like all revolutions, it was never going to last. Soon the soul-baring howls would be silenced, and much here would be deemed degenerate. The storm clouds may have already been gathering, but for a fleeting moment, the expressionist revolution could vent its spleen beneath them. 

Scottish Art News, May 2019.

ends



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…

Suzy Glass – Message from the Skies

Freedom of movement matters to Suzy Glass, the arts and events producer currently overseeing the second edition of Message from the Skies.This animated literary derive around the city forms part of this year’s Edinburgh’s Hogmanay programme, and runs right through till Burns’ Night. Glass’ concerns are inherent in the event itself, which has commissioned six writers from different disciplines and experiences to each pen a love letter to Europe. Each writer has then paired up with a composer and visual artist or film-maker, with the results of each collaboration projected in monumental fashion on the walls of one of half a dozen of the capital’s most iconic buildings.
With venues stretching from the south side of Edinburgh to Leith, and with one city centre stop requiring a walk up Calton Hill, there is considerable legwork required to complete the circuit. It shouldn’t be considered a race, however, and audiences are free to move between venues at their leisure, visiting each site on d…