The Neue Galerie’s exhibit on the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and his influence on German and Austrian artists should be on your gotta-go-see list. While Munch is best known for capturing the deep psychological states of sadness, angst and separation that lay beneath the surface of late 19th and early 20th century society, this wide-ranging exhibit reveals many aspects Munch’s oeuvre across a variety of media (oil, water color, lithographs, woodcuts) and subjects (portraits, landscapes, seascapes…) There are some fabulous Munch pieces here, as well as ones by his contemporaries, especially Ludwig Kirchner and Emile Nolde. The first room has some wonderful woodcuts by these three artists. With several of the pieces, different versions are displayed, so you can see how they developed. I especially liked Munch’s Kiss in the Field, whose figures are delicately outlined in white against a sienna background; in two earlier versions, Munch plays with the direction of the woodgrain and uses lighter colors, giving them an entirely different feel. You’ll also find several works such as Melancholy, Towards the Forest and Madonna, that demonstrate how Munch was breaking down the boundaries of painting, drawing and printmaking. In the same room, take a look at Fishing Steamer by Emile Nolde, a fabulous black & white woodcut of a steamer in the fog.
The next room features several portraits; I really liked the full-length one of Munch’s friend Christian Gierloff, standing by white cliffs at the seaside, his bright yellow raincoat and dark green suit making the background all the more vivid (or is is the other way around?). There’s also a great portrait by Oskar Koskochia of Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat; I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on there – Hans is in profile to us, but he’s facing Erica’s direction, though looking away from her, while she faces us directly; it’s almost like they’re occupying two different planes, yet their hands almost touch. A little research revealed that this was a marriage portrait, but the couple were painted separately. The background of brown, orange, green and purple, is scratched out with pale yellow lines and shapes, making it crackle with energy. On the opposite wall, Winter Landscape by Munch, dialogues very well with The Blue Gable by Gabrielle Munter. Close by is Sea B, an oil by Emile Nolde, whose roiling seas and sky are painted almost entirely in greens and brown.
In the “Influence and Affinity” section, you’l find a great pairing of four woodcuts by Munch made before 1905, three of which are titled “angst” (and the fourth could be) and four fabulous lithographs and woodcuts of women Ludwig Kirchner made after 1908.
In the same room is Munch’s 1906 Self Portrait with Bottle of Wine. Set in a cafe, it’s color scheme of primarily greens and reds stand out vividly against the white table cloths. We see Munch clearly, in the foreground, facing us, seated at a table. Behind him, the faces of the two waiters are pure white with only black dots and lines for features; a third, seated figure, is a woman who doesn’t even have a face.
This depiction of disconnection continues on the nearby wall in two other Munch oils, The Human Beings, the Lonely Ones, whose subjects, staring at the sea, all have their backs to the viewer, and Separation, with the ghost-like, featureless woman wafting towards the edge of the painting.
It will come as no surprise that The Scream has its own room, which includes two woodcuts of this iconic picture, as well as some great self-portraits in water color, gouache and oil which Egon Schiele made between 1910 and 1912.
This exhibit runs through June 13th.
After the exhibit, take the time to visit the Neue Galerie’s collection. In addition to the well-known 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, there are several other works by Gustav Klimt that deserve our attention, such as The Dancer, his 1916 posthumous portrait of Rhea Monk, whose garment of red, pink and green flowers melds into other shapes and curlicues, in a similar style; the Park at Kammer Castle, and Forester’s House in Weissenbach II both of which have vibrant palettes consisting almost entirely of greens.
Another room holds furniture, jewelry, as well as household and decorative objects, including examples from the Wiener Werkstätte.
In the basement is a great display of about a dozen advertising posters from the early 20th century, when Berlin was the center of Plakatstil (poster style) design.
The Neue Galerie also hosts lectures and cabaret performances. You can find more information here. As I’ve said before, this museum is one of New York’s gems.