August 13, 2007

The art of restitution

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's "Berlin Street Scene" (1913–14), on view at Neue Galerie, New York, NY. Through September 17.

In the Village Voice, Morgan Falconer reports: "This show celebrates its arrival, bringing together similarly debauched urban imagery by Kirchner's Berlin contemporaries. But while Street Scene is the showpiece, others outstrip it in decadence. George Grosz's drawings are particularly arresting: Some are carved up by slanting light that reveals bare bottoms and clandestine meetings; one shows a sailor, packing a pistol and knuckle-duster, literally digging for gold on the edge of town. If the streets are bad enough, the scene indoors is worse: Among several images of downcast nudes are Christian Schad's Two Girls (1928), which features a pair of women reclining, sad-faced and semi-naked, as they pleasure themselves in this astonishingly frank depiction." Read more.

In The New Yorker's Critic's Notebook, Peter Schjeldahl comments: "Anchoring a strong little show of contemporaneous Berliners including George Grosz, Otto Dix, and Christian Schad, “Street Scene” is as good as German Expressionism gets. How good is that? Spiky and crackling, fast but not loose, it pictures two purposefully strolling prostitutes in red and blue dresses, with fancy hats, behind a man seen from the back (a phallic shape) and another (the artist) whose head and hand swivel weirdly askance. The background teems with men riding, or running to catch, a horse-drawn trolley. The top-heavy composition, funnelling energy downward, jolts. But, as usual with Kirchner, show-offy style trumps both formal poetry and narrative drama. " Read more.

In the NYSun, David Cohen reports: "The Neue Galerie is a treasury of Austrian and German art from the early 20th century. Not only does it show excellent examples of fine and applied arts of that period and place, but it also recreates the haute bourgeois surroundings of its early patrons — despite the anti-establishment rawness or the utopian simplicity of the various movements and styles: Expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), the Bauhaus. Any museum has highlights, but because of the excitement surrounding the enormous sums paid for certain key works at auction by the museum's benefactor, Ronald Lauder, the Neue Galerie tends to be top heavy with its masterpieces. In the case of two of the most spectacular works on display, Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's "Berlin Street Scene" (1913–14), the works came to market through restitution, the legal process of returning to rightful heirs works that had been stolen or obtained under duress from persecuted Jews during the Third Reich" Read more.