Van Gogh and Expressionism
@ the Neue Gallery, NYC
by Al Doyle
New Yorkers have been treated to a recent arrival on museum-mile: the Neue Gallery at Fifth Avenue and 89th Street, equidistant betwixt the Met and the Guggenheim. Visitors to the Neue Gallery have come to expect ground-breaking exhibits that shed light on special themes,artists and cross-currents of design, crafts and architecture in early 20th century Austrian and German arts.
Now comes something of a different order: an exhibit that pairs Vincent Van Gogh with a host of artists that were influenced by his vibrant color, tortured line and intense self-portraits.
At the Neue Gallery, the self-portraits command the emotional center. Van Gogh created the template for the modern self-portrait,and many are included in here. Ludwig Meidner and Lovis Corinth can be considered lesser lights yet their inclusion in this show is right-on: both portray searching self-portraits that echo van Gogh's modern take on Rembrandt's incisive psychological depth and rigorously honest self-appraisal. It is hard to think of any artist who has not been influenced by this soul-searching and scathing approach to self depiction on canvas: Picasso, Matisse, Francis Bacon and Willem de Kooning all fell under the spell of this high-flying Dutchman. See the images reproduced here by Paul Klee and Karl Schmidt-Rotloff for more examples of Vincent's reach into the modern psyche. While the Klee relies on the intensive gaze to portray the artistic temperament, Schmidt-Rotloff is dependent on vibrant color and Van Gogh inspired brushwork for packing an emotive punch in the painting. There is a downside to this intense Sturm und Drang: the maudlin conceit of the misunderstood artiste (think Van Gogh as played by Kirk Douglas in the Hollywood's Lust For Life).
There are several other interesting themes explored in this show: the importance of arbitrary color in the expressionist landscape; the use of still life as a locus of emotional depth that goes much deeper than the shop-worn vanitas typical of the Dutch tradition. Especially poignant and indicative of the spell cast by Van Gogh is the depiction of wilted Sunflowers by Egon Schiele. Unfortunate that the New York exhibit is missing the iconic Van Gogh Sunflowers with which it was paired with at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam where the exhibit was first seen.
Any exhibit featuring Van Gogh will be a crowded event with the masses turning out for the latest installment of the "Vincent Diaries" as to any other serial entertainment. If possible, try to catch this show on off-hours: make and attempt to avoid the weekend crowds as this is a smaller space and the intimacy of the works on view suffer under pressure.
Jill Lloyd is a guest curator of this exhibit, which along with her accompanying catalog marks a milestone event in the short history of the Neue Gallery in that this is the first venture beyond the strict confines of the German and Austrian purview and also outside the curatorial ranks of the Gallery proper. The exhibit remains on view until July 2nd, 2007 at the Neue Gallery in NYC.
Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism
See thumbnails of the paintings on view.
View two streetscapes here: one by Kandinsky, one by Van Gogh