By PAUL LASTER, May 2019
A line is a dot that went for a walk – Paul Klee
Aiming to advance the legacy of the artist, the Paul Klee Family recently joined forces with David Zwirner to promote the work of Klee through Zwirner’s respected galleries in New York, London and Hong Kong, with scholarly publications and by participation in the world’s top art fairs.
A master of modern art, Klee was one of the most influential artists of his generation. A teacher at the Bauhaus for ten years, he developed an idiosyncratic style of drawing and painting that was inspired by Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism, as well as Outsider Art and the naïveté of children’s drawings.
Branded a degenerate by the Nazis, the Swiss-born, German artist was forced out of a teaching position in Dusseldorf in 1933 and returned to Switzerland, where most of the ten works in this exhibition at TEFAF New York Spring—the first presentation since the gallery began representing the artist’s estate in April—were created.
Trained as a violinist, Klee used color and line like musical notes. Employing simple materials, he developed modes of abstraction in revolutionary ways. For example, the earliest piece in the show, the 1931 watercolor Ballett scene (Ballet Scene), poetically portrays the structured movement of dancers in delicate, abstract forms.
Klee experimented with a variety of graphic techniques, including one in which he would apply pigmented paste to paper and then scrape it away with a knife to create a broad line to define the subject’s form. He used this procedure in the 1933 painting on paper Zwei Frauen im Wald (Two Women in the Woods), where he highlighted details of the women with colored chalk, and the 1938 piece Maske "nach dem Verlust" (Mask: After the Loss), which depicts a face emerging from the primal mud that forms the flesh-colored ground.
The 1933 abstracted still life NOCH Stilleben (Yet Still Life) presents an arrangement of overlapping shapes with dots and cross-hatching that texture and complicate their forms. Harmoniously composed, the pieces of the puzzle come together likes bits of mosaic that suggest a subject. Working in a similar way, the 1939 painting on paper Kohl-Teufel (Cabbage Devil) applies an eye, an ear and a few teeth to abstract, colored shapes to make the appearance of a surreal character, born from a cabbage.
Klee’s 1935 watercolor Zeichen auf dem Feld (Signs in the Field) has an affinity to the floating forms of Joan Miró’s Constellation series of paintings on paper, as does his 1938 pencil on paper line drawing geht vorüber Gott sei Dank! (It Goes By, Thank God!), which cubistically creates the appearance of people through fragments of discontinuous lines. Meanwhile, the most representational of all of the works on view, the 1938 black and white brushed paste drawing es wurmt ihn (It Annoys Him), captures the face of an animated figure in the minimal amount of strokes.
A polyphonic mix of varied pieces, the succinct show offers an engaging look at the experimental artist, while on the outer wall of the booth Zwirner presents a single work by a recognized master of a later generation of painters, the German artist Sigmar Polke. Equally as influential to those who came after, Polke blurs the boundaries between figuration and abstraction with his ironic and humorous imagery.
Polke’s 1986 painting here, Druckfehler (Printing Error), portrays two versions of the same printing error from a newspaper blown up at two different scales. Fragmented, the two black and white forms float above a mix of running and solid colors on polka dotted fabric that’s been stretched like a conventional canvas. As witty as the works in the booth, it functions like the icing on the cake—making Klee’s gallery premiere even better. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot and artBahrain. He was the founding editor of Artkrush.com and Artspace.com and art editor of Flavorpill.com and Russell Simmons's OneWorld Magazine; started TheDailyBeast.com's art section; and worked as a photojournalist for Artnet.com and Art in America. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, New York Observer, Modern Painters, ArtPulse and ArtInfo.com.view all articles from this author