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ESSAYS

Edward Hicks

FIFTY YEARS GALERIE ST. ETIENNE: AN OVERVIEW

In 1939, Otto Kallir, who had been driven from his native Austria by the Nazi Anschluss, arrived in the United States. In his wake he left a Viennese gallery, the Neue Galerie, that had, for fifteen years, been the leading champion of modernism in that city. He also left behind a shorter-lived French gallery, named St. Etienne in honor of Vienna's venerable St. Stephan's cathedral. Although war had broken out in Europe while Kallir was crossing the Atlantic, he still dreamed that he would someday return, and so he named his New York gallery (which he founded almost immediately) St. Etienne: a would-be branch of the Paris concern. As it transpired, Paris was soon as unapproachable as Vienna, and the Galerie St. Etienne in New York, with its misleading French name, became the principal outpost for modern Austrian art in the United States.

 

The "firsts" achieved by the Galerie St. Etienne are historic: the first American Oskar Kokoschka exhibition in 1940, the first Egon Schiele and Alfred Kubin exhibitions in 1941, the first Gustav Klimt exhibition in 1959, and the first Wiener Werkstätte exhibition in 1966. Austrian art of the early twentieth century was, in the beginning, virtually unheard of in the United States, and at times it seemed the Galerie St. Etienne was fighting a lonely, losing battle. German Expressionism, on the other hand, was somewhat better received, in part because of Germany's more aggressive international presence, and in part because, whereas Klimt and Schiele had died in 1918, many major German artists not only continued to live but, as victims of Hitler's cultural policies, actually ended up emigrating to America. Among the Germans, the Galerie St. Etienne typically chose to represent those who were lesser known: the precursors of Expressionism (who not coincidentally had a gentler sensibility more akin to that of the Austrians), such as Paula Modersohn-Becker (first American one-woman show, 1958), Lovis Corinth and Käthe Kollwitz (the subject, to date, of some seventeen one-woman shows at the gallery).

 

Otto Kallir was not, however, content merely to transplant his European heritage to the United States. Almost from the moment of his arrival, he set out to find an indigenous American form of expression suited to what he perceived as the unique spirit of his newly adopted homeland. Disatisfied with the contemporary New York avant-garde--which he considered too derivative--Kallir instead turned to folk art. As early as 1941, on his second summer vacation, he drove all the way to New Mexico, where he picked up a treasure trove of Indian artifacts and Santos. He also developed a keen interest in the art of self-taught nineteenth-century painters, whose work he helped introduce to Europe by collaborating with the Smithsonian Institution on a series of traveling exhibitions. But his most notable accomplishment was the discovery of an 80-year-old farmwife from upstate New York: Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma") Moses. Moses had her first one-woman show at the Galerie St. Etienne in the autumn of 1940--when Kallir had been in America scarcely one year. Her fame was not (as is so often said) "instantaneous," but the show was well received, and, over the course of the ensuing years, as the gallery became her exclusive representative, Grandma Moses gradually grew to be one of the most renowned American artists then living.

 

The current exhibition includes a sampling of works by many of the artists who established the Galerie St. Etienne's reputation--and whose reputations the gallery helped establish. Some of these will also be featured in one-person shows later in 1989, as part of a series of anniversary events extending throughout the year. A major Gustav Klimt loan exhibition is scheduled for the spring, as is a symposium on Austrian art co-sponsored by the Austrian Institute and featuring a number of leading scholars in the field. Concurrently, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., will publish Gustav Klimt: 25 Masterworks by gallery co-director Jane Kallir. A play on Grandma Moses, starring noted actress Cloris Leachman, will soon begin a nationwide tour. In the fall, a Grandma Moses retrospective is planned, along with a folk art symposium co-sponsored by the Museum of American Folk Art. Additional events will be announced in the course of time.50th Anniversary Committee

 

Dr. Hubert Adolph, DIRECTOR, ÖSTERREICHISCHE GALERIE

 

Leon A. Arkus, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF ART

 

Dr. Robert Bishop, DIRECTOR, MUSEUM OF AMERICAN FOLK ART

 

Dr. Jutta Bohnke-Kollwitz

 

The Honorable Leopold Bill von Bredow, CONSUL GENERAL OF THE

 

FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY

 

Prof. Alessandra Comini, SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY

 

Dr. Günter Düriegl, DIRECTOR, HISTORISCHES MUSEUM DER STADT WIEN

 

Lillian Gish

 

Paul Gottlieb, PRESIDENT, HARRY N. ABRAMS, INC.

 

His Excellency Friedrich Hoess, AMBASSADOR OF AUSTRIA TO THE U.S.A.

 

Prof. Arne Kollwitz

 

Mr. and Mrs. Leonard A. Lauder

 

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder

 

Gertrud Mellon

 

Thomas M. Messer, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM

 

Dr. Konrad Oberhuber, DIRECTOR, GRAPHISCHE SAMMLUNG ALBERTINA

 

Mrs. John Alexander Pope

 

Prof. Carl E. Schorske, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY

 

Dr. Richard A. Simms

 

The Honorable Wolfgang Steininger, CONSUL GENERAL OF AUSTRIA

 

Dr. Alice Strobl, VICE DIRECTOR EMERITUS, GRAPHISCHE SAMMLUNG ALBERTINA

 

Dr. Wolfgang Waldner, DIRECTOR, AUSTRIAN INSTITUTE