Käthe Kollwitz

Left: Self-Portrait. 1924. Woodcut. Private collection.

Right: Käthe Kollwitz. Photograph.


All Good Art is Political

Käthe Kollwitz and Sue Coe

October 26, 2017 - March 10, 2018

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 11, 2017 - October 13, 2017

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 12, 2016 - October 7, 2016

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 21, 2015 - October 16, 2015

Alternate Histories

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

January 15, 2015 - April 11, 2015

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 15, 2014 - September 26, 2014

Modern Furies

The Lessons and Legacy of World War I

January 21, 2014 - April 12, 2014

* Käthe Kollwitz

The Complete Print Cycles

October 8, 2013 - December 28, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market

July 9, 2013 - September 27, 2013

Face Time

Self and Identity in Expressionist Portraiture

April 9, 2013 - June 28, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 17, 2012 - October 13, 2012

The Lady and the Tramp

Images of Women in Austrian and German Art

October 11, 2011 - December 30, 2011

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 5, 2011 - September 30, 2011

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 13, 2010 - October 1, 2010

* Käthe Kollwitz

A Portrait of the Artist

April 13, 2010 - June 25, 2010

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 24, 2008 - September 26, 2008

Hope or Menace?

Communism in Germany Between the World Wars

March 25, 2008 - June 13, 2008

Transforming Reality

Pattern and Design in Modern and Self-Taught Art

January 15, 2008 - March 8, 2008

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 5, 2007 - September 28, 2007

More Than Coffee was Served

Café Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna and Weimar Germany

September 19, 2006 - November 25, 2006

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 6, 2006 - September 8, 2006

* Coming of Age

Egon Schiele and the Modernist Culture of Youth

November 15, 2005 - January 7, 2006

Recent Acquisitions

And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market

June 7, 2005 - September 9, 2005

Every Picture Tells a Story

The Narrative Impulse in Modern and Contemporary Art

April 5, 2005 - May 27, 2005

65th Anniversary Exhibition, Part I

Austrian and German Expressionism

October 28, 2004 - January 8, 2005

Sue Coe: Bully: Master of the Global Merry-Go-Round and Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 8, 2004 - October 16, 2004

Body and Soul

Expressionism and the Human Figure

October 7, 2003 - January 3, 2004

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 24, 2003 - September 12, 2003

* Käthe Kollwitz:

Master Printmaker

October 1, 2002 - January 4, 2003

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 25, 2002 - September 20, 2002

Workers of the World

Modern Images of Labor

April 2, 2002 - June 15, 2002

The "Black-and-White" Show

Expressionist Graphics in Austria & Germany

September 20, 2001 - November 10, 2001

Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 26, 2001 - September 7, 2001

Art with an Agenda

Politics, Persuasion, Illustration and Decoration

April 10, 2001 - June 16, 2001

The Tragedy of War

November 16, 2000 - January 6, 2001

The Expressionist City

September 19, 2000 - November 4, 2000

Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 20, 2000 - September 8, 2000

From Façade to Psyche

Turn-of-the-Century Portraiture in Austria & Germany

March 28, 2000 - June 10, 2000

Saved From Europe

In Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

November 6, 1999 - January 8, 2000

The Modern Child

(Images of Children in Twentieth-Century Art)

September 14, 1999 - November 6, 1999

Recent Acquisitions

(And a Look at Sixty Years of Art Dealing)

June 15, 1999 - September 3, 1999

* Becoming Käthe Kollwitz

An Artist and Her Influences

November 17, 1998 - December 31, 1998

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts About Looted Art)

June 9, 1998 - September 11, 1998

Recent Acquisitions

A Question of Quality

June 10, 1997 - September 5, 1997

Käthe Kollwitz - Lea Grundig

Two German Women & The Art of Protest

March 25, 1997 - May 31, 1997

Breaking All The Rules

Art in Transition

June 11, 1996 - September 6, 1996

From Left to Right

Social Realism in Germany and Russia, Circa 1919-1933

September 19, 1995 - November 4, 1995

Recent Acquisitions

June 20, 1995 - September 8, 1995

On the Brink 1900-2000

The Turning of Two Centuries

March 28, 1995 - May 26, 1995

Three Berlin Artists of the Weimar Era: Hannah Höch, Käthe Kollwitz, Jeanne Mam

September 13, 1994 - November 5, 1994

Art and Politics in Weimar Germany

September 14, 1993 - November 6, 1993

Recent Acquisitions

June 8, 1993 - September 3, 1993

The Dance of Death

Images of Mortality in German Art

January 19, 1993 - March 13, 1993

* Käthe Kollwitz

In Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Artist's Birth

September 15, 1992 - November 7, 1992

Scandal, Outrage, Censorship

Controversy in Modern Art

January 21, 1992 - March 7, 1992

The Expressionist Figure

September 10, 1991 - November 9, 1991

Recent Acquisitions

Themes and Variations

May 14, 1991 - August 16, 1991

Recent Acquisitions

June 12, 1990 - August 31, 1990

Max Klinger, Käthe Kollwitz, Alfred Kubin

A Study in Influences

March 27, 1990 - June 2, 1990

The Narrative in Art

January 23, 1990 - March 17, 1990

The Galerie St. Etienne

A History in Documents and Pictures

June 20, 1989 - September 8, 1989

Fifty Years Galerie St. Etienne: An Overview

February 14, 1989 - April 1, 1989

Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

June 14, 1988 - September 16, 1988

Three Pre-Expressionists

Lovis Corinth Käthe Kollwitz Paula Modersohn-Becker

January 26, 1988 - March 12, 1988

* Käthe Kollwitz

The Power of the Print

November 17, 1987 - January 16, 1988

Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

April 7, 1987 - October 31, 1987

Käthe Kollwitz/Paula Modersohn-Becker

January 28, 1986 - March 15, 1986

The Art of Giving

December 3, 1985 - January 18, 1986

Expressionists on Paper

October 8, 1985 - November 23, 1985

Expressionist Printmaking

Aspects of its Genesis and Development

April 1, 1985 - May 24, 1985

Early and Late

Drawings, Paintings & Prints from Academicism to Expressionism

June 1, 1983 - September 2, 1983

* Käthe Kollwitz

The Artist as Printmaker

September 28, 1982 - November 6, 1982

Aspects of Modernism

June 1, 1982 - September 3, 1982

The Human Perspective

Recent Acquisitions

March 16, 1982 - May 15, 1982

* Kollwitz: The Drawing and The Print

May 1, 1980 - June 10, 1980

* Käthe Kollwitz

December 1, 1976

* Käthe Kollwitz

February 3, 1971

* Käthe Kollwitz

In the Cause of Humanity

October 23, 1967

* Käthe Kollwitz

May 1, 1965

Group Show

October 15, 1962

* Käthe Kollwitz

November 11, 1961

* Käthe Kollwitz

December 14, 1959

European and American Expressionists

September 22, 1959

* Käthe Kollwitz

January 12, 1959

* Käthe Kollwitz

April 16, 1956

* Käthe Kollwitz

October 25, 1951

* Tenth Anniversary Exhibition

Part I

November 30, 1949

* Käthe Kollwitz


October 18, 1948

* Käthe Kollwitz

October 4, 1947

* Käthe Kollwitz

Memorial Exhibition

November 21, 1945

* Käthe Kollwitz

Part II

October 26, 1944

* Käthe Kollwitz

Part I

November 3, 1943

Saved from Europe

Masterpieces of European Art

July 1, 1940


(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 21, 2015 - October 16, 2015


Baskin, Leonard

Beckmann, Max

Corinth, Lovis

Dix, Otto

Grosz, George

Hirshfield, Morris

Kane, John

Klimt, Gustav

Kokoschka, Oskar

Kollwitz, Käthe

Moses, Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma")

Motesiczky, Marie-Louise

Schiele, Egon

Schmidt-Rottluff, Karl



Americans do not like “gatekeepers.” We prefer to think of ourselves as an egalitarian nation, and we resist the notion that members of a privileged elite may be better qualified than the average citizen to pass judgment on our cultural achievements. Nevertheless, for generations the very definition of art was controlled by a self-anointed cadre of professional curators, art historians, critics, dealers and collectors. Alfred Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, crafted the formalist narrative that was taken up by the critic Clement Greenberg and used to justify the “triumph of American painting” in the latter half of the twentieth century. Dealers such as Leo Castelli ensured that this dogma was accepted abroad, and collectors could rest easy knowing their purchases had been vetted by commonly respected gatekeepers.


Today, the reign of the gatekeepers is over. The chain of “isms” that begat one another like Biblical ancestors has been broken, and no narrative dominates the way formalism once did. Formalism itself has been largely discredited, as ongoing research into modernism’s various byways shows it to have been a more fragmented series of developments than Barr’s paradigm would suggest. We now recognize that this paradigm was not only inaccurate, but unfairly biased. Women, people of color and non-Western developments were for the most part excluded, while the European tradition was manipulated to support America’s cultural ascendancy.


Gone, too, is the barrier between “avant-garde” and “kitsch” that Greenberg and his allies struggled so hard to maintain. In truth the boundaries between high and low art, culture and commerce, were never as impermeable as the twentieth-century gatekeepers pretended. Still, the formalist narrative kept the focus on aesthetic innovation and the laudable (if unrealistic) ideal of artistic purity. Absent the gatekeepers, it can seem there is no metric for assessing value beyond that provided by the market itself.


Despite (or because of) the virtually unopposed dominance of free-market capitalism in the twenty-first century, there is a palpable nostalgia for the less overtly mercenary ethos of the modern era. Ever since Thomas Krens lined the Guggenheim’s spiral ramp with a parade of motorcycles in 1998, critics have been lamenting the commercialization and corporatization of our major museums. The increase in income inequality during the intervening period has only exacerbated the situation. Shortly before the Whitney Museum of American Art opened its new building earlier this year, protestors projected a sign reading “1% Museum” on the facade. Art advisor Abigail Ascher termed the spring auctions (which cumulatively grossed over $2 billion) “a spectacle of excess at the highest level.” Big, bold and brightly colored, Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger broke all auction records when it fetched $179 million at Christie’s, although many scholars consider it a minor work. People worry that “checkbook art history” has replaced genuine connoisseurship.


For museums today, the sweet spot often seems to lie at the nexus of popularity and collector appeal. Jeff Koons personifies this phenomenon: his giant enlargements of children’s toys and Hummel figurines are sure-fire crowd pleasers, and at $58.4 million, he also holds the current auction record for most expensive work by a living artist (Balloon Dog [Orange], sold at Christies in 2013). To be sure, the current predilection for entertaining, easily marketed museum exhibitions regularly receives its share of critical scorn. Jed Perl, writing in the New York Review, likened the Whitney’s 2014 Koons retrospective to the “apotheosis of Walmart,” repackaged for sophisticates who would not ordinarily set foot in that store because they disapprove of its labor practices. MoMA’s recent exhibition of the Icelandic singer/composer Björk was so widely reviled for pandering to celebrity that an online campaign was mounted to fire its curator, Klaus Biesenbach. “We want MoMA to behave itself as the combined Fort Knox and Vatican of modern art that it has been,” declared New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl.


Matti Bunzl, an anthropologist who spent five months embedded with the staff of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, describes the relentless financial pressures confronting today’s curators. “With reductions in public funding,” he writes, “museums need to seek corporate support; to gain such support, they need to attract larger audiences; to bring in larger audiences, exhibits have to become more spectacular; with more spectacular shows, exhibitions costs are spiking; to cover these expenses, institutions need to be aggressive in seeking individual donations; to appeal to donors, museums have to become destinations that properly reflect on their benefactors and the art they lend or donate to the institution; to do this in style, old buildings have to be expanded, new ones erected; the bigger buildings have greater staffing needs and raise overhead costs; to cover these costs, museums have to pursue corporate support even more aggressively; to do so effectively, visitor numbers need to be increased even more, which requires more histrionic shows, with even greater appeal to individual donors, etc., etc.”


Just as museums rely on donor support, donors need the support of the museums. “With the value of art centrally dependent on institutional acceptance,” Bunzl writes, “what we get is the unprecedented financial incentivization of museum patronage.” Donors and trustees try to direct museum agendas toward the artists they collect. Dealers likewise want to get their artists into museums, and frequently allow clients to jump to the top of a hot artist’s waiting list if the buyer agrees to donate the work in question. It is not unusual for dealers to support museum exhibitions directly (by, for example, paying for the catalogue) or indirectly (with research and help securing loans). The Art Newspaper’s revelation that nearly one third of solo American museum shows of living artists go to those represented by five galleries (Gagosian, Marian Goodman, Hauser & Wirth, Pace and David Zwirner) is both shocking and unsurprising. (At the Guggenheim and MoMA, the figures are higher: 55% and 45% respectively.) “These galleries take on artists in their mid- to late careers,” explains museum consultant András Szántó, “at the very stage where their longevity and critical recognition reaches [sic] a peak.”


Without the hierarchical control once exerted by the gatekeepers, power naturally becomes more diffuse. At a time when everything is “curated”—menus, wardrobes, playlists—everyone, it seems, is a curator. Many major collectors are choosing to bypass traditional institutions altogether by opening their own museums. Dealer Stefan Simchowitz (recently profiled in the New York Times Magazine) undercuts both museums and the conventional gallery system by selling directly over the Internet to a band of loyal followers, who include the heiress Anna Getty, Hollywood royalty like Orlando Bloom, Harvey Weinstein and Steven Tisch, and Napster co-founder Sean Parker. While Simchowitz considers himself the art-world equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg, using technology to disrupt the establishment, others see the dealer as a craven speculator. (New York Magazine critic Jerry Saltz called him a “Sith Lord.”) Simchowitz has the mindset of a venture capitalist: invest in numerous startups (in his case, emerging artists) in the hopes that one or two hit big, and sell the others before demand peaks. Constant flipping turns collecting into a game of musical chairs, explains Simchowitz’s partner, Rosi Riedl. When the market tops out, “the artist is over. You don’t go back to a reasonable price—you’re cooked, you’re finished.”

The impact of the Internet on the art world has only begun to be recognized. Collectors post works on Facebook or Instagram and make purchasing decisions based on the number of “likes” they get. The Internet imposes itself between the viewer and the object, diluting or altogether transforming our experience of the original. Works are judged according to how they look on a small screen, how colorful they are, how readily they can be cropped to fit the Facebook or Instagram format. Much recent art seems to be designed with selfies in mind, a prime example being reflective sculptures like Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millenium Park. The Whitney’s wide-open new exhibition spaces are great for social media, not so good for intimate encounters with small paintings.


The formalist narrative, with its prescribed linear trajectory, provided a framework within which artistic production could be judged. Today almost anything goes. Now that “the art-historical certainties” of modernism have dissipated, writes British critic Ossian Ward, we are left in “the soupy dustbin of history and culture.” In his book, Ways of Looking, Ward helpfully tries to break contemporary art down into categories such as “Art as Entertainment,” “Art as Meditation,” Art as Joke” and “Art as Confrontation.” But this only begins to scratch the surface of an “art world” that for the first time is truly global, with inputs from rising powers in Asia, Russia, the Middle East and Latin America. Nor does Ward’s schema take into account the disparate visual traditions developed by “outsiders” within Western society, be they African Americans, indigenous peoples or simply those who did not receive formal artistic training. It does not help, either, that the entire concept of “quality”—suggesting a white, male Eurocentric bias—has become suspect in academia.


How is a curator to make sense of all this? Without any sort of overarching narrative, it is especially difficult to organize encyclopedic installations. The new Whitney is a case in point. In the Abstract Expressionism room, Lee Krasner surprises and delights by more than holding her own against her famous husband, Jackson Pollock, but Alfonso Ossorio’s quirky mix of Surrealism and folk art requires a more nuanced and particular context. Although the Whitney is to be applauded for showing James Castle, Horace Pippin and Bill Traylor alongside mainstream masters, it is hard to see what the self-taught artists have in common with Georgia O’Keeffe and Arshile Gorky, with whom they are grouped in a chapter titled “Breaking the Prairie.” The chapter approach (also taken by the Metropolitan Museum in the reinstallation of its modern collection) favors superficial visual and/or temporal links over the artists’ deeper art-historical roots.


This curatorial strategy works better on a micro than a macro level. While the individual chapters at the Whitney and the Met may not cohere into a whole, many of them could fruitfully be expanded into full-blown exhibitions. The demise of a singular narrative encourages curators to reexamine modernism’s legacy from multiple angles: to discover unexplored areas, to interrogate contemporaneous social, political and economic influences, and thereby to deepen our understanding of the artists’ contexts and achievements. MoMA may not always do an exemplary job of sorting through the mire of contemporary art, but it does remain a bastion for the earlier avant-garde, whether revisiting well-known masterpieces, like the Matisse cut-outs, or investigating less familiar subjects, like Gauguin’s prints or Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series.


It is, after all, logical that curators, along with the rest of us, should have a better perspective on the past than on the present. It could even be argued that our widespread dismay at the monetization of art is a positive sign. In a capitalist society, money always exerts an influence; it is more prudent to acknowledge that influence than to pretend it does not exist. Every era produces imbalances that can only be corrected over time. History is full of highly acclaimed artists who were subsequently forgotten, and forgotten artists who were later declared geniuses. Gatekeepers come and go; in the end, history decides.


From its founding in 1939, the Galerie St. Etienne has specialized in artists who were not on the reigning gatekeepers’ radar. Self-taught painters like Grandma Moses were welcomed by the art establishment in the 1930s, only to be sidelined by Abstract Expressionism in the postwar years. Austrian and German Expressionism had to struggle for recognition against the dominant French tradition, which was bolstered by America’s alliances during the two world wars. Our gallery has always promoted what, in our recent 75th anniversary exhibition, we called Alternate Histories.


Our summer exhibition of Recent Acquisitions continues this exploration of “alternate histories” with major paintings by Morris Hirshfield, John Kane and Grandma Moses, as well as works by Expressionists such as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz and Egon Schiele. Highlights include a new group of rare prints by Käthe Kollwitz and a collection of works by Oskar Kokoschka, including the oil portrait, Bob Gesinus-Visser II and studies for the famous paintings Lovers (in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) and The Slave Girl (in the Saint Louis Art Museum). We continue to champion the underappreciated second-generation Expressionist Marie-Louise Motesiczky by showing selections from our 2014 exhibition, The Mother Paintings. Motesiczky’s portraits of her mother, Henriette, are both a moving testament to the mother-daughter relationship, and a document of the pair’s experiences of emigration and exile during and after World War II. The gallery’s summer installation also incorporates a condensed version of our most recent show, Leonard Baskin: Wunderkammer. Baskin’s ad-hoc melding of multiple historical influences and art forms has proven prescient, anticipating the non-linear approach common in today’s art world. As the hold of the traditional gatekeepers loosens, mavericks like Leonard Baskin come to the fore.