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 15, 2014 - September 26, 2014


Basicevic (Mangelos), Dimitrije

Basicevic, Ilija Bosilj

Beckmann, Max

Castle, James

Dix, Otto

Gill, Madge

Grosz, George

Heckel, Erich

Jones, Frank

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig

Klimt, Gustav

Kokoschka, Oskar

Kollwitz, Käthe

Lesage, Augustin

Modersohn-Becker, Paula

Moses, Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma")

Nedjar, Michel

Nolde, Emil

Pechstein, Hermann Max

Schiele, Egon

Schmidt-Rottluff, Karl

Wölfli, Adolf



“I want to start investing in contemporary art, but I can’t afford a good art advisor, so I don’t know what to buy."

-- “Millennial” talking to her friends at the Frieze Art Fair

The art critic and philosopher Arthur C. Danto, who died last year, was instrumental in describing and reifying the concept of the “art world”: an amalgamation of collectors, dealers, artists, curators, critics and art historians who have the power, collectively, to determine what is, or is not, art. A urinal ceases to be a plumbing fixture when the art world recognizes it as a vessel filled with artistic meaning. Removed from the bathroom and installed in a museum, the urinal becomes a work of art through the simple magic of re-contextualization. Danto’s art world is hermetic and tautological; a coven of self-anointed insiders. Whereas the early modernists (including the urinal’s “creator,” Marcel Duchamp) reviled the art establishment, the contemporary art world institutionalizes the avant-garde.

Danto’s other big theory involved the “end of art.” Conceived in the late 1980s, around the time that Francis Fukuyama was writing about the “end of history,” Danto’s idea was that art had reached the end of a progressive linear trajectory which began around 1400. Just as Fukuyama did not really believe historic events would cease to occur, Danto did not think people would stop making art. Both men, rather, sensed that the old unifying meta-narratives of history and art history were losing traction. Centuries of ideological squabbling had been superseded by the unopposed triumph of global capitalism. Similarly, modernism’s dogmatic manifesti, stylistic affiliations and sequential “isms” had been replaced by a tasting menu of disparate aesthetic options. These centrifugal forces, augmented by the decentralization intrinsic to globalization, chafe against the art world’s superstructure. Nonetheless the need for order and hierarchical values remains. In the absence of any overriding aesthetic consensus, judgments of relative importance are now increasingly made on the basis of financial worth. The art world still rules, but it is largely ruled by money.

Although art has always been associated with wealth, collectors were traditionally motivated primarily by aesthetic pleasure. The art world’s obsession with investment as an end unto itself is a comparatively new development, traceable in part to the inflation of the 1970s. While inflation causes all prices to rise, art values tend to lag, increasing more slowly than those of more frequently traded goods. Thus the illusion of windfall profits was created when, in the early 1980s, art prices finally caught up with everything else. As more sellers and buyers were drawn into the market by this illusion, it became a reality, at least for some. At the same time, art sales were becoming more public than ever before. In 1983 the shopping mall magnate Alfred Taubman bought Sotheby’s and began courting a retail clientele, turning what had heretofore been largely a wholesale marketplace for dealers into an arena for conspicuous consumption. The press was delighted to support the auction houses’ publicity machines, breathlessly touting each record price. Only the usually mild-mannered New York Times art critic John Russell demurred, remarking that the glamorous evening auctions had all the appeal of public executions.

The euphoric run-up in prices came to a temporary halt with the market downturn of the early 1990s. Sidelined by deep systemic economic woes, the Japanese were blamed for creating a bubble by buying indiscriminately in the 1980s. The rising tide of that decade had lifted all boats more or less equally, and people were now quick to point out that not everything created by a master is a masterpiece. Henceforth, “selectivity” became the mantra of dealers, collectors and auctioneers. However, even assuming that the marketplace is in every instance capable of discerning the nuances that distinguish a masterpiece from the average work, the market cannot always be relied upon to accurately calculate the price differential between the two. Is a masterpiece worth twice as much as an average picture? Ten times as much? More? With the rise of the so-called 1%, the differential has grown ever greater, as the auction houses focus more attention on the very top of the market. Along with the middle class, the middle market has atrophied. Auctions today are dominated by a small group of billionaires who literally make the market. If a work sells for an enormous sum, then it is, by definition, a masterpiece.

Through much of the last century, investment returns accrued relatively slowly. Just as it took time for new businesses to develop market share and become profitable, the art world reached a consensus regarding an artist’s importance gradually. In the interim, dealers nurtured the artist’s art-world credentials and raised prices incrementally, in sync with rising demand. Twenty-first-century investors crave faster returns, speculating on startups regardless of whether they are profitable and in the process causing stocks to rise in defiance of conventional price/earnings ratios. Similarly, those who view art as an investment asset are not in it for the long term. They are looking for a speedy turnaround, and the art world has, to some extent, learned to accommodate them.

Dealers and auction houses offer their best clients special deals that essentially make it possible for them to game the system. Roughly 50% of the lots in this spring’s Contemporary Art auctions were guaranteed. What this means is that in each such case a collector/investor was allowed to lock in a presale bid and to participate in the upside (including the auction house’s commission) if bidding rose above that amount. Guarantors receive inside information about the seller’s supposedly secret reserve price and a chance to profit regardless of whether the lot sells high or low. Deep-pocketed investors, such as the Muhgrabi and Nahmad families, have accumulated vast inventories by taking advantage of vagaries in the auction process to buy works at less than what they perceive to be full retail value. The Nahmads (whose scion, Helly, was recently sentenced to a year prison for his participation in an international gambling ring) have at times reportedly bid on up to one third of the lots in the Impressionist and Modern sales.

Those with lesser resources try to cash in on rising new talent. “People talk about flipping an artwork in a year or two,” writes contemporary dealer Kenny Schachter, “but I’ve admittedly done so within a matter of months, even weeks.…This practice is fueled by the recent phenomenon of historic prices being achieved for very young artists with little or no market or exhibition history.” Olyvia Kwok, founder of an art fund predicated on reselling works within three months to a year, notes that, “If you see art purely as a commercial investment, it is important to create or follow a trend, which in art changes every two to three years.” Schachter ascribes this frothy action in part to newly rich buyers from Russia, China and the Middle East. “With low interest rates and volatile stock and commodities markets, where else can you attain such high returns in no time at all?” he asks. “The wealth of new buyers is growing exponentially, but they only want the obvious things by obvious artists, which is why you read of so many artists’ markets snowballing into self-fulfilling prophecies.” “Especially for pieces by younger artists,” notes a critic in The Guardian, “the value of a work of art inheres primarily in the faith that a few very rich people believe it matters.”

The meta-narratives alluded to by Fukuyama and Danto were resoundingly Eurocentric, crafted by philosophers like Georg Hegel and art historians like Alfred Barr. Today’s money narrative is global. Beyond its investment potential, art is a way for the citizens of volatile non-Western countries to shelter income abroad, perhaps in the process evading the scrutiny of domestic tax authorities. Like real estate in global capitals such as New York or London, art offers a safe haven should things turn nasty at home. But in order for art to serve this purpose it must be recognized as an international commodity. Thus Western dealers and auctioneers are battling to establish credibility with non-Western collectors. Art Basel has expanded to Hong Kong, and Christie’s was proud to announce that half the top buyers in its evening auction of contemporary art were Asian. So far Western art still dominates the international marketplace, but that may change. America’s nineteenth-century industrial titans collected European masterpieces; the “American century” was half over before New York was internationally recognized as a center of artistic production. Art follows the money, and the money is heading East.

One of the dangers of the current obsession with quick profits is that it belies the traditional connection between supply and demand. Prices get pushed up before an artist has acquired a meaningful collector base. Even with all those guarantees and Asian bidders, there were not enough buyers to sustain three nights of successful Contemporary sales in New York this year. After two buoyant evenings at Christie’s, Sotheby’s Contemporary auction failed to meet its low estimate and ended with 12 unsold lots. The Impressionist and Modern sales the week before were lackluster for both houses. As classical modern material becomes harder to find, the buzz has moved on to the contemporary arena, creating a paradoxical situation in which rarity can actually cause prices to drop by weakening demand. Much like Old Masters, the Impressionist/Modern sales category may one day revert to pre-Taubman conditions, becoming a quiet backwater visited mainly by dealers. Difficulty summoning enough bidders to make auctions viable at a retail level has pushed Sotheby’s and Christie’s to beef up their private-treaty sales operations. Yet it is debatable whether the auction houses, whose “experts” are of necessity generalists, are as effective as specialist dealers in serving niche markets.

The winner-take-all dynamic that permeates both the art world and the larger economy has had a devastating effect on America’s smaller museums, many of which are struggling to stay afloat. The outrage that greeted the Museum of Modern Art’s recent decision to tear down the American Folk Art Museum’s former home had less to do with the destruction of an architectural gem than with the seemingly unjust triumph of a veritable Goliath over a smaller, less solvent competitor. The Folk Art Museum was able to regroup without selling any of its collection, but other institutions, including the National Academy of Design and the Delaware Art Museum, have not been so fortunate. Detroit’s creditors are ogling the bankrupt city’s Institute of Arts, and with offers of up to $2 billion on the table, there is a possibility that the museum’s treasures will be sold to the highest bidder. When art is viewed merely as an asset, the intangible benefits provided by museums—as sources of community pride, educational centers, bastions of collective cultural heritage and inspirations for future generations—fall by the wayside.

Another byproduct of the investment mentality has been a sometimes vindictive or opportunistic backlash against the art world. The rising value of art, combined with the bitterness produced by income inequality, has led to a marked increase in art-related litigation. Authenticators are imperiled equally by suits from disgruntled collectors and by the deceptive allure of skillful forgeries. Even as people try to come to terms with the fact that the esteemed Knoedler Gallery sold a raft of fakes, there are those who think finding a “Pollock” or a “Rothko” at a flea market is like winning the lottery, and that authenticators who withhold approval are part of a conspiracy to defraud them. Copying—an age-old staple of art-school training and the métier of certain contemporary artists—is under threat from infringement suits both by mega corporations and by lesser-known creators of source images who have failed to reap the financial rewards of appropriators like Richard Prince and Jeff Koons. The mere threat of litigation—over a deal gone wrong, a work sold for too little or bought for too much—is frequently used to extract financial retribution from potential defendants unwilling to endure the strains of a trial. Sadly, this form of extortion has also infected the realm of Holocaust restitution, where art works can be rendered virtually unsalable by unsubstantiated claims that would never stand up in court. While there are clearly instances of malfeasance that justify legal action, the art world is often targeted simply because it is perceived as a repository of illicit wealth.

Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of the investment game is that it is, on many levels, wrongheaded. Art is inherently resistant to the objective metrics that underpin rational investment strategies. “A business needs to be profitable to exist,” writes Melanie Gerlis, author of Art as an Investment? A Survey of Comparative Assets. “It therefore makes sense that people should want to invest in its possible growth through shares. A painting can exist perfectly easily without generating any profit at all.” Unlike real estate, art does not produce rental income. On the contrary, it costs money to insure, store and conserve. Art’s relative illiquidity and the uniqueness of each individual object distinguish it from commodities like gold. Uniqueness also distinguishes art objects from commercially manufactured luxury products, although the two realms increasingly share a fixation on branding, status and celebrity. “Even when there are several items that are seemingly identical, such as editions of the same photograph or sculpture,” Gerlis writes, “each has a history of ownership, trading or exhibition that separates one ascribed value from another.” “Art,” she concludes, “is probably the least commoditized asset in the investment universe, offering the potential for great returns but also subject to enormous risk.”

For a time, speculative markets are self-perpetuating, but eventually they collapse due to poor underlying fundamentals. The art market today is weakened not just by inequities between demand and supply, but by the superficial goals of the investment community. Vast segments of the art world have come to resemble the fashion and entertainment industries, with their focus on fleeting trends and ephemeral spectacle. The judgment required to ascertain long-term value is sorely lacking.

In retrospect, the narratives that shaped twentieth-century aesthetic judgments were never wholly accurate, and they grew less so when critics and art historians forced the disparate strains of European modernism into a cohesive theoretical package designed to justify America’s cultural ascendancy. The linear trajectory of which Danto wrote was an illusion. Today’s art world is potentially far more egalitarian, open to the work of all nations and all cultural traditions. But the lack of any overriding structure poses unprecedented challenges to connoisseurship. In its misguided attempt to commoditize art, the art world has forgotten that art’s greatest achievements lie in its ability to transcend material values, to embody such ineffable qualities as empathic humanism, spiritual uplift and beauty. The art world needs to redirect its focus and start doing its job.


Those of us who share an interest in what is euphemistically known as “outsider” art have long spent time poking around in areas that were underserved by the modernist narrative. “The Encyclopedic Palace,” a focal point of last year’s Venice Biennale, proposed various alternative narratives that presented “outsider” and “insider” material on a level playing field. However these pairings, mostly reliant on superficial visual or typological similarities, did not pay sufficient attention to each individual artist’s developmental framework, context or viewpoint. The Galerie St. Etienne has always believed that the work of self-taught artists can best be studied by using the same methodology applied to their trained colleagues. We try, first of all, to understand the artist’s intentions, as shaped by his or her individual surroundings and idiosyncrasies, and then we evaluate the artist’s success in visualizing those intentions. We have found that, contrary to popular myth, the best self-taught artists are influenced by outside sources and refine their aesthetic approaches over time, just as schooled artists do.

The Galerie St. Etienne’s spring exhibition paired the work of Ilija Basicevic, a Serbian peasant who had four years of elementary schooling, with that of his son Dmitrije (known as Mangelos), a trained art historian lately recognized as one of the forerunners of international conceptualism. Father and son experienced persecution during World War II, struggled under the Communist regime that followed, and were as a result artistically preoccupied by images of destruction and renewal. Despite these underlying similarities, however, the two artists are perceived very differently by the art world due to the differences in their iconography and educational backgrounds. Following up on the precedent set in Venice, the gallery’s exhibition endeavored to jettison the outmoded “outsider” and “insider” labels by presenting each artist on his own terms. Our summer exhibition includes a concise version of the Ilija/Mangelos installation, as well as works by noteworthy self-taught artists such as James Castle, Madge Gill, Frank Jones, Augustin Lesage, Grandma Moses, Michel Nedjar and Adolf Wölfli.

As is customary, the Galerie St. Etienne’s summer show not only surveys recent acquisitions, but also recaps the past season’s projects. In the autumn of 2013, we presented the complete print cycles of Käthe Kollwitz, and we opened the New Year by commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. Male artists--such as Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz--who fought in that war are known for their graphic depictions of the brutal conflict, but Kollwitz’s depictions of the privations at home are equally shocking. Our summer exhibition contains key works on this theme by all four artists.

Perhaps our most spectacular new acquisition this year is a group of three major paintings by Paula Modersohn-Becker, from the largest such collection in America. Important works by the artist, who died following childbirth at the age of 31, seldom appear on the market. We have also managed to obtain a life-sized oil portrait by Otto Dix from his Neue Sachlichkeit period, and Egon Schiele’s beautiful watercolor of Elisabeth Lederer, daughter of the prominent Klimt patrons August and Serena Lederer. Another highlight of the show is a pair of studies for Klimt’s final, uncompleted painting The Bride: one showing the bride in a state of virginal innocence, and the second depicting her in the throes of erotic ecstasy after the wedding. Our exhibition is rounded out by a selection of rare (in some cases unique) lithographs and etchings by the pioneering Brücke artists Erich Heckel, E.L. Kirchner, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.