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Emil Nolde

Left: Couple. 1930s. Watercolor.

Right: Double Portrait. 1937. Woodcut.

EXHIBITIONS (*INDICATES SOLO EXHIBITION)

Drawing The Line

Realism and Abstraction in Expressionist Art

March 20, 2018 - July 6, 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 15, 2014 - September 26, 2014


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 5, 2011 - September 30, 2011


Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 13, 2010 - October 1, 2010


From Brücke To Bauhaus

The Meanings of Modernity in Germany, 1905-1933

March 31, 2009 - June 26, 2009


Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 24, 2008 - September 26, 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


Fairy Tale, Myth and Fantasy

Approaches to Spirituality in Art

December 7, 2006 - February 3, 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


Body and Soul

Expressionism and the Human Figure

October 7, 2003 - January 3, 2004


The "Black-and-White" Show

Expressionist Graphics in Austria & Germany

September 20, 2001 - November 10, 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


Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts About Looted Art)

June 9, 1998 - September 11, 1998


Sacred & Profane

Michel Nedjar and Expressionist Primitivism

January 13, 1998 - March 14, 1998


Recent Acquisitions

A Question of Quality

June 10, 1997 - September 5, 1997


That Way Madness Lies

Expressionism and the Art of Gugging

January 14, 1997 - March 15, 1997


Emil Nolde - Christian Rohlfs

Two German Expressionist Masters

September 24, 1996 - November 9, 1996


Breaking All The Rules

Art in Transition

June 11, 1996 - September 6, 1996


The Fractured Form

Expressionism and the Human Body

November 15, 1995 - January 6, 1996


Recent Acquisitions

June 20, 1995 - September 8, 1995


On the Brink 1900-2000

The Turning of Two Centuries

March 28, 1995 - May 26, 1995


55th Anniversary Exhibition in Memory of Otto Kallir

June 7, 1994 - September 2, 1994


Recent Acquisitions

June 8, 1993 - September 3, 1993


The Dance of Death

Images of Mortality in German Art

January 19, 1993 - March 13, 1993


Scandal, Outrage, Censorship

Controversy in Modern Art

January 21, 1992 - March 7, 1992


The Expressionist Figure

September 10, 1991 - November 9, 1991


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


Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

April 7, 1987 - October 31, 1987


Expressionist Painters

March 25, 1986 - May 10, 1986


Expressionists on Paper

October 8, 1985 - November 23, 1985


Expressionist Printmaking

Aspects of its Genesis and Development

April 1, 1985 - May 24, 1985


Paintings by Expressionists

January 27, 1962


BREAKING ALL THE RULES

Art in Transition

June 11, 1996 - September 6, 1996

ARTISTS

Beckmann, Max

Coe, Sue

Corinth, Lovis

Grosz, George

Heckel, Erich

Hirshfield, Morris

Kane, John

Klimt, Gustav

Kokoschka, Oskar

Kollwitz, Käthe

Lebduska, Lawrence

Levin, Abraham

Litwak, Israel

Moses, Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma")

Nolde, Emil

Pippin, Horace

Schiele, Egon

 

ESSAY

Recapping the season just past (as is our custom each summer), we appear to be in the midst of one of those periodic cycles during which all traditional values are momentarily jettisoned. Ever since the first modernists rejected the Academy, the repudiation of orthodox rules and regulations has been part and parcel of the avant-garde’s mandate. By the 1960s, modernism itself had acquired a veneer of academic orthodoxy, but the resulting illusion of permanence proved short-lived. The fixed, linear trajectory which once was posited for the development of modern art has now been discredited, and the future seems quite uncertain.

 

Throughout its 57-year history, the Galerie St. Etienne has consistently functioned around the margins of modernist orthodoxy. The two areas in which we specialize—Expressionism and self-taught art—have never been fully absorbed into the mainstream. This does not, however, mean that we eschewed normative standards of quality, but rather that we found quality in a host of artistic tributaries that were overlooked by those operating from a French-oriented perspective. In contrast to the formalist stance which dominated at mid-century, today the conceptual doors have been flung wide open: feminist art history, multi-culturalism and the reappraisal of so-called outsider art are three of the most salient examples of this ongoing trend. While it would be an exaggeration to say that the gallery’s vision has won total acceptance, we certainly feel at home in the present environment.

 

One of the more disconcerting side-effects of this generally positive shift in artistic parameters is a market that seems to delight in upending the old verities. The more arcane and time-consuming aspects of collecting, such as the ability to discern quality and the accumulation of specialized knowledge, have been temporarily eclipsed. Auction houses, which provide less intellectual guidance than an authoritative scholar-dealer, have popularized a do-it-yourself approach. As the highly publicized Onassis sale demonstrated, glamour and celebrity—always one part of the market—now seem to take precedence over artistic merit or intrinsic worth. In certain areas (including segments of the “outsider” field) a flea market mentality prevails, as collectors seek to discover value in objects that once we discarded. On the other hand, as the sums rise, some collectors lose faith in their own judgment and gravitate to the safest and most stereotypical subjects (only Schiele’s nudes or self-portraits, for example; only Pittsburgh landscapes by John Kane).

 

The danger of rejecting any and all qualitative standards is that ill-conceived substitutes will rush in to fill the resulting vacuum. There is an implicit nihilism in the dismantling of tradition, even if the displaced tradition was arbitrary and fraught with injustice. While cycles such as the present one churn up a healthy amount of significant new material, they are too disruptive to be sustained indefinitely. Any trend that draws novice collectors into the arena must be considered productive, but inevitably the old verities, quality and knowledge, reassert themselves. Those who overpay learn their lessons upon resale, and even those who buy cautiously gradually refine their eyes, upgrading as they go along. Collecting is a cumulative, fluid process, and the great collector learns from his or her passion, rather than becoming mired in the trends of a given day.

 

Over the past nine month, Galerie St. Etienne has explored various aspects of the manner in which old traditions are dismantled and new ones created. The gallery’s view of modernism tends to be disjunctive rather than cohesive. Change is, after all, messy, and it has become increasingly evident that the massive changes which beset the visual arts during the twentieth century did not occur in a smooth progression. The art historian Linda Nochlin has advanced the theory that the fragmented forms which characterize much avant-garde art were in fact a visceral response to the social and political upheavals of the modern era. There is, indeed, a comparative wholeness to the early, more academic work of such artists as Lovis Corinth, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Later, the lines in their drawings seem to fly apart, evoking a feeling of psychic dissolution. By focusing with particular intensity on the human figure, these artists and their Expressionist colleagues made the body a surrogate for modernist alienation.

 

The Galerie St. Etienne, with its concentration on Germanic art, has always been partial to a view of modernism that allowed more room for humanistic content than was the norm in formalist studies. Our longstanding, in-depth specialization in the work of Käthe Kollwitz naturally prompted us to start looking at other German artist with a social agenda. We opened the fall season with the third in a series of shows exploring the Weimar era, and featuring such artists as Gerd Arntz, Walter Dexel, George Grosz, Lea Grundig, John Heartfield, Grethe Jürgens, Gerta Overbeck-Schenk, Max Radler, William Sharp, Christoph Voll and Erich Wegner. Though most of these artists have significant reputations in Germany, few are internationally well-known, and by bringing them to wider attention we hope not only to expand the compass of modernism, but to open up new and comparatively inexpensive areas for collectors.

 

Straying from the narrow path trod by adherents of abstraction has brought us into contact with a number of once derided artistic areas that are coming under increased scrutiny today. The Galerie St. Etienne was always gender-blind, giving more or less equal space to certain female artists not out of allegiance to any concrete policy, but simply because we felt their work was good. Perhaps because art with social content was disdained by most of the men who determined modernism’s priorities, or because of the historical association between women and nurturance, a number of female artists have been attracted to humanistic themes. Those who favor political topics also often explore “low” art forms such as printmaking and poster design as a way of reaching a mass audience. This tradition is carried on by the contemporary artist Sue Coe, who has stressed books, editorial illustration and inexpensive prints over more elitist exhibitions. Coe’s most recent exhibition celebrated the publication of her book Dead Meat, the result of a ten-year investigation of the American meat industry.

 

The gap between “high” and “low” art has in any case been progressively eroding, as ever more mainstream artists take their inspiration from popular culture rather than following elitist pictorial conventions. This has direct bearing on the role of “outsider” artists, since the self-taught artist has always drawn from the same array of wide-ranging visual sources that are so pervasive today. Indeed, given the penetration of contemporary life by the mass media, it is not inappropriate to ask what constitutes the distinction between “insider” and “outsider” art. Visually, the difference is slight, but the obsession with quaint biographical detail obscures this fact, substituting hokey sensationalism for sound aesthetic judgment. Throughout this century, the concept of the “other” has been central to the avant-garde’s definition of itself, as the Galerie St. Etienne regularly points out when it shows the work of such classical folk artists as Morris Hirshfield, John Kane, Lawrence Lebduska, Abraham Levin, Israel Litwak, Grandma Moses and Horace Pippin. It remains to be seen if folk art will merge with the mainstream in the post-modern world, or whether the two categories will merely be reformulated.

 

The human brain likes to classify and categorize—to distinguish good from bad, best from better, and to construct explanatory narratives that tie everything together. The neo-conservative critics who passionately defend the old guard forget that the French-oriented, formalist view of modernism was ousted not by some latter-day notion of political correctness, but because formalism just did not work. Too many important contributions—by women, by people of color and by others who for one reason or another simply did not “fit”—were left out. The job for the next century will be to create a new, more serviceable narrative that nonetheless allows for value judgments and qualitative distinctions.