Emil Nolde

Left: Couple. 1930s. Watercolor.

Right: Double Portrait. 1937. Woodcut.


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


Controversy in Modern Art

January 21, 1992 - March 7, 1992


Barlach, Ernst

Coe, Sue

Corinth, Lovis

Dix, Otto

Grosz, George

Haacke, Hans

Heartfield, John

Hofer, Karl

Jawlensky, Alexej von

Klimt, Gustav

Kollwitz, Käthe

Mapplethorpe, Robert

Nolde, Emil

Pechstein, Hermann Max

Schiele, Egon

Serrano, Andres



Scandal has dogged the steps of modern art from its inception. The outcry that greeted the first exhibition of work by the Impressionists has assumed near legendary status, and for many years thereafter every new movement or wave in the surging tide of modernism evoked similar displeasure. This reaction was common to all countries in which modernism flourished, but it assumed particularly insidious form in Germany, for only here, alone among Western European nations, was opposition to modernism sanctioned, codified and eventually dictated by the state.


Over the course of the twentieth century, the would-be censor's proclivities have proven remarkably consistent. Special attention is paid to art that seemingly violates moral (usually sexual or religious) taboos or that critiques the prevailing social, economic or political order. Stylistically, the censor adheres to a fairly orthodox concept of realistic verisimilitude, and lunges at art that fails to reflect generally accepted standards of beauty or that treats conventional subjects in an unconventional way. Often considerations of content and style work hand in hand, so that, for example, many perfectly sincere Expressionistic renderings of religious subject matter were, due to their unaccustomed distortions, judged blasphemous by the Nazis.


Modern art--particularly the Expressionist variants pursued in Austria and Germany--proved quintessentially vulnerable to assaults from conservative forces because of the ways in which radical style and content were intertwined. In 1900, Gustav Klimt's painting Medicine, the first of a series of three works commissioned by the University of Vienna, provoked a torrent of abuse, including angry petitioning and a protracted critical debate in the press, because it combined blatant nudity with an unprecedented, ahistorical presentation of a traditional academic subject. Klimt's protegé Egon Schiele took the exploration of human sexuality one step farther and was prosecuted for his involvement with under-age models. The tacit assumption that children--even when they have given their consent and are clearly not physically molested--are somehow tainted by the simple act of posing in the nude has resurfaced periodically during repressive moments throughout this century.


Klimt and Schiele came to loggerheads with a society that, though seemingly entrenched and stable, was in fact on its last legs, and it may be argued that their work was controversial precisely because it foreshadowed a doom not yet acknowledged by the general public. By the 1920s both Austria and Germany had endured revolutions as well as resounding military defeat, and the demise of the old regime was an inescapable fact. Hyperinflation in the early years of the decade decimated the middle class, creating unprecedented extremes of wealth and poverty. The plight of crippled veterans, destitute widows and the unemployed contrasted harshly with the greed of war profiteers and speculators. Käthe Kollwitz, who had for decades sympathetically documented the victimization of the working poor, now turned her attention to the new underclass, while younger artists such as George Grosz and Otto Dix caricatured the overclass. These biting critiques for the most part found a sympathetic reception in Weimar Republic Germany, where the avant-garde was gradually being absorbed into the mainstream and museums nationwide led the field in acquisitions and exhibitions of modern art.


It was the relatively permissive values of the Weimar era--epitomized by the government-regulated bordellos and celebrated cabaret life of Berlin--that, coupled with dire economic circumstances, made some people fear that the very fiber of society was breaking down. The Nazi regime rose to power by playing on these fears and giving them a focus in a host of activities and ideas labeled un-German. Foreign influences were identified with an international Jewish-Bolshevist conspiracy, and any sort of "deviant" moral, intellectual or personal behavior was branded as degenerate. A self-righteous and unswerving morality, imposed from on high, was promulgated as the cure necessary to save society from a contagion of degeneracy.


This philosophy ultimately found expression in the Nazis' extermination of homosexuals, invalids, cripples, mental patients and of course Jews and other non-Aryans, but particularly in the regime's early years, the elimination of "degenerate" art had compelling propaganda value. The fact that modernism was international in orientation and often incomprehensible to the common folk played right into Nazi hands, as did the modernists' avowed interest in the art of the insane and of non-Western cultures. The Nazis delighted in pointing out examples of "inferior" racial types in the art of Expressionists such as Emil Nolde, and stressed that many of Lovis Corinth's most prized works were done after the artist had suffered a debilitating stroke. Needless to say, artists who, like John Heartfield, criticized the existing social order were also prime targets.


Within one year of assuming power, Hitler had removed many leading artists (including Dix, Kollwitz, Max Beckmann and Karl Hofer) from their teaching posts, and by placing the administration of even private galleries under the control of an official Kulturkammer (Chamber of Culture), severely curtailed exhibitions of avant-garde art. Museum directors sympathetic to modernism also lost their jobs, and prior museum acquisitions were publicly ridiculed as a waste of taxpayers' money, simultaneously discrediting the art and the Weimar-era policies that had supported it. Exhibitions highlighting and mocking selected modern works from museum collections were common from 1933 on, but in 1937 a wholesale purge of museums was begun, with the most salient pickings exhibited in the famous "Degenerate Art" exhibition. By this time, the voices of modernism had effectively been squelched in Germany, and most of the major artists had sought refuge in either actual or "inner" exile.


The Nazis' systematic campaign against modernism compares in intensity only to that waged in Stalinist Russia, but kindred impulses exist even in the supposedly free United States. In the last several years, the National Endowment for the Arts, which through its grants to individuals and institutions has a significant impact on the nation's artistic climate, has become increasingly politicized. Right-wing attacks on avant-garde art, spearheaded by Reverend David Wildmon's American Family Association and Congressmen Alfonse D'Amato and Jessie Helms, have forced the NEA to become a diligent self-censor, cautiously vetting grant nominations, pre-screening peer review panels and, most notoriously, insisting that grant recipients sign a controversial "anti-obscenity pledge"(now partially rescinded). Among numerous NEA-funded exhibitions that recently drew well-publicized fire from the right were a group show at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art featuring Andres Serrano's surprisingly lyrical photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine (shocking only by virtue of its title, Piss Christ), the Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective "The Perfect Moment" (cancelled by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington and subsequently the cause of an unsuccessful obscenity suit against the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center), and the AIDS exhibition "Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing," which was accompanied by an inflammatory catalogue essay by artist David Wojnarowicz.


The latest attempts by the United States government to censor creative expression have much in common with prior crackdowns on the avant-garde, both in terms of the charges (which revolve principally around accusations of blasphemy, obscenity and offenses against patriotism) and in the underlying causes (which derive from a pervasive sense of social and economic decay). Here, as in pre-war Germany, much of the arts community remains remote from the general public, and the artists' primary sins lie primarily in the exploration of aspects of contemporary existence that the ruling forces do not want to see exposed. Politicians such as Helms seek to deflect attention from America's genuine problems by directing discontent toward an alien "other," whose decadence allegedly saps the public coffers and threatens to undermine and destroy mainstream moral values.


Those who contend that artists denied NEA grants can always find support in the private sector conveniently ignore the fact that most commercial galleries will exhibit only marketable art and, as the artist Hans Haacke has taken great pains to document, that corporate sponsorship invariably serves a conservative business agenda. The larger implications of the government's attempt to dictate policy at the NEA are chillingly reflected in the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding laws that prohibit publically supported clinics from even mentioning abortion. Those in the university community fear, with good reason, that academic funding may be the next target. Although America cannot be equated with Nazi Germany, one would do well to recall that even Hitler's campaign of cultural dictatorship began slowly and with seemingly innocuous measures, and that the right to freedom of speech, though written into our Constitution, is worthless if the institutions of our government fail to enforce it.