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The "Black-and-White" Show
Expressionist Graphics in Austria & Germany

September 20, 2001 to November 10, 2001

The present exhibition takes its subject from the Schwarz-Weiss Ausstellung (Black-and-White Exhibition), a staple of the German and Austrian art scene in the early decades of the twentieth century. Many more recent exhibitions and studies have highlighted the centrality of printmaking to Expressionism, but the Schwarz-Weiss Ausstellung differed from these comparatively academic efforts in that it had a broader sweep and enjoyed greater input from the artists themselves. In its original incarnation, the "Black-and-White Show" usually included drawings as well as prints and, despite its name, comprised colored as well as monochromatic works. While these presentations were endemic to Germany and Austria, their content was not necessarily confined to local contributions. The "International Black-and-White Exhibition" was a cost-effective way to import an array of foreign art, as well as a means of demonstrating the transnational camaraderie that characterized modernism before World War I. A Schwarz-Weiss Ausstellung did not focus on a specific style, nationality or medium, but rather on the aesthetic qualities peculiar to line and graphic expression. By endeavoring to elevate the graphic arts to the stature enjoyed by painting and sculpture, these exhibitions helped legitimize printmaking and may be held partly responsible for the preeminence enjoyed by graphics within the Expressionist canon.

In mid-nineteenth-century Germany, printmaking flourished as a means of mechanical reproduction but was almost never viewed as a creative medium by fine artists. Etching societies, which proliferated in England in the 1860s and subsequently became popular in Germany, helped to gradually undermine this prejudice. However, the turning point in the evolution of German printmaking came with Max Klinger, the first major artist in several generations to etch and proof his own plates. Not only were Klinger's print cycles, such as A Glove, Dramas and A Life, models of their kind, they illustrated a creative philosophy that was to reverberate among artists for decades to come. In his seminal 1891 treatise, Malerei und Zeichnung (Painting and Drawing), Klinger argued for the unique role--separate but equal--of drawing and graphic expression among the various arts. Painting and color are suited to the replication of observed reality, he wrote, while drawing and printmaking are best reserved for fantasy and ideas. Painting, in this view, was almost vulgar, leaving nothing to the imagination, while black-and-white art allowed access to a much wider realm of thoughts and feelings. Klinger's theories in essence paved the way for the Expressionists' wholesale restructuring of artistic goals, sanctioning an expanded agenda that could range from the intensely personal to the overtly political. It is probably no coincidence that many Expressionists evolved their formal vocabulary first through printmaking, and only later applied these lessons to painting.

In one fell swoop, Klinger freed drawing from its former subservience to painting, and printmaking from the limitations of rote reproduction. His own work, though hardly revolutionary by present-day standards, proved extremely influential. Klinger's aesthetic hovered somewhere between the nineteenth century and the twentieth. Modern in content but academic in execution, his etching cycles tended to focus on elaborate narratives depicted in meticulously detailed representational settings. Käthe Kollwitz was inspired by these works to craft her socio-political print series, The Revolt of the Weavers and Peasants' War, while Alfred Kubin and others saw Klinger as a stepping-stone toward Surrealism. Both Kollwitz and Kubin, in their earliest works, approximated Klinger's narrative approach, which seduced the audience into accepting the artist's views by presenting them in the guise of a shared reality.

Where Klinger encouraged artists to craft alternate realities that served their particular visions, his followers would eventually invent an entirely new, abstract formal language more directly in sync with their expressive goals. Carrying Klinger's theories beyond the realm of mere content, artists began to investigate the graphic qualities intrinsic to each of the printmaking mediums. Klinger and Kollwitz had exploited the multitude of etching techniques designed to replicate light and shade and volume, but later artists were drawn to drypoint, a medium that allowed for far greater immediacy at the expense of tonal range. Even more so than drypoint, lithography could duplicate with breathtaking fidelity the spontaneity of an artist's drawing. But the signature printmaking medium of the Expressionist generation was woodcut. Revived in the 1890s by artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Felix Valloton, the art of woodblock printing was furthered by the contemporaneous interest in Japanese prints and the flat graphic style prevalent during the Art Nouveau period. However, the key influence in Germany was Edvard Munch, the first artist to directly incorporate the tactile qualities of wood into his prints.

By the turn of the twentieth century, a decisive rift had developed between the conventional forces of academia and the still inchoate modern movement. This rift manifested itself in periodic art-world scandals and found organizational acknowledgment in the Secession movements that sprouted throughout Germany and Austria in the 1890s. The Secessions' leaders were members of a transitional generation: artists like Lovis Corinth, Gustav Klimt, Max Liebermann and Carl Moll, who were not capable of altogether severing their ties to the academic traditions which had nurtured them in their youths. Nonetheless, by routinely exhibiting foreign modernism, the Secessionists established an international network for the exchange of new ideas that helped prepare the ground for Expressionism.

Graphics featured prominently in the Secessionist agenda, particularly in Berlin, where an annual "Black-and-White Exhibition" was held every winter. As business manager of the Berlin Secession, the dealer Paul Cassirer played a pivotal role in capitalizing and expanding upon the burgeoning interest in prints. In 1908, he brought over a group of master printers from Paris and established his own publishing enterprise, the Pan-Presse. Cassirer encouraged a number of artists to make lithographs and etchings, including Ernst Barlach, Max Beckmann, Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann. Some of these, like Corinth and Liebermann, had earlier tried their hands at printmaking with no success, while Barlach, who would become one of the great printmakers of the Expressionist era, had never before even considered lithography.

Expressionism ultimately emerged without the benefit of backing from the Secessions or any other formal institution. In fact, it was just as the most advanced artists were leaving the Vienna Secession, in 1905, that Germany spawned its first full-fledged modernist cell, the Brücke (Bridge) group. As was typical of such groups, membership shifted over time, but the Brücke's core included Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. These artists, initially based in Dresden, were up on all the latest foreign trends, and they embraced an amalgam of influences that encompassed the work of Gauguin, Van Gogh and the Fauves, as well as African and Melanesian art. Eschewing the meticulous craftsmanship and finish of their academic forebears, the Brücke artists sought an immediacy of effect that naturally gave pride of place to drawing and printmaking.

Perhaps because many of its members were essentially self-taught, the Brücke blithely ignored generations of technical tradition and essentially reinvented the arts of etching, lithography and woodcut. The artists' direct involvement, not just with the creation of the plate, stone or block, but with the printing process itself, was so intense and personal that often no two prints from the same edition looked exactly alike. The group's total output was prodigious: Heckel, for example, produced more than 1,000 prints, Pechstein 805, and Kirchner over 2,000. Printmaking was also used to great promotional effect by the Brücke, which circulated more than 50 traveling exhibitions featuring graphics, and solicited support from "passive" members, who were rewarded with an annual print portfolio.

Printmaking was less crucial to the Blauer Reiter (Blue Rider), Germany's other principal Expressionist group. The Blauer Reiter, which counted among its followers Lyonel Feininger, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Alfred Kubin, August Macke, Franz Marc and Gabriele Münter, was shorter lived and less cohesive than the Brücke. Of the various members, Feininger, Kandinsky and Kubin produced the most substantive print oeuvres, the latter two for the most part long after they had severed any formal ties to Expressionism. Still, it is noteworthy that the Blauer Reiter's second public show, held at the Galerie Goltz in Munich in 1912, was a Schwarz-Weiss Ausstellung. A survey of over 300 Expressionist prints, watercolors and drawings, it included works by many artists beyond the limited circle of the Blauer Reiter, and summarized, as it were, the state of the art at that historical moment.

At this time, the term "Expressionist," when it was used at all, often encompassed both foreign and domestic art. Marc made it clear in the Blauer Reiter's famous "Almanac" that he considered himself and his comrades counterparts to the French Fauves (dubbed "Wilden" in German). While the drive to create a new type of art might momentarily coalesce in groups such as the Brücke or the Blauer Reiter, the underlying impulse was ultimately too unruly and too widespread to be constrained for long in that manner. In Austria, there never were any particularly effective formal groups associated with Expressionism. Egon Schiele tried in vain to unite his jealous and back-stabbing colleagues, while Oskar Kokoschka quickly embarked for the friendlier environment of Berlin, where he found succor with Herwarth Walden's Sturm gallery. Thus Expressionism, in the period prior to World War I, had neither a cohesive identity nor a generally accepted name.

Even before the war, the Austrian and German avant-garde had periodically been assaulted by nationalistic attacks. Where some saw the Secessions' promotion of foreign art as beneficial to domestic production, others whined that these exhibitions sullied the nation's artistic integrity. The move to define and defend Expressionism as a distinctly Germanic style grew out of such critiques. Some printmakers justified their efforts by allying themselves with Dürer and the native Gothic tradition, invoking a mystical German reverence for wood. Arguments like these gathered steam after World War I, which had decisively shattered all illusions of transnational European cohesion. In the catalogue of what may have been the last significant "International Black-and-White Exhibition," held in Salzburg in 1921, a hope was expressed that art could somehow heal the nationalistic wounds left by the war. It was not to be.

Printmaking, too, was transformed by World War I. Ironically, the inflation that hit Germany and Austria in the years immediately following the war proved a boon to print publishers, as consumers rushed to invest their nearly worthless currency in any sort of tangible property. Unfortunately for the publishers, even sold-out editions often did not meet production costs, so much had the money been devalued by the time the bills came due. The rush to publish generated an outpouring of print cycles and portfolios by such artists as Beckmann, Otto Dix and Kokoschka. In this manner, the Expressionist print went out in a blaze of glory. After currency stabilization in 1923, the print market collapsed, and many artists never returned to the medium with comparable vigor.

Other factors also contributed to the demise of the Expressionist print. In the highly politicized atmosphere of postwar Germany and Austria, Expressionism was considered to be a bourgeois affectation. Printmaking was still important as a way of delivering political messages to the masses, but the specifically individualistic, personal and tactile aspects of the Expressionist print were anathema to a new generation of artists who, like George Grosz, worked in the service of a hoped-for socialist revolution. Many Expressionists, of course, continued to produce prints in the 1920s, but some of the most successful printmakers of that era were actually members of the earlier, transitional generation. Artists like Kollwitz and Barlach perfected a direct graphic style that adapted the Expressionists' formal innovations to the presentation of the social and political themes that had always interested them and that were now at the forefront of public consciousness.

In retrospect, the goals set forth by the most ardent ideologues of the Schwarz-Weiss Ausstellung were never fully realized. Drawing did not entirely cease to be subordinate to the "higher" arts of painting and sculpture. Nor did printmaking ever altogether lose its utility as a means of reproducing works in other mediums. Not all the Expressionists, after all, had the inclination to become deeply involved with the printmaking process. Many were quite happy with transfer lithography, which allowed for the easy reproduction of ink or crayon drawings. Throughout Europe, the print came to play a hybrid role: often more fully realized than a drawing, yet freer and more spontaneous than a painting. Certainly Expressionism improved the status of drawing and printmaking, but the "Black-and-White" shows were probably most important for the manner in which they realigned medium and message, creating a new relationship between form and content that in effect set the tone for the entire modernist enterprise.

We would like to extend our grateful thanks to the colleagues and private collectors whose generous contributions made this exhibition possible. Checklist entries include catalogue raisonné numbers, where applicable. Unless otherwise indicated, image dimensions are given for the prints and full dimensions for all other works.