MoMA Presents German Expressionism The Graphic Impulse

German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse focuses on the explosive production of graphic art—prints, drawings, posters, illustrated books, and periodicals—associated with Expressionism, the broad modernist movement that developed in Germany and Austria during the early decades of the 20th century.

The movement encompasses a host of individuals and groups with varying stylistic approaches who shared a commitment to intense, personal expression and the desire to achieve a heightened awareness of what it is to be human. A confluence of forces—aesthetic, social, political, and commercial—encouraged virtually every painter and sculptor working in Germany at the time to take up the graphic mediums, giving rise to an unprecedented renaissance, particularly in printmaking. This graphic impulse extends from the birth of Expressionism, around 1905, through the difficult war years of the 1910s into the turbulent postwar years of the early 1920s. Artists in the exhibition include Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, and Egon Schiele. Organized by Starr Figura, The Phyllis Ann and Walter Borten Associate Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books, The Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition is on view from March 27 to July 11, 2011.

The exhibition, featuring more than 250 works by nearly 30 artists, is drawn from The Museum of Modern Art’s exceptional holdings of German Expressionist prints, enhanced by selected drawings, paintings, and sculptures from the Museum’s collection. Expressionist books and periodicals from the Museum’s Library and posters from the Architecture and Design collection are also included. The first major exhibition devoted to German Expressionism at MoMA since 1957, it marks the culmination of a major four-year grant from the Annenberg Foundation to digitize, catalog, and conserve all of the approximately 3,200 Expressionist works on paper in the Museum’s collection. MoMA’s holdings represent one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of this material outside Germany. Through the generosity of the grant, all 3,200 works are accessible to the public on the Museum’s website, where a major online feature has been designed for both general audiences desiring an introduction to Expressionism, and for researchers and specialists who wish to study the works in greater detail.

The Expressionists took up printmaking with a dedication and fervor virtually unparalleled in the history of art. The woodcut, with its jagged gouges and boldly flattened, primitivizing aesthetic, is known as the preeminent Expressionist medium, but the Expressionists also revolutionized the mediums of etching and lithography to alternately vibrant and stark effect. Through printmaking the Expressionists were able to pioneer key formal innovations, to disseminate their images and ideas more broadly, and to engage with the urgent social and political issues of the day.

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