Practically a next door neighbor to the mammoth Metropolitan Museum, Neue Galerie in New York City was a modest and exquisite museum, which specializes in early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design, and has become much wider known due to its addition of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt, after a landmark judgement over its ownership, claimed by Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, and the original owner's heir, resided then in the US.
That Klimt was indeed amazing and mesmerizing; however, to me, the most engaging painting was a self-portrait by German painter Max Beckmann, Self-Portrait with Horn. This painting had all the hallmarks of this remarkable artist in his artistic maturity: bold black outlines, amazing interplay of light and shadow, clashing yet harmonious palette, economically abstracted forms and shades, somewhat stylized stiff arms and hands, and above all, an unflinching inspection of the sitter and primal emotions emitted from the painting. The artist as the subject was somber, severe, yet fearfully curious, gazing tentatively and intently into the mouthpiece of the gleaming white horn his stiff hand barely held, with his head boldly framed by the golden frames behind him on the wall, and compressed by the narrow space defined by a red partition at the right edge of the canvas — a picture of a man being challenged and confronted by unknown destiny and conditions. Though severe and slightly menacing, the painting did not depress or repel, rather embracing, due to its beautiful and warm coloration and wonderful tonal contrasts, and the rather confident and bold gaze of the sitter.
Image courtesy of DASHBot [fair use]
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's Berlin Street Scene (1913) was an exercise of urban sophistication and wry irony. The painting was almost decorative, yet the seemingly elegant and harmonious existence could hardly conceal the inner angst, apathy, discontent or even contempt the people exhibited. Those stylized figures, with their fanciful dresses, particularly the head gears of those city women, telegraphed that the society Kirchner observed was perhaps both a decadent and depressing one, as however pleasant they looked, there were traces of ludicrousness and meaninglessness in them, which were equally manifested in the more broadly sketched and burdened people scurrying about in the background, and the composed, sure, and searching women in the center of the scene, and some men in the foreground who averted gazes from those glamorous women. A wry commentary on the lack of human connection, or fluidity of genders in then Berlin?
Berlin Street Scene (1913), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My Favorite Museum Collection Series
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List of My Favorite Artworks in the Museums I've Visited
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