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Block to Explore Artists' Responses to War and Social Unrest

December 12, 2006 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- This winter Northwestern University's Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art will explore artistic responses to World War I and the ensuing social unrest of the early Weimar Republic in the Main Gallery exhibition “From the Trenches to the Street: Art from Germany, 1910s-1920s” (Jan. 19 through March 18).

The exhibition -- one of four new exhibitions opening in January 2007 -- will feature prints, drawings and paintings by renowned German artists, including George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Conrad Felixmüller, Käthe Kollwitz and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.

The Block Museum also is organizing a number of public programs to enrich the dialogue created by its winter exhibitions.

World War I was a formative experience for many German artists in the early 20th century. Although originally enthusiastic about the potential of the war to renew society, many artists were eventually disillusioned by the brutality and carnage they witnessed. As the artist George Grosz, who served as an infantryman during the war, wrote in his autobiography, “The promise of great adventure had made way for filth, lice, monotony, disease and deformity.”

While the Weimar Republic is often considered a separate and discrete period, the Block Museum's Winter 2007 exhibition brings together artwork made during and after the war to suggest both the connections and discontinuities between World War I and the Weimar era. Despite the chaos of the times, art, particularly print work, flourished in Germany during the 1910s and 1920s, often as a tool for education, social reform and political action.

Drawing from the Block's own collection and from other public and private collections in the Midwest, “From the Trenches to the Street” includes examples of government-sponsored portrayals of soldiers and battles, anti-war works, depictions of the declining social conditions in postwar Germany, and portraiture, which emerged as a challenge to the vast anonymity of death and the subsuming of individuality experienced during the time.

To complement this exhibition, the Block will exhibit a selection of prints created by the famed German artist Lovis Corinth. Corinth's work manifests a nervous energy that reflects the volatile times in which he lived. However, in contrast to his younger contemporaries who directly addressed the trauma of war or urban chaos, Corinth increasingly turned to traditional subject matter in the final years of his life. “Lovis Corinth: Weimar Period Prints” (Jan. 19 through March 18) in the museum's Print, Drawing and Photography Study Center, will include some of Corinth's self-portraits alongside prints with biblical, mythological and historical themes.

The Dada movement was also born out of World War I, its rejection of reason and logic a deliberate reaction to authority. Dada embraced nonsense, irrationality and spontaneity in a range of art forms, including the then relatively new medium of film. In the Ellen Philips Katz and Howard C. Katz Gallery, the Block will present “Nonsense and Experimentation: Dada Film Shorts” (Jan. 19 through March 18), a diverse selection of experimental films by artists Viking Eggeling, Man Ray, Hans Richter and Marcel Duchamp.

Born in Germany between the two World Wars, Wolfgang Gäfgen, who now lives in Paris, creates highly detailed, richly textured depictions of everyday, familiar objects such as drapery, jackets and suitcases. Working primarily in the laborious technique of mezzotint, Gäfgen creates masterful prints with lush surfaces and tonalities. The recognizable subjects on view in the Alsdorf Gallery exhibition “Wolfgang Gäfgen: Portfolios” (Jan. 19 through March 18) are treated as abstract forms so they appear detached from a particular place, time or nationality. In contrast to other works on display at the Block this winter, Gäfgen's approach represents a post-World War II interest in abstraction and an international perspective.

Weekend tours of the Block Museum's winter exhibitions will be offered at 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday beginning Jan. 30 through March 18.

Unless noted, the following Block Museum programs are free and open to the public.

Block Associate Curator Corinne Granof will discuss the Block Museum Winter 2007 exhibition “From the Trenches to the Street” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, during the annual Phyllis Weil Ellis Lecture in a talk titled “Art and Activism in Early 20th Century Germany.”

Kevin Kinney, a Milwaukee art collector who is lending works to the Block for the exhibition “From the Trenches to the Street,” will lead the gallery talk “The Collector's Perspective” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15. The discussion will be followed by a reception.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, scholars from the fields of Germanic studies and art history will gather at the Block for the symposium “Visual and Literary Culture in Germany Between the Wars.” Participants will include Dora Apel, associate professor of art history, Wayne State University, Detroit; Reinhold Heller, professor of art history and Germanic studies, University of Chicago; Kent Hooper, professor of German, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Wa.; Paul Jaskot, associate professor of art and architectural history, DePaul University; Rainer Rumold, professor of German, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University; and Debbie Lewer, lecturer, history of art, University of Glasgow, Scotland.

Rumold and Lewer will facilitate a book club-like discussion of art in the exhibition “From the Trenches to the Street” and important texts from the time, such as “All Quiet on the Western Front,” in “Art and Literature in Weimar Germany,” a public seminar at the museum from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1. Advance registration is required. The cost, which includes all reading material, is $10 for Block Museum members and $15 for nonmembers. Call (847) 491-4852 to register.

The Block will continue its popular series of family programs from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, with “Portfolios of Geometric Abstraction.” After exploring prints in the exhibition “Wolfgang Gäfgen: Portfolios,” children aged 7 to 14 and their parents, grandparents or guardians will create their own prints using unconventional techniques such as potato and sponge printing. They also will assemble their own artist portfolios to preserve their work. The family program is free for Block Museum members and $5 per family for nonmembers. Pre-registration is required by calling (847) 491-4852.

The Block Museum is located at 40 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern University's Evanston campus.

For more information on the Block's Winter 2007 exhibitions and programs, visit <www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu> or call (847) 491-4000.