"To Make Things Visible": Art in the Shadow of World War I

(February 3 - July 19, 2009)
South Ambulatory

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s 1915 painting Self-Portrait as a Soldier and four powerful self-portraits by Max Beckmann serve as the focal point of this exhibition of primarily drawings and prints dating from about 1910 to 1925. The emotional drama and psychological intensity of the works on view—underscored by Kirchner’s disturbing vision of himself as a soldier with his painting hand chopped off—suggests the increasingly varied ways artists sought to express the human condition.

Also on view are early Symbolist and Jugendstil explorations by Edvard Munch, Wassily Kandinsky, and Gustav Klimt alongside highly expressive graphic works—some of them direct responses to World War I—by German artists Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Käthe Kollwitz. After the war, a younger generation of artists such as Otto Dix and George Grosz followed a new path of social criticism in powerful explorations of the brutality of war.

Exploiting a wide range of themes—portraiture, cityscapes, the circus or variety-hall, and religious imagery—these artists sought to communicate a deeper understanding of the world around them. “Art,” Paul Klee famously wrote in 1920, “does not reproduce what is visible, but makes things visible.”

This exhibition, curated by Abbe Schriber (OC ’09) and AMAM Director Stephanie Wiles, was organized in conjunction with Leonard V. Smith and Annemarie Sammartino, Department of History, Oberlin College. Support for the development of this exhibition was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Click here to listen to a podcast on Kirchner's Self-Portrait as a Soldier.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German, 1880 - 1938)
Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915
Oil on canvas
Charles F. Olney Fund, 1950
AMAM 1950.29