Before the classical music season begins in earnest next month and my calendar fills up, I've been trying to see as many notable art exhibits as possible. One gallery that never fails to stage excellent shows is the Galerie St. Etienne on West 57th Street, and the current exhibit of recent acquisitions is no exception.
As with all the gallery's shows, the emphasis is on German Expressionism and the artists shown here represent pretty much all the movement's greatest figures. Pride of place is naturally given to the two greatest Viennese artists of the early twentieth century, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. Their stylistic differences are highlighted here in their respective posters for two different Secession exhibits held twenty years apart. Klimt's poster for the First Exhibition of the Vienna Secession (1898) is a color lithograph on cream wove paper. Its artwork and lettering is deliberately classical and is notable for the large white area that takes up almost the entire midsection. (It's also worth pointing out that this particular copy is from an alternate edition in which blackened tree trunks have been added to the top tier in order to mask male nudity.) In contrast, Schiele's poster for the 49th Secession Exhibition (1918), a lithograph in black, yellow and reddish brown on yellowish poster paper has a much more pronounced Expressionist appearance right down to the heavy rough lettering. Of course, there is more at work here than just a difference in individual artistic temperament. Europe itself had changed almost beyond recognition from the Belle Époque period during which Klimt had created his poster to that following the conclusion of World War I when Schiele, so soon to die, completed his artwork. To many it must have seemed that civilization had irretrievably given way to chaos.
Other works on view by Klimt include several pencil studies , the best of which is Portrait of a Girl with Braids (1917-1918), a study for the uncompleted painting The Bride. As for Schiele, two of his 1911 works on paper are among the best in the show. These are Seated Female Nude, Back View and Standing Female in Shirt with Black Stockings and Red Scarf. In both, the use of bright red gouache brings the subject vividly to life. I was disappointed that a later work from 1916, Portrait of an Officer (Josef Duras), had already been sold and shipped by the time I viewed the exhibit.
Other major Expressionists represented at the show were Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Käthe Kollwitz, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Erich Heckel, a veritable Who's Who of the greatest German artists of the twentieth century. It would have been worth going to the exhibit to see the work of any one of these.
Exhibits at the Galerie St. Etienne are always accompanied by literate scholarly essays, and the one at this show that deals with the current state of the art market is especially enlightening as it gives the reader an insider's opinion where things are headed. Until reading it, I had not known that "it has been estimated that overall sales decreased by approximately 7% in 2015, and a further 11% in 2016. Auction sales, which are easier to calculate, dropped by between 18.8% and 26% in 2016 alone." This is alarming news not only for dealers but artists as well. And the process is uneven with certain sectors dropping in sales, if not value, more rapidly than others. The article, available on the gallery's website, is well worth taking the time to read.
The exhibit continues through October 13, 2017.