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The Städel Museum to Present the Exhibition "Beckmann & America" in October
Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Backstage, 1950. Oil on canvas, 101 x 127 cm. Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2011.

FRANKFURT.- The last loans have been secured, technical and logistic preparations are in full swing: Frankfurt’s Städel Museum will present Max Beckmann’s (1884–1950) condensed late work against the background of the last years of his life and his artistic production in the USA in a major special exhibition starting on October 7, 2011. With more than 110 exhibits, including fifty paintings as well as numerous drawings, watercolors, printed graphic works, and sculptures, the show “Beckmann & America” offers a comprehensive survey of this important artist’s fascinating last creative period. After living and teaching in St. Louis from 1947 on, Beckmann finally moved to New York where he also accepted a teaching position and where he died walking through the city in 1950. From the point of view of the artist’s evolution, these years on American soil were decisive: marking a new beginning for and a further development in his work, they will be the subject of a monographic exhibition for the first time.

For Frankfurt am Main, where Beckmann lived, worked, and taught at the Städel School from 1915 to 1933, this project is of special importance: the Städel Museum boasts a rich collection of paintings, drawings, printed graphic works, and sculptures by the artist and has presented a series of exhibitions on specific aspects and periods of his oeuvre. A comprehensive exhibition dedicated to Beckmann was shown as early as 1947. Subsequent shows included, among others, exhibitions focusing on his triptychs (1981), his early paintings (1983), his Frankfurt years (1984), a retrospective (1990/91), as well as presentations of his printed graphic work (2001 and 2006). The exhibition highlighting the artist’s American years thus concludes the sequence of shows exploring the individual stages of Beckmann’s career.

The exhibition is realized on the initiative of the Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain as part of the project “The Phenomenon of Expressionism,” whose final phase it ushers in. Since August 2009, more than twenty cultural institutions in the Rhein Main region have centered their activities on this early-twentieth-century epoch characterized by a new start and a spirit of innovation in substantial monographic presentations, retrospectives, exhibitions, concerts, film and theater projects, as well as a symposium. “The Phenomenon of Expressionism” is the first cooperative project of the Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain. The Städel’s elaborate exhibition venture is being carried out with the help of BNY Mellon as Corporate Sponsor. Thanks to the support provided by this internationally operating financial services company, numerous rarely seen works by Beckmann are being brought together in Frankfurt for the show.

Taken up several years ago, the loan negotiations for the large-scale exhibition project have been concluded in the meantime; crucial loans such as the triptychs "Departure" from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, "The Beginning" from the Metropolitan Museum New York, or "The Argonauts" from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C. could be secured for the show. The anything but easy transport of these extremely valuable large-format works – the triptych "Departure" from the MoMA alone measures 2.15 x 3.15 m – poses a veritable logistic challenge. "The Descent from the Cross" (1917) will also return to the city on the Main for the exhibition. This was the first of Beckmann’s paintings to enter the collection of the Städtische Galerie at the Städel, having been purchased by former Städel director Georg Swarzenski directly from the artist’s studio in 1919. It was confiscated by the Nazis in 1937 and presented in the exhibition “Degenerate Art.” Today, it is part of the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Max Beckmann lived and taught in the United States from the late summer of 1947 on. It was only after his ten-year exile in Amsterdam that the artist was able to realize his long-cherished plan to emigrate to the United States in 1947. He spent the last and extremely productive years of his life far from Europe. The new continent held numerous encounters with other people, journeys, and impressions in store for the painter. St. Louis, Missouri became his first home in America; he stayed for two years and held a guest professorship at the city’s Washington University.

In the fall of 1949, he moved to New York, where he taught at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Frequent shorter and longer journeys took him to the Midwest, to Chicago, to New Orleans, to Boulder, Colorado, but also to California and the West Coast, for example. The spatial expanses of the foreign continent – its coasts and the atmosphere of its “wild” landscapes, as well as the cosmos of its metropolises – were a new physical experience for Beckmann which became a perceivable source of inspiration for his art. In the midst of his new life, Max Beckmann suffered a heart attack and died on a street corner near New York City’s Central Park.

With three thematically independent exhibitions – “Beckmann & America” in the Städel Museum (October 7, 2011 – January 8, 2012), “Max Beckmann. Face to Face” in the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig (September 17, 2011 – January 22, 2012), and “Max Beckmann. The Landscapes” in the Kunstmuseum Basel (September 4, 2011 – January 22, 2012) – this autumn art season offers the unique opportunity to explore Max Beckmann’s manifold oeuvre in a profound manner.

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