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"Cries in the Night: German Expressionist Prints around World War I" opens at the Cincinnati Art Museum
Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944), Three Riders in Red, Blue, and Black from “Klänge”, 1911. Color woodcut. Museum Purchase: Anonymous Gift in memory of Helen Pernice, 2014.2. Copyright through ARS.

CINCINNATI, OH.- This Summer, the Cincinnati Art Museum presents “Cries in the Night: German Expressionist Prints around World War I”, on view June 21 through August 17, 2014. Dive into the artistic history of World War I with this eye-opening exhibition which brings to life the birth of Expressionism and the impact of the Great War on German Expressionist artists. This exhibition is the Cincinnati Art Museum’s contribution to “Cincinnati Remembers”, a series of community events honoring World War I, presented by the Cincinnati Opera.

The birth of Expressionism is linked to the establishment of two main groups of German artists; the Brücke (the bridge) group and the Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) group. The Brücke group began in Dresden, Germany, on June 7, 1905, and consisted of four architectural students at the Königlich Technische Hochschule, the city’s technical college. They saw themselves as catalysts for the overthrow of the established order in both art and life. As painters and printmakers, the founders; Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Fritz Bleyl, worked and exhibited collectively. Emil Nolde was associated from 1906 to 1907; Max Pechstein joined in 1906 and Otto Mueller participated in 1910. Stylistically the simplification and flatness of their bold and jarring woodcuts influenced their reductive painting style. These artists took an interest in “primitive art” and their work was influenced by both historic German Gothic art and ethnographic objects from Africa and the South Pacific. These young artists explored the human form, landscapes, and risqué popular entertainment in their work.

By 1910, Berlin was the largest city in Germany and the home of the avant-garde Expressionist movement. The Expressionists recognized that the urban lifestyle could be dehumanizing and alienating; they also celebrated the city as an exciting glamorous place teeming with nightlife attractions.

The second group of Expressionists was Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider) which organized in Munich in 1911 and lasted until World War I broke out in 1914. Unlike the tight-knit Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter included a loose association of painters who were in agreement with the aesthetic and philosophical ideas of its founders Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. At its core, the group sought to counteract the corruption and materialism of their generation through the use of abstracted forms and bright colors, which they felt had spiritual value. As reflected in the group’s name, the horse and rider was a major motif for Kandinsky and Marc’s principal theme focused on animals as symbols of rebirth. This time of apocalyptic transformation, as well as the result of World War I and its aftermath, drew Expressionists artists to Christian themes and motifs as a means to understand events in spiritual and mystical terms. Thus the Expressionist stylistic approach and religion became intertwined.

By 1920, artists like George Grosz were critical of German society and politics. Grosz expressed this through caustic caricatures of generals, profiteers, industrialists and prostitutes while addressing feelings towards greed for money and power which caused war, poverty and oppression. “This exhibition touches upon the impact of political conflict and people who were personally affected by World War I,” said Kristin Spangenberg, Curator of Prints, “The war had a tremendous impact on how avant-garde artists created their art and lived their lives.”

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