27. January - 21. May 2018 Bucerius Kunst Forum Hamburg

KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Geweihfarn in der Mitte. 1957. Brücke-Museum Berlin. Karl und Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Masken. 1938. Brücke-Museum Berlin. Karl und Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Mädchen aus Kowno. 1918. Brücke-Museum Berlin. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Spiegelnder See. 1936. Museum Folkwang Essen. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Stillleben um Glaskugel. 1952. Brücke-Museum Berlin. Karl und Emy Schmidt-Rottluff Stiftung. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

The Magic of Things

The exhibition Karl  Schmidt-Rottluff: The Magic of Things will be the first to  examine the famous "Brücke" artist’s fascination with non-European art and cult objects and his lifelong artistic reception of the magical powers invested in them. From 27 January to 21 May 2018 the Bucerius Kunst Forum presents some 80 works by the artist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, a member of the "Brücke" group. Spanning over 50 years of his career, the presentation includes sculptures,  paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints. 

The works are placed in direct dialogue with African and Oceanic objects from the extensive ethnographic collection of the artist. New findings resulting from research on the artist’s estate is revealed as the exhibition illustrates the stylistic and thematic inspiration behind some of Schmidt-Rottluff’s works and how he transferred motifs directly into his paintings. 

A fascination for African and Oceanic figures and masks pervades Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s entire oeuvre. A native of Chemnitz (1884–1976), the artist began to collect non-European art in the 1910s. One of the first indications of this enduring interest is a postcard Schmidt-Rottluff wrote to his fellow Brücke artist and friend Erich Heckel on which he sketched a figure from Cameroon.

In 1915 art historian Rosa Schapire gave Schmidt-Rottluff a copy of  Carl  Einstein's book "Negerplastik", which contained 119 illustrations of African masks  and sculptures. This represented the first attempt to consider African art from an aesthetic point of view. Many parallels can be found between the objects pictured in the book and Schmidt-Rottluff’s works, which had already begun to feature non-European art at this time. His sculptures likewise reflect his ongoing engagement with the aesthetic and spiritual qualities of non-European tribal art, among them "Grünroter Kopf" (Green-Red Head, 1917).

During the First World  War, he expressed his fascination with African and Oceanic art mainly by way of woodcuts and etchings. The non-European influence is particularly evident in the ornamental design of the surfaces and the proportions of the figures, which often display features such as large heads, prominent breasts and short limbs.

The path taken via woodcuts and sculpture was extremely important for Schmidt-Rottluff’s efforts to find his own style. During this period, he elaborated sculpturally on elements that were already hinted at in his woodcuts from the  pre-war years, also coming closer to his role models in terms of technique and material. This phase resulted in over 30 carved wooden figures and heads, including "Blauroter Kopf" (Panischer Schrecken) (Blue-Red Head [Panic], 1917), which with its concave face shape and mouth puckered into a circle evokes marked associations with African masks. 

During the Third Reich, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff was one of those denounced as a "degenerate artist", and he responded by withdrawing into inner emigration, producing still lifes with an enchanted mood of reverie that can be understood as  a silent dialogue with gods and guardian spirits.

After the Second World War, Schmidt-Rottluff’s resurgent feeling of artistic  power can be felt in his vibrant use of colour, for example in  Landschaft mit Brücke (Landscape with Bridge, 1955). His enthusiasm for non-European art and cult objects continued throughout his whole oeuvre.

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