Kirchner and the Berlin Street – Exhibition at the MoMA New York

MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Kirchner and the Berlin Street
Exhibition > November 10, 2008

Kirchner and the Berlin Street is a focused investigation of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s [German, 1880-1938] renowned Berlin Street Scenes of 1913-1915, bringing together seven major paintings of the series, the first time these paintings have ever been shown together.

The Museum of Modern Art. MoMA is the only venue for the exhibition.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [German, 1880-1938]
Street, Berlin (Straße, Berlin). 1913.
Oil on canvas. 47 1/2 x 35 7/8″ (120.6 x 91.1 cm).
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase.
Photograph by Ellen Page Wilson.
© Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern

With the unusual motif of the prostitute, and a visual language of jagged forms, agitated brushwork, acute perspectives, and strident color, the Street Scene paintings evoke the striking contradictions of modern city life, from nighttime glamour and excitement to loneliness, decadence, and danger.

In addition, 60 works on paper examine the artist’s subject matter in the Street Scene series, as well as his working process as it evolved. The exhibition draws from public and private collections in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and the United States, providing the most comprehensive examination of the series to date.

The Street Scene series is considered not only the high point of Kirchner’s career, but also a milestone in German Expressionism. Earlier, as a member of the Brücke (Bridge) artists’ group, Kirchner rejected traditional art as it was taught in the academy, seeking instead a more natural and spontaneous freedom of expression.

In the fall of 1913, at a time of relative loneliness and discouragement, Kirchner began the Street Scene series with unusual resolve and ambition, moving away from the bright colors and curving lines captured in earlier works, and toward a strident palette with angular forms that conjure up the high-pitched energy and lurid atmosphere of Berlin in those years. The fact that this mood was captured on the eve of World War I contributes to the tensions embodied in these paintings.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [German, 1880-1938]
Potsdamer Platz. 1914.
Oil on canvas. 6′ 6 3/4 x 59 1/16″ (200 x 150 cm).
Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
Photograph by Joerg P. Anders. © Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz/Art Resource, New York.
© Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner German, 1880-1938]
Berlin Street Scene (Berliner Straßenszene). 1913.
Oil on canvas. 47 5/8 x 37 3/8″ (121 x 95 cm).
Neue Galerie New York and Private Collection.
© Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [German, 1880-1938]
Berlin Street Scene (Berliner Straßenszene). 1914.
Ink. 20 1/16 x 14 3/4″ (51 x 37.4 cm).
Stiftung Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum–Zentrum Internationaler Skulptur, Duisburg, Germany.
Photograph by Jürgen Diemer.
© Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner [German, 1880-1938]
Red Cocotte (Rote Kokotte). 1914.
Pastel and chalk. 16 1/8 x 11 7/8 ” (41 x 30.2 cm).
Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Graphische Sammlung.
© Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern

Throughout Kirchner’s career, female figures with erotic overtones were among his primary motifs, and vistas of cities also appear frequently. One section of the exhibition explores these subjects, in works from the years leading up to and including the period of the Street Scenes, in an effort to highlight the contrasting approach he used in the paintings.

Kirchner’s representations of the city usually depicted buildings, bridges, and monuments, with people barely noted. Many hint at his prior architectural training. One exception is the painting in MoMA’s collection entitled, Street, Dresden (1908/19), created during Kirchner’s early years as part of the Brücke artists’ group. Its bright colors and spontaneous strokes capture the spirit of shoppers at midday, in contrast to the lurid atmosphere of nighttime Berlin found in the street scenes.

For Kirchner, and the artists of the Brücke group, the female nude was considered a fundamental building block of art. However, they rebelled against the traditional, idealized conception of the body, fostering instead a more open and intimate relationship to nudity. In Bather with Hat (1913), for example, the way in which Kirchner pictures the torque of the body and sway of the hips in the central figure expresses an unrestrained sexuality. When the artists turned their attention to cabaret dancers in the nightspots of the city, it was also in search of an authentic vitality. Kirchner captured a raw and energized emotion through the movements of the dancers’ bodies and their exotic costumes. The vivid eroticism revealed in such work differs from Kirchner’s interpretation of the prostitute in his Berlin Street Scenes, where allure is coupled with alienation, and the “women of the night” come to symbolize life in the modern city.


Kirchner and the Berlin Street is the most extensive consideration of Kirchner’s Street Scene paintings in English, a richly illustrated volume with an essay by Ms. Wye that examines the series through contrasting motifs in the artist’s oeuvre, as well as his creative process. The book is distributed to the trade through Distributed Art Publishers (D.A.P.) in the United States and Canada and through Thames + Hudson outside North America. It will be available in August 2008 at MoMA Stores and online at Clothbound. 9 x 10 ¾ in.; 138 pages; 135 color illustrations. Price: $35.00.

    Text © MoMA The Museum of Modern Art
    Images © Ingeborg and Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern
    All rights reserved


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    Stampfli & Turci Art Dealers – Espaces Arts & Objets


    ~ by Stampfli & Turci on August 24, 2008.

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