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Indepth Arts News:

"German Expressionist Graphics: The Bradford Collection"
2004-08-11 until 2004-10-24
Portland Museum of Art
Portland, ME, USA

The Portland Museum of Art will present an exhibition of 85 masterworks of German Expressionist graphics from an important print collection amassed by David and Eva Bradford, summer residents of Center Lovell, Maine. On view for the first time, German Expressionist Graphics: The Bradford Collection offers a rare opportunity to examine the powerfully inventive character of the German Expressionist movement in provocative portraits, idyllic landscapes, and socially critical satires of German culture produced during the early 20th century. Technically innovative woodcuts, lithographs, etchings, and drypoint prints capture the emotional impact, psychological stresses, and physical sufferings endured by the German people during the traumatic years of the First World War and the severe economic downturn of the Weimar Republic that followed.

The Bradford collection features the work of 16 artists, including self-portraits by Max Beckmann in drypoint, lithography, and woodcut, monumental etchings from Käthe Kollwitz's series on the Peasant War, and prints by Otto Dix that convey the destructive forces of war. Modernist landscapes by Erich Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and experimental portraits by Emil Nolde add to the range and complexity of one the most influential art movements of the last century. German Art historian Peter Selz further explores the diversity of the Expressionist movement in the exhibition catalogue, where he writes about the influence of tribal art of Africa and the South Pacific and earlier German artists such as Cranach and Dürer. He notes especially that "printmaking, with its potential for wide distribution, was no less important to the Expressionist and post-Expressionist artists than was painting."

According to Museum curator Susan Danly, the great strength of the German Expressionist movement as a whole and of the Bradford collection in particular comes from their ability to engage the viewer in an examination of the uneasy confrontation between the self and modern society. "These printmakers firmly believed that their images could change society by pointing out its inequities and making heroes of the downtrodden," explains Danly. "The exhibition looks at the styles of individual artists as well as the important social themes that tie their works together: anti-war images, satires of the bourgeoisie, critiques of prostitution and sexual exploitation, and the intense study of human expression." The investigation of the self takes place most pointedly in the many self-portraits and artist portraits in the collection.

The Bradfords, both psychologists, were particularly drawn to German Expressionist art because of its human dimension. Portraits of people from all levels of society dominate their collection. In their catalogue essay, they write: "Our interest in human experience probably accounts for both our professional and artistic choices. German Expressionism attempts to get below the surface reality, 'under the skin,' to portray some of the deeper feelings and issues with which people struggle." The Bradfords began collecting German art shortly after their marriage in the early1960s, when there was little demand for such art in this country. Now, 40 years later, they have gathered a most impressive collection of works that have become increasingly harder to find and afford. They readily admit that German Expressionist art is not always easy to view, but that "it is powerful, and the collecting and viewing of it has played a satisfying role in our life. Our hope is that others will find a deep connection with it as well."  

As a means of sharing the experience with others on a more permanent basis, the Bradfords have already donated 50 prints from their collection to the Portland Museum of Art. The remainder of the collection of more than 150 prints will eventually become one of the most significant gifts that the Museum has ever received. It adds immeasurably to the Museum's holdings of early modern art and will provide visitors with a broader understanding of modernism as a whole.    


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