Thoughts on the summer exhibition of the Wittenberg Christian Art Foundation
By Christhard-Georg Neubert
Works on paper lure visitors into a quiet rendezvous in the intimate rooms of the Christian Art Foundation. From the abundance of the foundation's own collection, a thematic exhibition presents the broad spectrum of the human search for happiness and integrity as reflected in art.
It is fascinating to feel the seriousness, emphasis and artistic form with which the works of art to be seen here woo the viewer's eyes and mind. It is as if the same question were inscribed in all the sculptures in different ways: "What is man?"
In front of the archaic woodcuts of a Schmidt-Rottluff, for example, or in front of Emil Nolde's "Prophet" one can literally hear the wood splintering when the knife is used. Light-dark contrasts dominate the scene throughout. They encourage the eye to focus on the essentials. Sometimes works in delicate halftones fascinate, such as that of Käthe Kollwitz's "Visitation"; there the concealing darkness becomes, so to speak, a "formula of dignity" (B.-W. Lindemann). As soon as we get involved with the strong pictorial symbols of this exhibition, we notice the seriousness with which the threatened individual is defended artistically. We become witnesses to the partisanship that does not come to terms with what is.
No reconciliation speaks from the leaves! Instead, taking sides for the inalienable and yet permanently questioned, contested, and often defenseless human rights to dignity, integrity and freedom from violence, which are often exposed to scorn and ridicule.
All of the artists who have their say in this exhibition dispense with pictorial strategies that can be found in many different ways in today's art world, such as irony or subtle humour. These strategies have probably largely shaped the viewing habits of most people. The omission of them may irritate; may contribute to the fact that some of the works shown here appear strange to us. No wonder: the horror and suffering of the world wars, the absence of peace, the pain about the consequences of grief and suffering are deeply inscribed in all of the sculptures without exception. In view of the military attack on the Ukraine and the suffering of the refugees, we almost feel the lasting topicality of these works of art.
Against this background, it is worthwhile to understand and comprehend that and how biblical images, parables, scenes provide the material to address existential basic questions of human life. A closer look reveals that and how even the most recent art is shaped by the Western Christian tradition. Anyone who encounters the most recent works by artists gathered here, such as Katerina Belkina, gets an impression of this. Her work 'The Sinner' (see fig.) could perhaps be read as an early contribution to the MeToo debate. But how old the subject is is made clear by the biblical reference of her picture. 'Lucifer' and 'Archangel Michael' by the Leipzig painter Michael Triegel stand side by side like two antipodes. From a Christian point of view, the battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light has been decided. Or maybe not. How much of this dichotomy do people carry within themselves and how do they deal with this phenomenon? The new exhibition draws visitors into the never-ending network of questions whose answers only have a limited half-life.
Max Beckmann | Born 1884, Leipzig (DE)
Katerina Belkina | Born 1974, in Samara (USSR)
Joseph Beuys | Born 1921, Kleve, Niederrhein (DE)
Marc Chagall | Born 1887, Vitebsk (BY)
Otto Dix | Born 1891, Gera-Untermhaus (DE)
Günter Grass | Born 1927, Danzig (DE)
George Grosz | Born 1893, Berlin (DE)
Keith Haring | Born 1958, Kutztown, PA (US)
Bernhard Heisig | Born 1925, Breslau (DE/PL)
Edgar Knobloch | Born 1968, Bad Frankenhausen (DE)
Käthe Kollwitz | Born 1867, Kaliningrad/Königsberg (DE/*RU)
Michael Morgner | Born 1942, Chemnitz (DE)
Emil Nolde | Born 1867, Nolde (DE)
Pablo Picasso | Born 1881, Málaga (ES)
Arnulf Rainer | Born 1929, Baden, Niederösterreich (AT)
Christian Rohlfs | Born 1849, Niendorf (DE)
Georges Rouault | Born 1871, Paris (FR)
Michael Triegel | Born 1968, Erfurt (DE)