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The Museum of Modern Art to Present

First Comprehensive Survey of
Max Beckmann's Oeuvre
in New York since 1964...

Max Beckmann, "Self-portrait"

Only U.S. Showing Opens June 26, 2003, at MoMA - QNS

Max Beckmann (German, 1884-1950) was a leading modernist painter who followed a notably individualistic patch in a prolific career spanning most of the first half of the twentieth century. While he never led a school or professed a particular formal approach, Beckmann made a profound mark on painting in that period, and his impact can still be seen on current generations of painters. The first comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work in New York since 1964, and the fist in the United States since 1984, the exhibition comprises 107 works, focusing primarily on painting – including four large-scale triptychs- augmented by sculptures, drawings, and prints. The show concentrates on three pivotal periods in Beckmann’s career. 1918-1823, 1927-1932, and the late 1930s into the late 1940s. Mac Beckmann is jointly organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Musee national d’art moderne/Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Tate Modern, London. This institutional collaboration enabled MoMA to gather works of art not often lent, offering a rare opportunity to view masterworks from Beckmann’s entire oeuvre. The New York presentation also includes eleven works not exhibited in Paris or London, including two triptychs and several self-portraits.

A naturalist and symbolist early in his career, Beckmann reacted to the shock of World War I, in which he served as a medic, by radically altering his artistic approach. Through the 1930’s, he was among the painters associated with the New Objectivity, a movement that portrayed the violence and conflict of postwar German society. Responding to Cubism and Expressionism, Beckmann also looked back to German Gothic sculpture and painting, and developed a distinctive style that combined intense color, angular and increasingly flattened forms, and bold gestural outlines that he used to portray frequently apocalyptic psychological intensity. Widely admired by the 1920s as on of Germany’s most important modernist painters, Beckmann was subsequently denounced by the Nazis-he was the most heavily represented artist in their polemical anti-modernist exhibition Degenerate Art of 1937 – and he fled to Amsterdam, where he remained in isolation through World War II, developing a complex, extremely personal mythological treatment of a world in crisis, which is most fully represented by his triptychs and complex allegorical paintings. Beckmann came to the United States in 1947 and taught at Washington University in St. Louis before moving to New York City, where he died in 1950. 

Max Beckmann, "Hell of Birds"

An excerpt from “The Beckmann Effect” by Robert Storr*

“Beckmann’s experience of the First World War gave the space towards which he had been groping unexpectedly sharp new dimensions. His intense drawing and etching during this period produced the first intimations of his dramatic transformation from an ambitious stylist entangled in the hand-me-down conventions of the nineteenth-century grand manner, to a painter working simultaneously out of his own experience and out of art historical precedents newly suggested by and appropriate to it. More than any other time in his life Beckmann’s rhetoric seemed to match the actual dynamick of his art. There is a breathless quality to the letters he wrote while in uniform, a feeling of hyper-alertness and anticipation that diminishes only gradually as weariness takes over and the carnage mounts. For Beckmann as for Leger and many others of their generation, war was a revelation.

In 1915, Beckmann, by then working as a medical orderly at the Belgian Front, noted:

Yesterday I was off duty. Instead of going on some short trip or another, I plunged like a wild man into drawing and made self-portrait [sic] for seven hours. I hope ultimately to become ever more simplified, ever more concentrated in expression, but I will never – this much I know – give up fullness, roundness, the vitally pulsating. Quite the contrary, I want to intensify it more all the time – you know what I mean by intensified roundness; no arabesques, no calligraphy, but rather fullness and plasticity.

Compare the vigour of this assertion of the importance of ‘fullness, roundness, the vitally pulsating’ with the defensive tone that creeps into his previous belittling of Matisse and Picasso. And consider that all around him were buildings and bodies that had been – or would be – smashed and fragmented.”

* Robert Storr

Robert Storr, organizer of Max Beckmann, is the Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He was senior Curator of the Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, from 1999-2002. Previously he served as Curator since 1990, with primary responsibility for contemporary art.


The Max Beckmann Retrospective Exhibition will be open on June 26, and will remain until September 29, 2003 at the MoMA QNS, 33 Street at Queens Boulevard, Long Island City, Queens

This issue is dedicated to the legendary author and scientist Sir ARTHUR C. CLARKE for his 85th Birthday...


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