Kirchner’s angular unhotties

I saw the Kirchner exhibition at MoMA yesterday, and found his use of jangly discordant color, combined with obsessively repetitive, diagonal brushstokes completely original and engaging. His daily practice involved drawing miles of linear, knotty pencil sketches, and the sketchbook display alone (he produced hundred of sketchbooks) is worth the trip. Here’s how Dan Bischoff from The Star-Ledger describes the show: “The ‘street paintings’ are famous for their angular distortion and putrid color schemes, for their uncompromising ugliness, in fact. And, of course, for the innumberable pictures of distorted women that became a touchstone for Modern art throughout the rest of the 20th century. Oddly enough, they have never been seen together before. It’s almost as if Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) painted the pictures Joey Ramone would have painted (if Joey Ramone could have painted pictures). The figures are totally Punk — crudely drawn, the compositions crammed and full of apparent afterthoughts. Nothing stays central, everything spins around in jagged shapes that look as if they’re done with a crayon. …There isn’t really anything lascivious about these pictures, no ‘look at the hottie for sale’ quality. The same is true of the 30 drawings and the digital sketchbook you can page through that also are included in this show. If anything, Kirchner seems to identify with these prostitutes –like artists, they deal in beauty without assurance of support, always on the lookout for a patron who will last. Good luck.” Read more.

Ken Johnson thinks the figures “resemble praying mantises or queen wasps, and the men who lurk about them are like anonymous drones. Kirchner was not a gifted painter,” Johnson continues, “but his paintings have a bracing ugliness and a burning emotional intensity. Looking at his claustrophobic pictures is like seeing through the feverish eyes of a lost and tormented soul.” Read more.

Kirchner and the Berlin Street,” Musuem of Modern Art, New York, NY. Through November 10.

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