Friday, June 27, 2014

Expressionism (pt. 6)

In the case of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Expressionist artwork could be about distinguishing the artist apart from the crowd.  In this painting, titled Street, Berlin, from 1913, the artist creates a highly caricaturized vision of the public crowd.
Elaborately dressed aristocrats step center stage onto a variant of a "rolling-out-the-red-carpet" event.  Shades of purple, black, and white convey a royal status of high-class social elites, as if to assert that these are the most prominent among the members of the public sphere.  But Kirchner has painted the scene with tension.  Behind the glitz and glamour of the rich is an artificial elegance that reveals itself to be quite flat.  What at one glance is a group of lively, wealthy, and exciting people is at another glance a bunch of stick figures painted two-dimensionally on a canvas.  From their pointy feet to their stick-skinny hands, these figures are anything but full (like the apples in Cézanne's still life).  Their fickle joviality is here mocked and satirized, instead of painted honestly through the Impressionistic lens of realism.  The two women in the foreground are identified as prostitutes and the men behind her, who are barely given distinguishable facial features, are characterized almost as animals.  In decadent society, Kirchner's painting seems to suggest, it's the only way in which one sees other people.  Conveying the stylishness of the contemporary culture, the artist adds a dark tone of portentous ill-omen that would foreshadow World War I.

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