‘Concentrate!’ follows a progression from 1350 to our own times. One new element of the displays is a dialogue across time, a series of unexpected encounters and some unanticipated confrontations. Significant interruptions to the pre-eminently chronological flow, sometimes subtle at others more prominent, find works inserted from outside the historical context of each room and outside the generally chronological sweep of the galleries. This gives us an opportunity to explore unusual juxtapositions. It offers insights into questions of form, content and meaning across time. These are, after all, fundamental issues of common concern to many artists during all periods in the history of art. This new display gives us a fresh opportunity to find new ways of looking at many of the best known and well-loved works from the Staatsgalerie’s permanent collection.
Quick navigation through the rooms:
The distinct character of Late Gothic painting north of the Alps, was shaped by a wide range of cross-cultural contacts. Works by the Master of the Darmstadt Passion, by the Master of the Sterzing Altarpiece and by Bartholomäus Zeitblom testify to the impact of Netherlandish art on early German painting and to the emergence of a number of discrete regional styles.
In his adopted city of Bruges, Hans Memling developed a style that combined the achievements of his illustrious Netherlandish predecessors with the ideals of the Cologne school.
Journeys, such as those most likely undertaken by Hans Holbein the Elder in his youth, provided a conduit for the swift dissemination of new trends. Thus Holbein’s entire oeuvre is marked by a painterly culture that had grown to maturity under artists such as Dieric Bouts.
The Master of Messkirch, who was active between 1515 and 1540, also followed the western-oriented ideal, yet at the same time he was receptive to new stimuli that were coming in from Italy and disseminated through the Dürer school.
This in conjunction with the artist’s close study of the landscape painting of the Danube School gives the Wildenstein altarpiece its distinctively »modern« look and singular mood. The juxtaposition of medieval paintings and works by Max Beckmann and Wilhelm Lehmbruck invites a dynamic conceptual exchange across the centuries.
The medieval fresco cycles by the Tuscan painter Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) have been regarded as the beginning of modern Western painting ever since Vasari described them in the 16th century. The groundbreaking affective power of his work laid the foundations for a new interaction between picture and beholder.
In 1862, the Stuttgart gallery acquired its first Early Italian panel painting. For a long time, the depiction of the vision of Emperor Augustus by a Venetian Master remained the only work in this specialised and at the time relatively new area of interest. A number of spectacular acquisitions have since expanded the holdings; among them are the painted crucifix by a Florentine master and, above all, the two Erbach panels that are reminiscent of Giotto’s lost depictions of the apocalypse in Naples. Klee’s trumpeting angel, too, is thematically rooted in the Biblical apocalypse, and though he is the product of a different artistic sensibility, he shares the formal simplicity of the Early Italian masters.
In 1971, the bequest of Freiherr von Preuschen, the former head of the Galerieverein, augmented the collection with 36 Early Italian panel paintings, among them – albeit fragmentary – one of utmost art historical importance. Fra Angelico’s painting was produced around the time of the publication of Alberti’s celebrated treatise »De Pictura« on the techniques of central perspective in Florentine early Renaissance painting
Room 29 brings together works of the Flemish and Dutch schools. Important paintings by Jan van Amstel and Pieter Bruegel the Elder – the unsurpassed masters of Flemish landscape art – and tonal »city portraits« that are based on the sublimation of nature by the Haarlem painters Jan van Goyen and Salomon van Ruysdael allow the viewer to track the multifaceted development from the wide-ranging world landscape to the intimate Netherlandish »national landscape«. Despite the obvious differences, the paintings have much in common. The depiction of Biblical history as a small-scale, seemingly incidental event is evident both in the painting by Jan van Amstel and in that by Claude de Jongh. Rembrandt’s early masterpiece St Paul in Prison touches the viewer with its unusual interpretation of the saint. Unlike the more conventional portrayals of the apostle as fully conscious of his worldly dignity and spiritual authority, Rembrandt presents a profoundly shaken human being struggling to comprehend divine truth. The genre of the small-scale cabinet painting on copper is represented by the Munich painter Johann Rottenhammer and his Utrecht colleague Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael. [start of page]
Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475-1567) was an artistic titan who towered head and shoulders above his contemporaries in much the same way that Pablo Picasso later dominated the 20th century. Central to Michelangelo’s as to Picasso’s work was the human body. The Toilet of Venus of 1558, by Giorgio Vasari – a painter and architect who has become chiefly known as a biographer – is steeped in the spirit of Michelangelo’s late work. The Mannerist motif of the figura serpentinata, the gracefully twisted pose that encourages the eye to move around the figure and take in the whole, continued to influence sculptors through the centuries and is still evident in Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s sculptures. The focus on the human body is also manifest in the startling painting of the Dead Christ by Annibale Carracci, one of the most important pioneers of Baroque painting.
The acquisition in 1852 of the Venetian Pinacoteca Barbini-Breganza, one of the most extensive collections of Italian Baroque paintings, augmented the holdings of the museum with works by, among others, Carpaccio and Renieri. The highly individual character of the Stuttgart collection becomes apparent in works by artists such as Pietro Faccini or Florentine Baroque painters such as Giovanni Biliverti that are rarely seen in other museums. The holdings of Neapolitan Baroque paintings are represented by a single monumental work by Mattia Preti. [start of page]
»The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.« Mark Twain’s witticism astutely captures the formative impact of the arts on the perception of Italy. So fascinated was the duc de Choiseul in the mid-18th century by the architecture, sculpture and painting of ancient Rome that he commissioned Giovanni Paolo Panini to paint an imaginary gallery presenting the monuments of the past. The sublime lines of antique originals also inspired Gottlieb Schick’s portraits of Heinrike Dannecker and Wilhelmine Cotta. Similarly rooted in classical sculpture is the statuesque dignity of Anselm Feuerbach’s monumental Iphigenia, the artist’s third version of the subject. Here, as in Henry Moore’s Draped Torso of 1953, figure and drapery form an inseparable unit. Moore, who had initially sought to use drapery to heighten the tension of the body, professed himself astonished by the »Greek« look of his sculpture. Picking up on the theme of the classical draped figure, Giulio Paolini’s Allegory of Painting is set in a tightly constructed central perspective space – a reflection on the past, present and future of artistic creativity. [start of page]
In his 1793 essay On Grace and Dignity, Schiller defined beauty as poised halfway between dignity and sensuality, reason and instinct. Schiller’s friend and fellow student Johann Heinrich Dannecker achieved this sense of balanced poise in his small-scale sculptures, most of which served as models for monumental marble groups. While the tender encounter of Cupid and Psyche is permeated with a lingering sense of Rococo grace, the artist’s Ariadne Riding a Panther juxtaposes the voluptuous beauty of the nude rider with the dangerousness of the wild animal.
The tamed sensuousness of the Ariadne group contrasts sharply with the eruption of raw animal violence in Eugène Delacroix’ small painting which nevertheless fulfils the artist’s stipulation that a picture be a »feast for the eye«. The turn from idealism to romanticism is palpable in landscape painting as well. Man is the defining measure of Joseph Anton Koch’s wide landscape spaces, and it is his presence alone that gives meaning to sublime nature. Friedrich and Hodler, on the other hand, create tightly composed spiritual spaces that invite the beholder to explore a new reality, which is accessible through the painting alone. [start of page]
This room brings together a wide range of artistic responses to a movement that came to be known as »Impressionism« in 1874 and that significantly broadened the scope of art. Claude Monet, the first to have called one of his paintings Impression, sets his Fields in Spring alight with vibrating colour combinations that turn the picture into a visual event.
Both Lovis Corinth and Eduard Manet, whom the German artist much admired, use brushwork to express not only what they see but also how they see it. Degas’ and Slevogt’s closely observed and carefully judged arrangements of figures and space deliberately tap into the tradition of Renaissance and Baroque painting. Medardo Rosso’s Concierge – whose original glass case serves to heighten the multifaceted ambiguity of this female portrait – successfully translates Impressionism into the medium of sculpture.
Rodin’s Iris, Messenger of the Gods, assembled from a number of stock fragments, put to the test for the first time a compositional method that was to attain great significance in the early years of the 20th century, for example in Léger’s »tubism«. His abstract painting of 1913 transcends the notion of »impression« by presenting movement and colour that are no longer rooted in concrete visual experience. [start of page]
French modern artists looked to Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin as the leading pioneers of a novel pictorial concept that ascribed more real substance to the work of art than to the visible world.
Although Picasso had come across Cézanne’s work during his second stay in Paris in 1901, the monochrome restrained works of Picasso’s Blue Period – such as the Seated Woman with a Hood of 1902 – betray a closer affinity to Gauguin’s handling of the plane and contour line. The elegiac mood, too, is reminiscent of Gauguin’s mysterious visions of the South Seas.
It was not until 1907 and the comprehensive retrospective exhibitions commemorating the artist’s death in 1906 that Cézanne’s work began to exert a powerful influence. For Picasso, Georges Braque and, a little later, Juan Gris, Cézanne’s rigorously pared-down constructive compositions became the starting point of a novel pictorial architecture, which has become known as Cubism – a name that had originally been coined with derisive intent. The Cubist painters unified Cézanne’s pictorial space in favour of a cubic conception of all elements of the painting. That said, the object remained the starting point of all geometric investigation, although towards the end of what has come to be known as Analytical Cubism – Braque’s Violin of 1912 may serve as an example – it appears to have all but disintegrated. [start of page]
Presenting the Norwegian Edvard Munch, who from 1893 to 1908 divided most of his time between Berlin and Paris, the Austrians Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, the Germans Emil Nolde and Franz Marc and the Russians Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej von Jawlensky, this room brings together the pioneers of early 20th-century Expressionism whose shared passionate quest for immediacy and the liberation of art from academic constraints transcended national lines.
Portrait painting reached new heights of psychological expressiveness in the poignant and unsparing works of Kokoschka and Schiele that »get under the skin«. Their nervous line and deftly applied paint probe the surface of outer appearance for unseen forces and intimations of fateful destiny.
More abstract and characterised by luminous clear colours and shapes are the celebrations of the cosmic experience of nature by the artists of the Blue Rider, an informal association of artists founded in 1911. Franz Marc evokes the primordial oneness with nature by structurally interweaving animals and pictorial space. Kandinsky’s landscape composition of 1910 stands on the threshold to pure, non-objective colour orchestration, while Jawlensky, who was also close to the Blue Rider Group, devoted himself namely to pared-down, increasingly mystical portraits. [start of page]
Expressionism’s transformation into a form of scathing social critique, which was particularly virulent in Germany, was exacerbated by the experience of the First World War. However, a mood of impending doom had begun to permeate German art well before the outbreak of the war. Kirchner’s dramatically agitated street scene and Meidner’s apocalyptic vision appear to sense the approaching upheaval, while Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s figure of a fallen warrior, Georg Grosz’s street scene and Otto Dix’s Match Vendor embody the disillusionment of an entire generation. Decades younger, but no less battered and torn is the central figure in Georg Baselitz’s painting, a descendant of the damaged heroes braving a chaotic world that brought the artist to international attention in 1965.
The paintings by Max Beckmann and Pablo Picasso convey a sense of existential crisis through a more subjective and symbol-laden pictorial language. They reflect the post-1933 period of Nazi terror and war and articulate the prevailing sense of insecurity and threat in the fateful headlong plunge of a couple tied to an enormous pair of fish, or in a sombre, sarcophagus-like piece of furniture. By contrast, the earlier works of both artists use complex symbolism in order to address the transcendental nature of art. [start of page]
Compared with the sense of anxiety and the complex visual vocabulary encountered in Room 36, the Bauhaus artists Oskar Schlemmer, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger und Laszlo Moholy-Nagy present a more optimistic sense of a new beginning and a more constructive notion of form. The artists sought to overcome the devastation of the First World War through all-embracing design and the erection of the »building of the future«, which would enable man and architecture to live in a harmonious, symbiotic relationship.
This cross-discipline approach is also embodied in Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet of 1922, which laid the foundation for a balletic constructivism that focused not so much on the body and its movements as on the comparatively rigid sculptural costumes. The dancer, or figurine in Schlemmer's terms, defined space in a sequence of stylised movements that followed a strict choreography.
The preoccupation with metaphysical questions that was central to Schlemmer’s work is also manifest in the work of other Bauhaus colleagues, where it finds expression in the subtle lighting of Feininger’s prismatic, dematerialised architectural visions, in Klee’s increasingly rational works produced shortly before and after his appointment at the Bauhaus as well as in Moholy-Nagy’s transparent geometrical composition. [start of page]
»Everybody is an artist in the sense that everybody can create something. This would overcome the alienation of the world of work; it is a therapeutic process, but also a warmth generating process.« This is how Joseph Beuys described what differentiates his work from that of other artists. He did not paint pictures nor did he create sculptures in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, he sought to trigger processes. His works are the result of performances and actions during the course of which material was transformed through warmth and energy. What counts is the process, not its artistic result. The transformation of »poor« materials such as fat, iron, felt and rubber into symbols for the flow and conduction of thermic energies becomes an emblem for man’s abiding capacity of and need for change. Art can point the way to this transformation – Beuys believed in the healing power of art and made frequent references to an »art salve« and an »art pill«. Beuys held that the purpose of the work of art can only be achieved when ideas remain in a state of flux: »It takes people to keep ideas moving forward; they become rigid in works of art and eventually get left behind.« [start of page]
Two themes dominate in this room: how works of art are constructed, and colour in art of the 20th century. Hans Richter’s polyphony of colours rises rhythmically from a solid red square at the base of the painting. It conveys movement, expressed in pure, abstract forms. Mondrian’s abstraction, loosely assembled into a grid, is still based on observation, here of a façade of a building. In each, however, there is a sense of verticality, one of the main elements of the painting by Barnett Newman which hangs between them. Newman’s provocatively titled painting, a reference to Mondrian’s use of only primary colours, detaches colour entirely from any descriptive function. A sequence of paintings in the other half of the room shows the importance of structure whatever is represented. A division into two sections is strikingly present in Blinky Palermo’s abstract construction, as well as between the sea and sky in two works from different epochs by Gerhard Richter and Gustave Courbet. The agitated paint handling in the Courbet, emulating the movement and energy of scudding clouds, finds an echo in the vigorous, mottled surface in Gerhard Richter’s abstract picture of a century later. [start of page]
Made of a wide variety of different materials, Bruce Nauman’s work tackles questions of sensory perception and the relationship between experience and the cognitive process. Central to the artist’s work is the investigation of the human form, facial expression, language and movement. Equally central is the active involvement of the viewer. Focusing on the interaction of individuals, Nauman explores socially conditioned behaviour patterns and their immanent opposites such as violence and affection, horror and humour, life and death. With its seemingly playful use of light, the neon installation Shaking Hands comments wryly on the interdependence of male posturing and competitive aggression. Caught in an endlessly repetitive sequence of motions, the neon figures puncture space with bright, aggressive flashes of light. The polarity of human relations is also evident in the sculpture Rinde Head / Andrew Head. The inescapable confrontation of the two disembodied heads mounted on a plinth and connected by a breathing tube oscillates uneasily between striking intimacy and subliminal brutality. [start of page]
Earthy materials and a direct engagement with the surface of the work become primary forms of representation in many of the paintings in this room. The dripped paint in Pollock’s art builds into a dense, mobile network of paint trails. Dubuffet’s enigmatic ‘Texturology’ is equally informal, but structured into a collaged patchwork of dripped sections in earthy colours. Both Tàpies and Kiefer move beyond the use of paint to include other materials such as concrete, sand and straw. Grappling with a troubled period in German history, these early paintings by Kiefer, through their inscriptions, become arenas – in one a scorched field – through which a terrible past is confronted. Less demonstratively, the punctured neutral grey surface of Tàpies’ painting might be viewed in the context of his growing up during a turbulence of Spain’s internal struggle between democracy and fascism in the 1930s. Both artists in different ways politicise their imagery through representation and materials. [start of page]
Across time and through contrasting approaches to painting, the works in this room share a common theme. Fate is the thread spun through the woman’s fingers of Pietro Bellotti’s unusual painting of wizened old age. The fragility of life finds expression in Warhol’s updated, but traditional, depiction of the memento mori . Dramatic events where destiny decides the fate of individuals form the other, related, theme in this room. It is dominated by Jeff Koons’ picture of the cartoon figure, The Incredible Hulk. He is provoked into drastic actions and destructive rages. In Burne-Jones’s ‘Doom Fulfilled’, part of a celebrated cycle of paintings about the Perseus legend, the hero here slays a mythical serpent to rescue Andromeda.
Similarly violent is the extraordinarily sober and precisely rendered depiction by Cranach of Judith holding the head of Holofernes, an enemy general whom she had to decapitate in order to escape captivity. While less monstrous than these other visions and deeds, Pia Stadtbäumer’s five heads have an unsettling strangeness, their skin peeled back around the mouth to reveal unseen inner layers. [start of page]
Concentration and dilution, weightlessness and gravity, stillness and vitality, seclusion and a network of invisible trajectory lines come together in Walter de Maria’s 25-Meter Rod. The elegant shape belies the sculpture’s massive four-tonne weight. The intimations of colour and the reflective finish of the highly polished brass rods allow the sculpture to interact and merge with the surrounding space. Created specifically for the space it occupies, the work’s affinity with Land Art is evident in its site specificity and dimensions. Unlike the artist’s Vertical Earth Kilometer, a brass rod of 1000 metres length driven deep into the ground during the 1977 Documenta, the 25-Meter Rod connects points on the surface of the earth and creates an awareness of its curvature by approaching it as a tangent. The rod marks the point where the tangent comes closest to the earth’s surface – it is here that the beginning and the end of infinity collide, the very centre of the human cosmos. As in the 5 Continents Sculpture of 1987, which was also created for Stuttgart and is now part of the Daimler AG art collection in Stuttgart-Möhringen, the number 5 constitutes the base measure of the work’s outer dimensions. Central to each of the three works is the evocation of a sculptural awareness of space and, more specifically, of the space that is our planet. [start of page]