I went to an art museum

by Blaise Rego

all photos in this post were taken by me unless linked in photo caption

Over the past week I was in Montreal and was able to go to the Museum of Fine Arts (MBAM), an incredible art museum that bridges art and cultural history. What stood out to me was art from German artist from the post war period that used abstractism to convey deeper ideas and emotion. Three paintings stood out more than the rest did, they each expressed the nature of post war Germany but each painting did it a unique way.

Abstractism in art links the philosophical idea abstractism, the idea that your mind links new concepts with ideas that you have already learned with the artistic properties of abstract art. In a sense it explains why heavy brush strokes and dark colours can create emotions such as anger and sadness whereas light brushstrokes and light colours can harken happy or lighter emotions.

In Nazi Germany art was heavily censored. Adolf Hitler had rigid views on the art that the Third Reich would produce. He sponsored a campaign against “degenerate art” (i.e., what is viewed as modern art) stating that it had no place in Nazi Germany. Similar to most fascist ideology, they viewed artistic modernity as an extinction of modern ideals and wished to go back to “the good old days”. Hitler felt that art being produced at the time was too contaminated by Jewish influences and instead wished for Nazi artists to be inspired by Roman and Greek painting and art styles (romantic realist art). The postwar art on display at MBAM used the degenerate art style that was banned against by the Nazi to display the emotion and conflict that engulfed Germany in the post-World War 2 period.

Couple in Landscape – Ludwig Dettmann, an example of romantic realism

The painting “Landscape near Koblenz” struck me as I walked into the gallery as unlike the rest of the room, it seemed photo realistic and vivid. What struck me when reading the plaque was how the painter Gerhard Richter looked to weave a space in-between socialist realism  (art that was viewed to be communist) and abstraction. His painting described by the artist himself was stated to be “capitalist realism”, it evokes memories of the art the Nazi’s pushed to the forefront of the German art world with one striking difference. He states that any landscape that he creates is only temporary and it could be wiped out and erased in a moment. This harkens back to the idea that the war and the devastation that followed the invasion of Germany was still in the German collective imagination.

The other two paintings “Rechts und links eine Kirche – Jörg” (Right and Left a church – Jörg) and “Deutschland Café XIII” deeply pull at the idea that the German collective imagination was still fractured in the post war state. In “Deutschland Café XIII” by Jörg Immendorff (the subject of the other painting) there is clear symbolism of a broken Germany in the dead eagles strewn on the left side of the painting. With their necks seemingly broken it pushes the idea of the once strong and powerful German culture being killed in the conflict between the east and the west. 

The second painting “Rechts und links eine Kirche – Jörg” by Georg Baselitz evokes the divide between the east and the west using one white church and one muddled colour church with the painter Jörg Immendorff strung upside down between them. The dark colours contrasting with the bright paint and heavy brush strokes surrounding the strung up Immendorff create emotional weight when looking at the painting.  The red brush stokes give the viewer a sense that a violent act occurred and that the body that it upside down is being pulled in between the two churches. It evokes a notion that Germany was being pulled in two separate ways and the end result may be bloody.

Rechts und links eine Kirche – Jörg – Georg Baselitz

When viewing these paintings in person they evoked deeper emotions than I was expecting. The feelings of brokenness and conflict were palpable and the small placards beside the paintings gave greater depth to these feelings. I realized that the greatest asset of modern art was the ability for greater depth of emotion for the viewer through colours, textures, and symbols. This flies in the face of the Nazi logic about painting as realist art cannot always convey the emotions brought through abstractism. In the post war period German artists use degenerate art to demonstrates the conflict and the discontent that was created within the German collective imagination following World War II.

The following is just a quick art museum review – NOT PART OF OPED

So it was awesome, I had no expectations but the collection was extensive. The permanent collection had artists ranging from Picasso to Salvador Dali to Monet. Seeing paintings by these painters was bit awe inspiring and felt a little like checking a box off on the ever growing list of artists and art that I want to see before I die.

I was super fortunate to go when a Jean Michel Basquiat exhibition was being shown. I knew a little about him and his life before but I was blown away by his story and his artistic range. Before his death at 27 he worked with Andy Worhal, created TV and films, painted and created music. I will not do him justice by explaining here but if you are at all interested take an hour and do so research on him, it is well worth the effort.

The only criticism I would have of the museum was that the flow (ie. how you walk through and see everything) was less than optimal. Over the course of 4 hours I was only able to see maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of the collection. There is a who collection of Canadian art through history that I wasn’t able to get too but it gives me something to look forward to next time I am in Montreal.

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