Print lovers owe themselves a visit to the UW's Chazen Museum of Art this winter. Two current shows, one showcasing work made at Tandem Press and the other highlighting a collection of prints donated by a UW alum, are essential viewing.
German and Austrian Prints: 1890-1925, which runs through March 3, features pieces donated by Barbara Mackey Kaerwer, who began collecting art more than a half-century ago. Her focused collecting and generosity have left the Chazen with a fine set of European modernist works. The show mixes works by major names like Franz Marc, Wassily Kandinsky and Max Beckmann with some gems by lesser-known artists. Styles range from late-19th-century art nouveau to expressionism.
I was drawn to a pair of 1899 etchings by Heinrich Johann Vogeler, Stork Over the Pond and The Blackbird. Printed in blue-black ink, Vogeler's etchings have a delicate, serene realism.
Utterly different stylistically is Karl Schmidt-Rottluff's 1915 woodcut, Female Head. Bold, elemental forms dominate, reflecting German expressionists' interest in African art, among other influences. While it's possible to make woodcuts that are finely detailed, Schmidt-Rottluff and like-minded artists opted for thick black lines and shapes. The woman in this piece takes on a universal quality rather than being a portrait of a specific individual.
There are many nuanced portraits in this show, however, including a sensitive one of composer Gustav Mahler that begins the exhibition. Emil Orlik's 1902 drypoint shows Mahler in profile, with what seems to be the faintest of smiles. It radiates a certain intelligence, just as Max Oppenheimer's 1913 portrait of Thomas Mann does. Fine lines that emanate from Mann's eyes and head are like an outward manifestation of his intellectual intensity.
There are numerous self-portraits in addition to these portraits of other artists, writers and musical figures, suggesting the rich cultural climate of the time.
George Grosz's 1917 lithograph Moonlit Night touches on urban themes and the exciting yet dangerous aspect of life in the big city. His composition is layered and somewhat chaotic; the two main figures in the foreground seem shifty or vaguely threatening.
This show is eclectic in both styles and themes, and that's just fine. In the span of three and a half decades, we can see the progression from art nouveau and realism to more urgent, expressionistic work. Kaerwer's gift to the Chazen is full of visual treats, and being able to see them along with the Tandem show of larger-scale contemporary prints (on display through Feb. 3) makes a winter trip to the museum even more worthwhile.