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Carl Heidenreich and Hans Hofmann in Postwar New York
Carl Heidenreich and Hans Hofmann in Postwar New York
May 21 through October 3, 2004
Parallel lives of art and exile viewed through a lens of abstraction
Berkeley, CA, 1 April 2004 — The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents Carl Heidenreich and Hans Hofmann in Postwar New York from May 21 through October 3, 2004. The exhibition pairs the works of two contemporaries whose parallel lives of art and exile occasionally overlapped, first in Germany and later in New York. Guest curated by Alla Efimova, the exhibition examines each artist's turn to abstraction as a postwar artistic strategy, focusing on works from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, with paintings and watercolors by Carl Heidenreich drawn from public and private collections, and paintings by Hans Hofmann from the BAM/PFA collection.
Hans Hofmann (1880--1966) is well known both as a painter and as a teacher who was influential in the artistic formation of two generations of artists. Less familiar is Carl Heidenreich (1901--1965), a generation younger and among Hofmann's first students in Germany, whose early political activism resulted in exile, displacement, and the destruction of his works. Hofmann had the foresight and opportunity to leave Germany early, moving to New York in 1932. Heidenreich stayed on, enduring persecution, imprisonment, and loss before their paths would cross again.
With the world's largest public collection of Hans Hofmann paintings, BAM/PFA takes an ongoing interest in exploring the effects of Hofmann's teaching on his students and colleagues. As parallel and counterpoint to Heidenreich's artistic legacy, the exhibition in the Hofmann Gallery includes four paintings by Hofmann from the BAM/PFA collection — Fantasia (c. 1943), The Third Hand (1947), the long vertical Song of the Philomel (1963), and The Clash (1964) — that demonstrate Hofmann's growing mastery of abstract visual effects.
Born in Bavaria in 1901, Carl Heidenreich traveled to Munich to study painting at age sixteen, and by the early 1920s was enrolled at the School of the Visual Arts founded by Hofmann in 1915, considered among the most progressive art schools in Europe. The school's philosophy and curriculum, based largely on ideas promoted by Kandinsky, Matisse, and the Fauves, was articulated in an early prospectus that asserts: "Art does not consist in the objectivized imitation of reality...[f]orm receives its impulse from nature, but it is nevertheless not bound to objective reality; rather it depends...on the artistic experience evoked by objective reality and the artist's command of the spiritual means of the fine arts, through which this artistic experience is transformed...into reality in painting." Heidenreich absorbed Hofmann's teaching, and into his mature years continued to assert principles of abstraction first learned at the Munich school.
In 1933 plans for a solo exhibition at Berlin's Galerie Nierendorf showcasing Heidenreich's brooding cityscapes came to a disastrous and abrupt halt with the election of Adolf Hitler. While Heidenreich's paintings did not label him a "degenerate," his political activism in anti-fascist movements did — he was denounced as a communist, his show forbidden, his studio ransacked, 200 pictures destroyed, and he was jailed at Moabit by the Nazis. After his imprisonment, he fled to Paris and Barcelona, leaving his wife and young daughter in Berlin with the remainder of his works, another 300 of which were later lost in bombings. Through the intervention of Hofmann and others, he managed to leave Europe at the last moment, sailing from Marseilles in 1941. In New York, Heidenreich joined a large community of German exiles, found jobs in factories, and eventually was able to resume his work as an artist.
Heidenreich's watercolors and oil paintings record his journey of exile and reveal influences of German Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism in the postwar decades. The earliest works on exhibit, from 1930--31, are rare surviving examples from his German years. Works from his fugitive years in Europe chronicle points of exile, including an oil sketch of Modelo Prison (1939) from his imprisonment in Spain; French Camp Scene (1940); and Martinique Seascape (1941), created on the Caribbean island en route to New York.
Heidenreich's abiding state of unease with his displacement and exile persisted in his artistic output during the 1940s and 1950s as he moved toward non-objective abstraction, which he found more effective for communicating emotional and spiritual states. He produced perhaps his most remarkable painting in 1960, Untitled (Frame), which synthesized his spontaneity and focused sense of purpose. Only once did he appear to break out of the prevailing mode of abstraction, with Kennedy Assassination (1963), an uncharacteristic narrative painting whose realism connects back to his European years. In 1963 and 1964, Heidenreich's works were shown in Frankfurt and Berlin. After his death in 1965, his works were distributed among friends and collectors, and have not been shown publicly for over three decades.
Curator Alla Efimova writes that Heidenreich's surviving works "tell a tale of a man who lost everything — family, possessions, and all of his art in the escalating progress of war — struggling to replace and recuperate his loss." Heidenreich's efforts to absorb and come to terms with the traumas in his life are evidenced in abstract compositions in which effects of space, illumination, and other phenomena combine to set up an internal dynamic flow (what he called "pictorial motion"), in which recognizable images and forms emerge, recede, and at times disappear completely, spiraling through layers of colors and marks. Today Heidentreich's work is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Carl Heidenreich and Hans Hofmann in Postwar New York is organized by BAM/PFA and curated by Alla Efimova, chief curator, Judah L. Magnes Museum, Berkeley, and formerly associate curator at BAM/PFA. BAM/PFA is the only venue for this exhibition.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book, Carl Heidenreich, by Gabriele Saure. The book, available in the Museum Store for $29.95, includes prefaces by Alla Efimova and Peter Selz, a biographical essay by Gabriele Saure, and illustrations of works in the exhibition. Call the Museum Store at (510) 642-1475.