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From October 25, 2018 until January 27, 2019, the exhibition Beckmann. Figures of Exile is open for visitors at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Max Beckmann (Leipzig, 1884 – New York, 1950) was one of the greatest examples of European painting belonging to the first half of the 20th century. Having a parallel trajectory to the one of his contemporary Kirchner, he is sometimes labeled as an expressionist; however, he rejected any label whatsoever. His pieces are a reflection of the times he lived in, the horror of the two world wars, and the trauma of exile. His work is the representation of his world: refined, raw, sensuous, dramatic, and violent. In it, color and horror, party and grief, masks and mystery, the sea, confusion, and anguish live alongside each other amidst chaos brimming with contradictions.
His works are allegorical compositions
Through his compositions, it seems that Beckmann wanted to tell us something; by cutting on the bias of the grotesque and the distorted, he has the intention of accentuating, with those differences, what he appreciated: the vital tension that a confusing and decadent emotional ambience distills. He accomplished it with the expressive power of his brushstrokes filled with color and with his black lines resembling edges. By making use of a desperate creative confession –in a way–, Beckmann talks to the viewers through his work and invites them, with his allegorical-metaphorical language, to share and interpret his world: a chaotic, upside-down world; a dilapidated and without-remission world that holds the human being captive with temptation and pushes downward on the fall, as evidenced in Falling Man, from 1950.
This artist expresses the horror of war, which he lived up-close as a volunteer nurse during World War I. Through visual metaphors, he expressed the violence that he saw and suffered. He also portrayed the alienation that he felt after leaving his country: he suffered from vertigo; he left what he knew and what he loved behind, in order to face an uncertain future. He ended up losing himself at the city of exile, Babylon, capital of temptations, city host to a blurry atmosphere; city that owns a hidden force, and where people forget who they are.
Through his art, Beckmann talks to us about his time
Chronicler, not only of his times but of his circumstances, throughout his life Beckmann painted self-portraits several times. By means of his stare and gesture, he expressed issues such as his relationship with the world, the meaning of life, and man’s destiny. In each of his self-portraits he adopted a different role, as if he were questioning his own identity.
A world that wobbles, and the worry, instability, vertigo, and nausea that this caused him was expressed through his stare. He went from being a known artist and an art professor to being labeled as a painter of “degenerate art” (as called by Nazism), which forced him to flee his homeland and become an immigrant, losing, in a way, his own identity. He survived, then, as a street artist; he portrayed himself as hiding under a mask, as a circus or cabaret performer.
Beckmann portrayed the bourgeoisie and the high spheres of the early-20th century society in an ambience of joyous party, in evasion of the painful and uncomfortable reality. Clusters of characters saturate his paintings, existing alongside mutilated bodies, in silent pain (Begin the Beguine, 1946), which go unnoticed, if you don’t want to look at them, due to their cornered position. They all decide to disinhibit themselves, forget and dance the waltz, self-satisfied; they dance to the beat of an orchestra and a society about to blow up in a million pieces. Beckmann also painted the sea, and he did it to address exile (Cabins, 1948), the remoteness of the unknown, the continuous movement. In this manner, he also represented the fate to which the sailor submits, which is brimming with risks and perils. Beckmann had to live through turbulent times, and that was what he expressed in his tormented work.
Exhibition: Beckmann. Figuras del exilio. On display at the Thyssen-Bornevisza Museum from October 25, 2018 until January 27, 2019. At CaixaForum Barcelona from February 20, 2019 until May 28, 2019
Curator: Tomás Llorens
Main picture: long, red dress, and platform shoes with buckles by Gucci
Second picture: jacket by La Condesa, green pants by Soeur for Pez,
sandals by Stuart Weitzman courtesy of Finally
Third picture: blouse and printed pants by Liujo
and white shoes by Pura López courtesy of Finally