Two Shows I’m Excited About for Early 2009

While I absolutely adore contemporary art, the art historian in me loves the shows that look back and examine long-forgotten periods of history. There are two shows in particular that I’m dying to see and both open in February:

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Unearthing the Truth: Egypt’s Pagan and Coptic Sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum (February 13–May 10, 2009)

This exhibition presents the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection of Late Antique stone sculptures (A.D. 395–642), including several reworked or repainted objects and some that appear to be modern forgeries.

In addition to mythological and Christian motifs, these works include plant and animal designs that were apparently used by both religious groups. Sculpture of this type was little known when it began to appear on the market shortly after World War II, and remained virtually unstudied even into the 1960s and 1970s, when most of the Brooklyn examples were acquired.

For a review of the Brooklyn Museum’s pieces, a curator of Egyptian Art joined the Museum’s objects conservators, and they also consulted outside authorities on Coptic art and on the sources of Egyptian stone; much of that work is still ongoing. This exhibition focuses on the work done so far, and especially on the stylistic characteristics of the works, both ancient and modern.

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The Birth of Expressionism: Brücke in Dresden & Berlin, 1905-1913 at the Neue Galerie (February 26-June 29, 2009)

Anyone who directly and genuinely renders what drives him to create is one of us, proclaimed the manifesto of Die Brücke (The Bridge), a close-knit group of artists who first met in Dresden in 1905. Its founding members were four Jugendstil architecture students: Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.

Eschewing the contemporary academic styles and subjects, these four artists instead looked to their German art heritage to make “a bridge” with the past, favoring such artists as Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder. They also drew on Fauvist and Primitivist art in their quest for unhindered expression and, with this combination of resources, propelled German art into the twentieth century.

In works by Die Brücke, color diverged from nature and became a record of emotion; forms were radically simplified, or exaggerated and distorted; bohemian subject matter argued for a Socialist politics. Their nudes, landscapes and urban scenes–featuring depictions of dances, cabarets, cafés and the sorts of street encounters that were typical of Berlin in the years after 1911–are among the greatest works produced by early-twentieth-century artists.

The exhibition will fill the whole mansion museum and include important paintings, sculptures and prints by Heckel, Kirchner, Otto Mueller, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. (mostly via)