The Kupferstichkabinett presents Willi Baumeister’s drawings in the first comprehensive museum exhibition of his work in Berlin since his major retrospective at the Neue Nationalgalerie in 1989.
Born in 1889 in Stuttgart, Baumeister was a passionate and meticulous draftsman throughout his life. This is particularly true of the artist’s period of ‘inner emigration’ during the Nazi era, when it was nearly impossible for him to paint in the studio. Instead, he covertly made hundreds of drawings in Bad Urach in the Swabian Alps. But even in the preceding years – Baumeister was awarded a professorship by the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main in 1928 – drawing was an essential part of his work. It served fundamentally not only as a preparation for painting or as a method of reflecting thereupon. Nor was it merely used to develop print editions. Rather, the drawings – at times in colour or made on coloured paper – are pictorially condensed compositions that stand on their own, revolving time and again around the theme of the abstracted human figure, and its movement and placement on surfaces and in space. Until the 1930s, the line was of central importance in his art.
From the late 1910s up until Baumeister’s death in 1955, he created stylistically striking groups of work – including the Sportbilder (sport pictures), the Flämmchenbilder (small flame pictures), and the Ideogramme (ideograms) – in which the figure gradually develops into a pictorial icon, an organic cipher, which Baumeister also placed in literary narrative contexts in the 1940s. One of the decisive figures bridging pre-war Modernism and post-1945 German and European abstraction, Baumeister was committed to the figurative ‘prototypes’ that he enthusiastically found in prehistoric cave paintings. His private collection of non-European objects contained a world of forms that was also a source of inspiration to him, as it was, to an extent, to the contemporaneous Surrealists.
Both the exhibition, curated by Andreas Schalhorn, and the catalogue, published by Wienand Verlag, include around 100 works. In addition to the 1930 painting ‘Femme’ – on loan from the Nationalgalerie – and approximately 50 drawings by Baumeister – many of them on loan from the Archiv Baumeister im Kunstmuseum Stuttgart and from a private collection – the exhibition also features prints by the artist from the Galerie des 20. Jahrhunderts, on display for the first time in years. Additionally, comparative works by his contemporaries and friends (including Otto Meyer-Amden, Oskar Schlemmer, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Karl Otto Götz, and Jackson Pollock, among others) from the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett will be on display. Individual works by artists of subsequent generations, including Philip Guston and A. R. Penck, are a conclusive testament to Baumeister’s pioneering talent for figurative expression on paper.