Monday, 2 February 2009

Christian Schad Retrospective

Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
The Hague
31 January 2009 - 10 May 2009
The exhibition, a cooperation of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and the Leopold Museum in Vienna, is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue authored by Anna Auer, Thomas Richter and others.

Press release
While Christian Schad's (1894-1982)famous key works that show his decisive contribution to New Objectivity are a chief focus of the exhibition, his early work that was influenced by Cubism and Dadaism will play an equally significant role as the more abstract ones he produced in the 1950s. His multifaceted graphic oeuvre bears witness to an artist who delighted in experimentation until the very end and who was highly skilled in numerous techniques and who repeatedly tread new territory, as his Schadographs and Resopal pictures show.

A comparison with the works of younger proponents of this artistic concept will inspire a re-evaluation of his often underestimated late work in which he returned to Realism in the 1970s: in addition to the realistic painting mastered by Schad, alienated, symbolic elements appear especially in the works from the 1960s and the 1970s. In parallel to works reflecting international art movements of the day such as Pop Art or -Fantastic Realism-, his late works from the 1960s show that the artist, now over seventy years of age, was still very much in tune with the times, indeed even a model for an emerging new generation.

On the exhibition's structure:
1. Cubist, Dadaist and Expressionist early works
Influenced by the expressionist paintings of Oskar Kokoschka, Wassily Kandinsky and Robert Delaunay - which he had seen before 1914 during his years at art school in Munich - Christian Schad produced his first expressionist paintings during a journey to Volendam in 1914. When the First World War broke out in the same year, he was forced to go back to Germany. He first immigrated to Zurich in 1915, where he received key impulses from the lawyer and writer Walter Serner. In October 1915, the two of them published the first issue of their magazine Sirius, which Schad illustrated. Serner introduced him to the Zurich Dadaists around the Cabaret Voltaire, Hugo Ball and Hans Arp, amongst others. Schad's paintings from his Zurich days are grisaille-like and influenced by Cubo-Futurism. They are very often set in cafe's and cabarets; the portrait of Diseuse Marietta is a milestone in his artistic development due to his use of not just colour but also text.

Schad moved to Geneva in 1917, where his first Dadaist works emerged. This was where he invented his Schadographs - photogrammes in which he combined objet trouve's and text. Oskar Kokoschka's influence soon became apparent in some of the ensuing paintings, particularly in those where he draws out the psyche of the portrayed subjects. Schad liked to paint children because of their large eyes, which became a kind of trademark of his New Objectivity phase. In 1918, he made several portraits of patients at the Bel Air Clinic for the mentally ill, the Sonntägliche Clown [Sunday's Clown] being the most striking of all. Emotions and moods are the chief motifs in these paintings; the expressive hands of his subjects and his treatment of the background are reminiscent of Oskar Kokoschka. From 1919 to 1920 a series of Schadographies and Dadaist high reliefs emerged, however, very few of them have survived. In addition to Hugo Ball and Hans Arp, another artist to influence him was Alexander Archipenko. Schad took part in many Dada exhibitions in Geneva.

2. New Objectivity paintings from the 1920s and the 1930s
In March 1920, lack of money forced Schad to return to Munich. He had not witnessed the horrors of the war; he found Dadaist paintings to be -absurd- and Expressionism outdated. In the summer of 1920 he travelled to Rome and then to Naples, where he lived until 1925 with brief interruptions. In 1923 he got married to an Italian woman in Orvieto. Italian Realism, represented by artists like Ubaldo Oppi and Felice Casorati and the group Novecento Italiano, strongly influenced him during these years and he was much more oriented to the Italians than to the socialist inclinations of New Objectivity in Germany. Schad made his first realistic paintings in Naples where he mainly painted portraits, except for the cafe' and theatre scenes whose liveliness he particularly cherished. In the winter of 1921/22, Schad travelled across Germany, where he received several commissions for portraits and became acquainted with many New Objectivity painters.

On his return to Italy Schad visited the museums in Rome, where he had the opportunity to study the work of renaissance painters whose application of colour, -magical gaze-, clarity of form, transparency of colour and eroticism became an important source of inspiration for him. He was especially drawn to Raffael's Fiorina and the works of Botticelli and Mantegna. Schad's portrait of Pope Pius XI from 1925 was largely responsible for his international fame.

In 1925, Schad moved to Vienna, where he lived until 1928. His parents' contacts to the Austrian aristocracy got him several commissions for portraits. Many of these portraits were set before a fictive Parisian backdrop, the best known of them being Selfportrait in Transparent Green Shirt and Model. Schad's main promoter was the gallerist Lea Bondi, who exhibited his works at the Galerie Würthle in Vienna. After his separation from his wife in 1927, Schad moved to Berlin where he lived until until 1942. It was in Berlin that he made most of his important New Objectivity portraits, for which his girlfriend Maika was his favourite model. Schad not only portrayed important personages (such as Egon Erwin Kisch or Count d'Anneaucourt), but also beautiful women from modest backgrounds as well as figures from art circles. A cool expression combined with psychological intensity and a flawless complexion characterised his figures, making his women the ideals of an epoch. The technique of glazing so typical of Schad's work harks back to the Old Masters.

After the Nazis had seized power, many of his works became the target of harsh criticism, but at the same time his soft-focus portraits of ideal women also adorned the covers of magazines and were even in the Great German Art Show. By this time, -the end of New Objectivity- was becoming evident; Schad's paintings now became more expressive and he started painting landscapes. In 1942 he moved to Aschaffenburg, from where he received numerous commissions, and moved there permanently when his Berlin studio was destroyed by bombs. From now on, the semblance to his renaissance ideals became increasingly stronger in his portraits, also because he was at the time copying Matthias Grünewald's altar painting in Aschaffenburg's collegiate church. Schad had to live under extremely dire circumstances until about 1951.

3. Abstract and Resopal Paintings from the 1950s and 1960s
Schad's work from the Post-War years is barely known and several critics find its quality retrograde. This is partially because Art Informel was the only accepted form of modern art in Germany at that time, but Schad, with a few exceptions, had remained figurative. One of the aims of this exhibition is to revise the verdict of his critics. Schad's friendship with Francis Picabia, his admiration for Cocteau (he even staged one of his plays in Aschaffenburg and his line was clearly a model for Schad) and his occupation as curator of an Ernst Ludwig Kirchner exhibition left definite traces in his work. By the end of the 1940s, his work had become more linear, especially his so-called Resopal (plywood) paintings from the 1950s, which had begun to show traces of Pop Art. He now applied the principle of multiple views in his paintings and drawings as the result of his involvement with Picasso's work.

4. The Realistic Late Work
Schad remained true to the realistic form of painting - especially in the few pictures (about one or two per year) that he painted in the final years - which became increasingly characterised by a collage-like technique in which he combined motifs and symbolic content. In the 1950s and the 1960s, exhibitions in East Berlin made his work better known in the GDR which made him an ideal for many artists. Nevertheless, Schad, turned down a professorship offered to him by the art academy in East Berlin. In Aschaffenburg, he studied Joyce's Ulysses, East Asian Philosophy and contemporary history (e.g. monetary reform), aspects of which also flowed into his work in Aschaffenburg.

Later, in the 1960s, he returned to -Magical Realism- by tying in the themes he had addressed in his Berlin days. Paintings like Engel im Separe'e [Angel in the Separe'e] or Pavonia emerged, which symbolically addressed sexuality in bohemian environments. His symbol-laden self-portrait titled Umgebung [Environment], the allegory Das Geld [Money, 1970], Werdandi (1978/80) or his late portraits such as Michael or the last Bettina portraits - even surpass the formal clarity of his works from the 1920s. They remain until today a source of inspiration for artists, e.g., Michael Triegel.

5. Collages and Prints and Drawings
From 1954 onwards, Schad began to produce woodcut prints and lithographies which were partially inspired by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's. He often underlayed the woodcuts with linoleum prints in the form of colourful surfaces. His woodcuts refer back to the early, dadaist reliefs he had made in Switzerland. These works were better known in America where they had been exhibited often. At the end of the 1960s, a series of collages that has never been published emerged at the same time as Pop Art. His highly simplified woodcuts from the 1970s also find parallels in American Pop Art and commercial graphics.

6. Schadographies
A whole chapter of the exhibition is dedicated to the so-called Schadographs. These combinations of objets trouve's and text as artistic medium were Schad's contribution to the Dada movement during his Geneva days. They were also the reason why he was acclaimed in several exhibitions since the 1930s - especially overseas - and often without his knowledge. Numerous high ranking artists, amongst them Man Ray and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, adopted this technique. In the Post-War years, Schad started making Schadographs once again; new series emerged. Since very few of the early Schadographs have survived, or are in a condition to be loaned, this chapter of the exhibition will especially focus on this unusual medium of art by juxtaposing Schad's early and late Schadographies against the works of other artists.

Text credits: Press Release Leopold Museum, Vienna.
Image credits: Christian Schad, Sonja, 1928 (c) Christian-Schad-Stiftung, Aschaffenburg.

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