SELF-PORTRAIT IN WORDS by Max Beckmann

SELF-PORTRAIT IN WORDS

Collected Writings and Statements, 1903-1950

KIRKUS REVIEW

 This first English edition of Beckmann's writings offers a selection of documents illuminating the life and work of the German painter and graphic artist. Beckmann (18841950) belonged to the revolutionary generation of German Expressionist artists who achieved prominence around the time of the First World War. His paintings and drawings frequently take the brutality and cruelty of that war as a principal theme, to which Beckmann brings his signature sense of flattened space, grotesque form, and coarse vitality. Editor Copeland Buenger (Art History/Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison) includes excerpts from Beckmann's diaries and letters as well as some complete exhibition statements, brief essays and speeches, and two short dramas. The word, however, was not this master's native element. Even so, the editor and her co-translator make the most of what they have found in the German archives. Certainly anyone interested in Beckmann will want to refer to such documents as his statement ``On My Painting.'' It dates from 1938, not long after the Nazis had staged their notorious exhibition against ``degenerate art'' in Munich. Beckmann was included among the ``degenerates.'' Curiously, though, he has nothing to say about it. The artist thought of himself as unpolitical. He was more interested in what he regarded as the spiritual and the eternal in art. ``Color, as the strange and magnificent expression of the inscrutable spectrum of Eternity, is beautiful and important to me as a painter; I use it to enrich the canvas and to probe more deeply into the object.'' This kind of nebulous blather is characteristic of Beckmann, who--as the editor notes in her extensive (and quite helpful) annotations--read the arcane ramblings of Madame Blavatsky as avidly as he read serious philosophers. Surprisingly, and regrettably, this book has only a few illustrations. Still, it should prove to be a useful resource for aficionados and students of modernist art. (10 halftones, 8 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-226-04135-2
Page count: 406pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996




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