By Kelly Hayes-Raitt
“Art brings the subconscious into the sunlight,” Henri Laurens, a Surrealist sculptor active during the beginning half of the last century wrote. I spent yesterday at the Alte Nationalgalerie, (www.smb.museum) the fabulous Neue Nationalgalerie (www.smb.museum) and today at the Brücke-Museum, (www.bruecke-museum.de) learning about the Dresden “bridge” artists who painted in the early 1900s.
Influenced at first by Van Gogh and later by the French Fauvists, their work is startlingly colorful, more defined than the Impressionists who preceded them and less abstract than the Surrealists who follow them. Several of Die Brücke artists traveled to the South Pacific and painted “primitives” – native masks, native people in natural, unclothed settings – a real departure from the highly coiffed Impressionists and portraiturists of the time – and their work later caught Hitler’s eye.
Most of these artists’ work was confiscated by the Nazis and displayed in a 1937 exhibit in Munich called “Degenerative Art.” In all, the Nazis confiscated more than 20,000 works by more than 200 artists. The Nazis’ attempt to discredit the artists backfired, however, as collectors and curators flocked to the exhibit. Fortunately, some Nazis stole paintings to sell later on the Black Market and curators were able to squire away pieces. Still, the Nazis destroyed 5,000 works in a bonfire after the exhibit. Kadinsky, Max Ernst….
…And my new discovery Ernst Ludwig Kirschner, one of the founders of Die Brücke. He volunteered in the German Army in WWI, but his work was banned by the Nazis. He exiled to Switzerland and committed suicide, like Vincent Van Gogh, when he was 37.
My first experience with “art” – at 2½ — was when my mother separated from my dad for a bit. Broke, pregnant with my brother, and bound by the Buffalo winter, we spent our days in the Central Library or in the Albright-Knox Modern Art Museum (www.www.albrightknox.org) – both free, both heated. I have vivid memories of staring at the huge Jackson Pollack. Nearly 50 years later, I can still beeline to it.
Decades later, on my way home from my first trip to Iraq, I laid over in Noordwijk at my friend Philip’s. After 10 electrifying days of sugary tea and women on the verge of war, I was so physically, emotionally and psychically exhausted, I barely got out of bed. I did rally, though, for a drive to Amsterdam to the Van Gogh Museum (www.vangoghmuseum.nl). It was February, and I had only summer clothes with me as I was traveling Los Angeles/Baghdad – desert to desert. Philip lent me one of his down jackets. In it, I felt like an impenetrable marshmallow.
At the Van Gogh Museum, I turned the corner into the “Arles” Room displaying several of the artist’s Japanese blossoms and a sunflower painting. After a sleepless week of fear, shame, pity, guilt and helplessness in pre-war Iraq, I finally broke down and sobbed, surrounded by Van Gogh. My subconscious hit the light. Hopefully, I can effect the same with my book.
(Ed. Note: To finance writing her journalistic memoir about her experiences with Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, Kelly Hayes-Raitt housesits and lives in writing colonies. In 2009, she drove 4.5 times across the US through 24 states while pursuing housesits and writing fellowships, sleeping in 54 different beds and packing and unpacking 68 times. Albuquerque was supposed to be one of those stops. Sh`e blogs at www.PeacePATHFoundation.org.)