German Expressionism, one of the most significant movements of early European modernism, was an enormously powerful element in Germany's cultural life, stretching from the end of the Wilhelmine Empire to the rise of Hitler's Third Reich. While the movement embraced such diverse artists as E.L. Kirchner, Wassily Kandinsky, Kathe Kollwitz, and George Grosz, all the participants shared an almost messianic belief in the power of art to change society. Once hailed as modern and experimental, utopian and international, and anarchic and socialist, Expressionism later became characterized instead as apolitical, romantic, subjective, and wildly irrational. After the Second World War, art historians, disillusioned by the earlier ideological battles, tended to emphasize Expressionism only for its aesthetic viability.
Recently, however, the parameters of Expressionism have undergone reevaluation and significant questions about the relationship of Expressionism in the visual arts to Germany's political and cultural history have been raised. But many of the basic documents have either not been translated into English or appear in editions no longer in print. Other important documents exist only in archives neither published nor catalogued and have therefore never been accessible to an interested public. Rose-Carol Washton Long has drawn together over eighty documents crucial to the understanding of German Expressionism, many of them translated for the first time into English. These documents, gathered from contemporaneous exhibition catalogues, group manifestos, letters, diaries, reviews, and critiques, help to explain Expressionism's power and presence in Germany's cultural life. Annotations prepared by Washton Long with the assistance of Ida K.
Rigby, Stephanie Barron, Rose-Marie Bletter, and Peter Chametzky should provide a stimulus and guide for further study. Organized into four parts, the book begins by focusing on the reception of Expressionism before the First World War and includes essays by Wilhelm Worringer and Herwarth Walden. The second part, with essays by Rosa Schapire and Bruno Taut, concentrates on the spread of Expressionistic concepts from painting into the other visual arts. The third, with letters by Walter Gropius and Otto Dix, reflects the involvement of Expressionists with the extraordinary political, social, and economic events of this period. And the fourth part, drawing from material written by critics such as G.E Hartlaub and Georg Lukacs, testifies to the continuing impact of Expressionism upon Dada artists, Bauhaus educators, Neue Sachlichkeit definers, and political activists.
This volume of documents superbly supplements and enhances the recent reinterpretations of German Expressionism by providing not only the dominant voices but also the paradoxical and contradictory tones that lie within any movement.