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Otto Mueller: the expressionist painter’s career explored at Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart
12 October, 2018
The exhibition PAINTER. MENTOR. MAGICIAN is the first to spotlight the enormous influence of the former Brücke artist and expressionist painter Otto Mueller (1874–1930).
For over ten years the artist was engaged as a teacher at the State Academy of Arts and Crafts in Wrocław, which at that time was one of the most progressive schools of art in Europe.
Particularly from the 1920s onwards, the Wrocław Academy had a reputation for cosmopolitanism and liberality, thanks to the numerous new appointments made by the director at that time, Oskar Moll.
This was a place where the many-faceted movements in modern art stood side by side as equals: Expressionism with expressionist painter Otto Mueller, French Peinture of the Académie Matisse with Oskar Moll, New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) with Alexander Kanoldt and Carlo Mense and Bauhaus with Oskar Schlemmer, Georg Muche or Johannes Molzahn.
The main focus of the exhibition is on modernist painting: expressionist painter Otto Mueller and his network experienced a creative phase in Wrocław which they described as highly productive and a direct result of their exchanges and reciprocal influence. The ways in which the artist colleagues influenced each other become apparent through thematic similarities and other cross-references: in paintings, works on paper, written statements or photographs.
And it was the charismatic Otto Mueller, driven by longing and a thirst for freedom, who had the greatest influence on the Breslau art scene. From the comments of his closest associates, including art critics and writers, he seems to have been a ‘romantic’ and even a ‘magician’.
He had already been immortalised by Carl Hauptmann in his biography of an artist “Einhart der Lächler” (1907) – and with this the Silesian poet laid an important foundation stone for the myth later to surround the artist.
Mueller’s striking appearance and his anti-bourgeois way of living held an enormous fascination for his students at the Academy, men and women alike. They loved his total commitment to art, his unconventional teaching methods and his humor. Some of his students – such as Alexander Camaro or Horst Strempel – went on from Wrocław to Berlin and experienced here the zeniths of their artistic careers.
One special feature of the curatorial concept of PAINTER. MENTOR. MAGICIAN. is the ‘guest exhibit’ principle: what is meant by this are selected works that spotlight the intercultural similarities and differences over the epochs, particularly in the German-Polish context.
The inclusion of ‘Polish Expressionists’ provides unique visual comparisons and new correlations and at the same time underlines the German-Polish orientation of the exhibition.
The immense appreciation for Otto Mueller’s work – from the perspective of his artist network – extends into post-war modernism: an important chapter of German-Polish art history is retold in special consideration of the interaction between the cities of Berlin and Wrocław.
Otto Mueller Self Portrait with Pentagram, around 1924
Distemper on hessian, 120 x 75.5 cm
Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal
© Von der Heydt-Museum Wuppertal / photo: Antje Zeis-Loi, Medienzentrum Wuppertal