20. August 2014

In preparation for her exhibition STORM-WOMEN, curator Ingrid Pfeiffer travels to the backlands of Munich and discovers a new quality in the oeuvre of the well-known artist Gabriele Münter.

A small town on Lake Staffel, about an hour's train ride from Munich, continues to attract multitudes of visitors--even when the weather is bad. More than one hundred years ago, the artist Gabriele Münter bought a simple house there with a gabled roof and a spiral staircase, where she lived with her companion Wassily Kandinsky from 1908 to 1914. It has become the landmark of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, and art lovers still pilgrimage to the Russenhaus (House of the Russian) with its idyllic flower garden and a view of the valley, the church, the lake, and the mountains that tower behind it. The house's spartan furnishings suggest that at the time, Murnau may have been an idyllic place to paint and live, but it was certainly not a luxurious one.

Der Blaue Reiter in a Romantic Atmosphere

Today, however, if you are looking for famous works by Münter and Kandinsky you should also visit the Schloßmuseum, which presents both local history as well as high-quality exhibitions--currently Wassily Kandinsky and Alexej Jawlensky in Murnau. For years now, the lives and work of the artists around Münter and Der Blaue Reiter have been researched by scholars and expertly presented at the museum in a romantic atmosphere.

The Schirn mounted a Gabriele Münter retrospective as early as 1992--93, which I visited when I was still a student. I still remember how little I was impressed by what I saw: her subjects--still lifes, landscapes, a couple of portraits and interiors, along with her mostly flat manner of painting and bright colors--seemed uninspired to me at the time. Could it have had something to do with the presentation? Several years prior to this there was a large-scale Kandinsky exhibition at the Schirn whose visitor numbers count among the highest ever. At the time, the "king-sized" Kandinsky hovered over Münter, and hovers over her to this day, a classic phenomenon among artist couples, and in this case more extreme than in others.

The Important Role of the Women

More than twenty years and numerous exhibitions later, and with a wealth of experience under my belt, I am taking another look at Münter: in my next exhibition in fall 2015, an entire room will be devoted to her, alongside nearly twenty other both well-known and unknown women artists. The title of the presentation is STORM-WOMEN and will highlight the major role these artists played at the Berliner Galerie and the magazine "DER STURM" between 1910 and 1932.

I often think that the unknown women artists will almost have an easier time of it, because the public will appreciate the quality of their work with a sense of great surprise, uninfluenced by expectations and bias. Someone like Münter has a hard time, especially in professional art circles. Everyone will think: I'm familiar with Münter! Even my expectations were low when I traveled to Murnau and Munich to look into obtaining works on loan for the exhibition, for I had a concrete picture in my mind; I had geared myself up not to see anything surprising or new. Yet Münter is the classic case of a female artist who hid her light under a bushel for much too long, who did far more for Kandinsky's posthumous reputation than she did for her own, and whose oeuvre is unfortunately difficult to describe. While her paintings may come across as being vibrant and decorative, as a result they are flat and lack energy; or the dark, mysterious still lifes do not reveal any details whatsoever.

However, when you are standing in front of them, as I am now in Murnau or in the remodeled, beautiful Lenbachhaus in Munich, the paintings develop a force and an energy of which you would have hardly thought Münter was capable. Her body of work is multifaceted and a painterly pleasure, and it is full of depth. I believe that the Münter room will be a particularly exciting department in my exhibition, and I am already looking forward to it.