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Kathe Kollwitz: The Weavers, exhibit opens on GMU Campus

December 1, 2003
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in the Johnson Center Gallery
December 1 – 19
co-sponsored by the
Department of Art and Visual Technology &
the College of Arts and Sciences
Clarence J. Robinson Professor
Egon Verheyen
speaks about the work at a reception Wednesday, December 3

Fairfax, Virginia, November 25, 2003—Etchings by this German Expressionist record the tragic struggle of Germany from the beginning of the social revolution in the 19th century, through two world wars and a depression. The Weavers features twenty-seven prints by Prussian artist Käthe Kollwitz in the Johnson Center Gallery on Mason’s Fairfax campus. The show opens on December 1. There is a gallery talk beginning at 4:30PM on December 3, in Harris Theater with a talk by George Mason University Clarence J. Robinson Professor of the Humanities Egon Verheyen, and a reception at 5:30PM in the Gallery. The exhibition is organized by the Virginia Museum’s Statewide Exhibitions Programs, Office of Statewide Partnerships.

"Käthe Kollwitz was one of the most outstanding German women artists of the first half of the 20th century," states Egon Verheyen. "Drawings and lithographs are predominant in her work, but she also was a sculptor. For Kollwitz, art was a means of social engagement. Her themes were predominantly the poor, the downtrodden and the forgotten. With her art she fought for social justice and against war."

In pre-World War II Germany, this manifestation of her political views did not go unnoticed, Verheyen continues, "Not surprisingly, after Hitler’s rise to power, she was expelled from the Academy that had accepted her in 1919 and conferred upon her the title of professor. For the last 12 years of her life she was forbidden to exhibit her work. This exhibition concentrates on works executed between 1892 and 1921."

"The art of Käthe Kollwitz reflects the turbulent times in which she lived," says Eileen Mott, coordinator of the Virginia Museum’s Statewide Exhibitions Program, which organized the exhibition. The George Mason show includes examples from her first major series, "The Weavers," which grew out of a performance Kollwitz saw about the revolt of the Silesian weavers in 1844, and, explains Mott, "Her depiction of this drama caused a sensation, because it was one of the first times that such powerful pictures had shown workers and their conflicts sympathetically." The etchings in the exhibit are restrikes, printed from the original plates after the artist’s death in 1945.

Mott continues, "Käthe Kollwitz was born in 1867 in Königsberg – today it’s Kalingrad, Russia – she lived from the era of the Franco-Prussian war, through World War I and the crushing inflation that followed, to the devastation wrought by World War II. Horrified by the cruelties of war and the poverty which surrounded her, Kollwitz responded by portraying the effects of suffering upon the working class."
She attended The Berlin School of Art in 1884, and later went to study in Munich. After her marriage to Dr. Karl Kollwitz in 1891, the couple settled in Berlin living in one of the poorest sections of the city. It was here that Kollwitz developed her strong social conscience, which is so fiercely reflected in her work. Influenced by Max Klinger and the realist writings of Zola, Kollwitz worked with a variety of media including sculpture, and lithography, in art featuring dark, oppressive subject matter depicting the revolts and uprisings of contemporary relevance.

Intrigued by both the narrative potential and the democratic qualities of the graphic arts, which could be produced in inexpensive editions, Kollwitz decided to become a printmaker. For the next 50 years she produced dramatic, emotion-filled etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs – generally in black and white but sometimes including touches of color. "It is the intensity of her response to her subject matter that is the most striking characteristic of her work," Ms. Mott says, and, "She finds beauty and meaning in the expressions and movements of the working class. Their bodies, shaped by labor, appeared wonderful to her."

Although Kollwitz's wrenching subjects and virtuoso technique soon made her work popular throughout Germany and the Western world, they also generated controversy. In 1897 Kaiser Wilhelm prevented Kollwitz from receiving a gold medal at the Berlin Salon because of the "subversive" nature of her subject matter. Kollwitz also encountered difficulties during the Nazi era. In 1933 she was forced to resign her position as the first female professor appointed to the Prussian Academy; soon thereafter she was forbidden to exhibit her art. Despite these events, Kollwitz remained in Berlin unlike other artists who fled the country. Much of her art was destroyed in a Berlin air raid in 1943; later that year, Kollwitz was evacuated to Dresden, where she died at 78.

Calling her artistry "…impressive, as are its technical skills," The New York Times praised a 2002 retrospective. Of her raw, unflinching subject matter, the Times commented, "Making the rounds of Kollwitz is not an easy trip, but it has its rewards."

The Johnson Center Gallery is located on the main level of the George W. Johnson Center in the heart of Mason’s Fairfax campus. The Fine Arts Gallery is located on the ground floor of the Fine Arts Building in room B104. Galleries are open Mon. through Thurs., from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., unless otherwise noted, and by appointment. The Concert Hall Gallery is open Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Gallery Program is a division of Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, home to the Center for the Arts. The College of Visual and Performing Arts exists to create an academic environment in which the arts may be considered both as individual disciplines and as interdisciplinary forms that strengthen each other. Believing that an education in the arts is deepened by regular contact with the work of distinguished visiting artists, the College draws on a variety of professional presenting and producing units where artists from across the country and around the world regularly perform, give master classes, work with students during extended residencies, and interact with the community in a variety of other ways. These programs at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, TheaterSpace, Galleries, Harris Theater, and other venues, provide a diverse selection of challenging and entertaining cultural experiences for the University community, as well as Northern Virginia and the greater Washington, D.C. area. The College houses four academic departments: Art and Visual Technology, Dance, Music and Theater.
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