Exhibition — 4 Sep until 5 Dec 2021

The work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde is famous for its unconventional portrayals of people, landscapes and objects rendered in bold colours and energetic brushstrokes. What is the relationship between the two Expressionists’ distinctive visual style and the colonial reality from which it emerged? This major exhibition zooms in on the stories behind the subjects portrayed in their work. It examines Kirchner's and Nolde's art within the context of the history and ideologies of the time, and explores its ties with people, cultures and objects from outside Europe. How do we look at these works today from a postcolonial perspective?

In the German Empire (1871-1918), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) and Emil Nolde (1867-1956) encounter non-European people and objects in ethnographic museums, at colonial exhibitions and in the entertainment industry, which employs numerous people of colour. Nolde even travels to Papua New Guinea (then part of the German colonial empire, and known as German New Guinea). The exhibition examines the work of both artists against the backdrop of the cultural-historical context in which it originated. It tells the story of the appropriation of other visual cultures, stereotyping in art, imbalances of power, and focuses on the people and art works that play such a key role in the work of Kirchner and Nolde.

In the art of Kirchner and Nolde, people of colour are often portrayed sensually, in a barrage of brilliant colours. The artists gave more importance to the expressive power of colour and form than offering a detailed portrayal of people or objects. Up to now, there has been little research into the individuals and artefacts featured in their paintings. This exhibition tells both the art-historical story, and that of the people and objects portrayed:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Seated Woman with Wooden Sculpture (Sitzende Frau mit Holzplastik), 1912. Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Seated Woman with Wooden Sculpture (Sitzende Frau mit Holzplastik), 1912. Photo: Travis Fullerton © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Emil Nolde, Jupuallo, 1913-1914, watercolor and India ink on paper, 47,4 x 34,9 cm. Nolde Foundation Seebüll © Nolde Foundation Seebüll.
Emil Nolde, Jupuallo, 1913-1914, watercolor and India ink on paper, 47,4 x 34,9 cm. Nolde Foundation Seebüll © Nolde Foundation Seebüll.

Meet Jupuallo, for instance, whom Nolde painted. Ada, Nolde’s wife, chose Jupuallo and another young man, to work for the couple during their stay in Papua New Guinea. According to Ada and Emil Nolde's recollections, Jupuallo communicated with them in pidgin German (‘Unserdeutsch’), was ‘taken out of the bush’ to serve as a German soldier, and became a domestic servant when he proved unfit for military life. Or meet Sam, Milli/Milly and Nelly of whom we know only their first names. These Black women and men worked as nude life models for Kirchner, who created scenes of the ‘other’ in his studio using furniture, sculptures and fabrics he had designed to mimic art from non-European regions. Kirchner and Nolde: Expressionism. Colonialism places these and countless other stories in the spotlight.

In addition to paintings, drawings and sculptures by Kirchner and Nolde, the exhibition displays photographs, posters, books, documentary material from the period between around 1908 and 1918, and many works by non-European artists. The Expressionists were fascinated by the aesthetic features of art from regions in Africa and Oceania, but paid little attention to the objects’ cultural background and significance. These pieces, from the collections of institutions including the National Museum of World Cultures and Wereldmuseum, Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin and Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, feature prominently in the exhibition. Among the artefacts are a figure with child from Congo, a Tatanua mask from New Ireland and an Uli figure from Papua New Guinea from Nolde's personal collection.

In addition to paintings, drawings and sculptures by Kirchner and Nolde, the exhibition displays photographs, posters, books, documentary material from the period between around 1908 and 1918, and many works by non-European artists. The Expressionists were fascinated by the aesthetic features of art from regions in Africa and Oceania, but paid little attention to the objects’ cultural background and significance. These pieces, from the collections of institutions including the National Museum of World Cultures and Wereldmuseum, Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin and Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden, feature prominently in the exhibition. Among the artefacts are a figure with child from Congo, a Tatanua mask from New Ireland and an Uli figure from Papua New Guinea from Nolde's personal collection.

Emil Nolde, Palmen am Meer (Palms by the Sea), 1914, oil on canvas, 70 x 110 cm. Nolde Foundation Seebüll © Nolde Foundation Seebüll.
Emil Nolde, Palmen am Meer (Palms by the Sea), 1914, oil on canvas, 70 x 110 cm. Nolde Foundation Seebüll © Nolde Foundation Seebüll.
Unrecorded artist, Tatanua Masker (New Ireland), end 19th century, wood, operculum of turbo shell (mata bia), plant material, dye, 42 × 23 × 39 cm. Collection Wereldmuseum Rotterdam. Coll.nr. WM-57547 Photographer: Jan van Esch
Unrecorded artist, Tatanua Masker (New Ireland), end 19th century, wood, operculum of turbo shell (mata bia), plant material, dye, 42 × 23 × 39 cm. Collection Wereldmuseum Rotterdam. Coll.nr. WM-57547 Photographer: Jan van Esch
Photographer unknown: Ada Nolde with indigenous women on the island of Pak or Manus, Papua New Guinea (then German New Guinea), 1914. Archive of the Nolde Foundation Seebüll.© Nolde Foundation Seebüll.
Photographer unknown: Ada Nolde with indigenous women on the island of Pak or Manus, Papua New Guinea (then German New Guinea), 1914. Archive of the Nolde Foundation Seebüll.© Nolde Foundation Seebüll.

COLOUR WORLDS

Architect Afaina de Jong is developing an exhibition design tailored to the exhibition. The rooms will be transformed into a series of different colour worlds, which encourages the visitor to look at the works from unexpected angles. The design also includes videos in which a variety of experts including artist Enotie Ogbebor, anthropologist Andi Zimmerman and sociologist Natasha Kelly reflect on the works of Kirchner and Nolde from a contemporary perspective.

PUBLIC PROGRAM

A varied events programme gives visitors a chance to dive deeper into the themes raised by the exhibition. For visitors wishing to prepare for their visit, there is a short lecture at the weekend with an introduction to Kirchner and Nolde, which also touches on the development of Expressionism in the context of colonialism. The audio tour homes in on the stories of the people portrayed in the works of Kirchner and Nolde, and the documentary material. A series of online talks invites a variety of experts, including cultural journalist and writer Wieteke van Zeil and Stedelijk Museum head of research and artist Charl Landvreugd, to discuss complex social issues and address the impact of the past on the present.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Naked Girl behind the Curtain (Fränzi), 1910-1926, paint on burlap, 120 x 90 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Naked Girl behind the Curtain (Fränzi), 1910-1926, paint on burlap, 120 x 90 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Tanzende (Dancing Woman), 1911, painted wood, 87 x 35,5 x 27,5 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Tanzende (Dancing Woman), 1911, painted wood, 87 x 35,5 x 27,5 cm. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

Mini doc

In this exhibition, the Stedelijk Museum shines a new light on the work of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Emil Nolde. In this short documentary (that can also be viewed at the in the exhibition), curator Beatrice von Bormann, Wayne Modest and Wonu Veys (National Museum of World Cultures) explain why new perspectives are important. The visual language of Expressionism is closely tied to colonialism and still resonates today to legitimize colonialism and institutional racism. The National Museum of World Cultures is one of our partners for this exhibition and lender of artworks on display.

PUBLICATION

Kirchner and Nolde: Expressionism. Colonialism is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated publication that unpicks the historical background and cultural setting of the work of these two Expressionist artists. The book contains texts by historians, anthropologists, art historians and other experts, who elucidate a range of issues and topics highlighted in the exhibition. The book is created in collaboration between the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, Brücke-Museum Berlin, publisher Hirmer Verlag and publisher W Books. 256 pages, published in four languages (Danish, English, German, Dutch). Available in the Stedelijk Museum shop for 29.50 euros.

*During the Bruce Nauman and Kirchner and Nolde exhibitions (running until December 5, 2021), there’s an additional one-off surcharge of €3.

This exhibition is the culmination of four years of research in close collaboration with the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen and a group of external experts. The following experts participated in the advisory group at various stages:

Robbie Aitken, Silvia Dolz, Jonathan Fine, Nicolas Garnier, Wolfgang Henze, Dan Hicks, Lisa Hilli, Mariska ter Horst, Nancy Jouwe, Natasha A. Kelly, Antje Kelm, Susan Legêne, Erna Lilje, Rainer Lotz, Michael Mel, Birgit Meyer, Wayne Modest, Yvette Mutumba, Patrice Nganang, Enotie Ogbebor,  Jeftha Pattikawa, Clemens Radauer, Markus Schindlbeck, Andreas Schwarze, Hilke Thode-Arora, Anke Tonnaer, Max Uechtritz, Fanny Wonu Veys, and Andi Zimmermam.

The exhibition ‘Kirchner and Nolde: Expressionism. Colonialism’ is realised with the generous support of the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. The exhibition is a co-production of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Statens Museum for Kunst, National Gallery of Denmark and with cooperation from the Brücke-Museum, Berlin. The exhibition is curated by Beatrice von Bormann (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam) and Dorthe Aegesen (Statens Museum for Kunst).