Paul Klee: the quiet revolutionary

Submitted by Matthew on 13 November, 2013 - 12:28

This exhibition is expansive, comprehensive, chronological, and as well-ordered as the work on display. All that is good.

However, I felt less inspired than I thought I would be. Klee should be my thing. Early 20th century, modernist, hated by the Nazis — what’s not to like?

In truth nothing here is not to like. Klee’s vast collection of work, in slightly different styles at different points in his life, shows him to be an artist who was constantly experimenting and pushing at boundaries.

It is true, as has been said, that the close texture of musical composition is reflected in the small micro-worlds he created on canvass. (Klee was a highly talented and practising musician as well as an artist).

And colour, colour is his thing too. Blocks of colour, different ranges of colour, startling contrasts of colour.

But is this revolutionary? Is this more than pretty?

On reflection I decided to forgive Klee his tendency to be politically understated and temperamentally introspective. At the time his work, and other contemporary abstract artists’, was revolutionary. It is therefore no surprise that he was among the artists considered “degenerate” by the Nazis (his work was found among the huge stash of Nazi-confiscated art recently found in a flat in Munich.)

Unlike other artists of his time Klee didn’t depict the seamy side of the Weimar Republic — something the Nazis (hypocritically) railed against. But some of his work is “off-key”, wry, appreciative of the unconventional.

The Nazis would also have hated the work that was inspired by north African landscape, light and life. Being open to the influence of “non-Aryan” cultures and trying to absorb things outside your own experience is something the Nazis with their cold-hearted, violently nationalistic ideology were opposed to.

Do go and see this exhibition if you can. Get someone to buy you the ticket for Christmas and pick a time when the crowds won’t be too big. Try to take a longer look.

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