The Hamburger Kunsthalle opens a solo exhibition to Ernst Wilhelm Nay

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The Hamburger Kunsthalle opens a solo exhibition to Ernst Wilhelm Nay
Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968), Tanz der Fischerinnen, 1950 Öl auf Leinwand, 120 × 180 cm. Ernst Wilhelm Nay Stiftung © Ernst Wilhelm Nay Stiftung / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022. Photo: farbanalyse, Köln.

HAMBURG.- The Hamburger Kunsthalle is dedicating a solo exhibition to Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968), the first retrospective in many years of the work of one of the leading painters of the twentieth century. Nay’s vibrant and colourful paintings form a bridge between art before and after the Second World War. His art merges elements of Expressionism, abstraction and gestural painting after 1945 and links German and international modernism. Based on around 120 paintings, watercolours and drawings, the show explores all phases of Nay’s complex oeuvre. The works span a period of fifty years, from 1919 and 1968, displaying a wide range of different modes of representation and historical references. Works on loan from prominent public and private collections are complemented here be some twenty exhibits from the collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle.

The retrospective is arranged chronologically and unfurls the various phases of Nay’s oeuvre in five chapters: from the early works, to the so-called Lofoten Pictures, Hekate Pictures, Rhythmic Pictures, Disc Pictures and Eye Pictures, to the late work. Jumps back and forth in time simultaneously allow viewers to comprehend Nay’s work as an organic, interwoven whole.

Ernst Wilhelm Nay gained recognition as an artist early on, was represented in important exhibitions and received his first awards. The Nazis then confiscated several of his works from museums to exhibit as what they labelled »Degenerate Art«. After the Second World War, his star rose rapidly with his participation in the documenta in Kassel, the biennials in São Paulo and Venice, and exhibitions in New York, establishing him as a much-discussed figure on the modern art scene. He was declared a leading abstract painter and secured Germany a place on the global art scene after 1945. This truncated view of what was in fact a diverse oeuvre ensured appreciation for Nay’s art but also elicited criticism by a later generation of artists starting in the 1960s.

Nay was closely connected with Hamburg: The Kunsthalle purchased many of his works for its collection, in 1953 he taught for three months at the Landeskunstschule (today HFBK, Hamburg University of Fine Arts), and in 1955 he was awarded the prestigious Lichtwark Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

To accompany a visit to the retrospective as well as for preparation and/or follow-up, the Kunsthalle app offers an audio tour for adults in German and English as well as a special audio guide for children aged 8 and older in German (free download or 4 euros with rental device). A richly illustrated scholarly exhibition catalogue (Wienand Verlag, Cologne, 256 pages, in German) is available at the museum shop for 29 euros or from at the bookstore price of 34 euros.

The exhibition has been organised in cooperation with the Ernst Wilhelm Nay Foundation, Cologne, and two other museums which will subsequently host the exhibition: the Museum Wiesbaden (16 September 2022 to 5 February 2023) and the MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg (23 March to 6 August 2023).

Dr. Carsten Brosda, Senator for Culture and Media: »Ernst Wilhelm Nay had close ties with Hamburg, in particular with the Kunsthalle. The city awarded him the Lichtwark Prize in 1955 in recognition of his influence on the image of German and European art. Even today, Nay’s work still shapes our picture of modernity. The retrospective at the Hamburger Kunsthalle impressively demonstrates the impact of his painting on the Hamburg and international art scenes and shows how it continues to inspire a new generation of artists today. A rewarding and exciting rediscovery!«

Aurel Scheibler, Ernst Wilhelm Nay Foundation: »The Ernst Wilhelm Nay Foundation, established in 2005, not only preserves the painter’s artistic legacy but also promotes in a variety of ways the recognition of Nay’s work as well as academic research projects. This comprehensive retrospective accomplishes both: it familiarises more people with a great modernist painter as well as offering connoisseurs of his art much that is new. We look forward to some shared experiences!«

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