It’s Glinda, Good Witch of the West, who says the solution to a problem is as simple as closing your eyes and clicking together your personal pair of ruby slippers. I took Glynda at her word almost every day of my army career, hoping to wake up and out of it, safe and free, with soldiering an ugly, but fading, dream. It didn’t work.
The ruby slippers, Glinda’s estate lawyers say, are essential to the effectiveness of her hollow positivism… It won’t work for people in street shoes, let alone combat boots.
Glinda-style solutions come up because I’ve been thinking about why artistic retrospectives that feature woman as painter, such as the ongoing Anna-Eva Bergman exhibition at Paris’ Museum de l’Art Moderne (MAM-Paris), are so rare.
I say “’woman’ (singular) as painter” to imply that gender is an external force in a painter’s experience.
Closing my eyes – despite the harsh truth from Glinda’s estate mouthpieces, I still close my eyes when I scour my memory – I remember only a 2014 Sonia Delaunay retrospective that included more than 400 (!) works, also at MAM-Paris. The show did a lot to show her paintings but nothing memorable in respect to her as painter.
I also remember that Delaunay featured in the 2015 Schirn art museum exhibition STURM-Frauen. Künstlerinnen der Avantgarde in Berlin 1910–1932 (“Storm Women. Women avant-garde artists in Berlin 1910-1932”), curated by Ingrid Pfeiffer in, as it turns out, appropriately, Frankfurt-am-Main, the birthplace of Goethe and, thereby, of Gretchen.
The set up for STURM-Frauen returned the mostly fragmented oeuvre of its featured artists to their native scene, using as guides the notebooks and catalogs of the legendary gallerist, editor, promoter and painter Herwarth Walden, as well as the archives of the famous Sturm magazine.
I understand that most of the documentation was conserved by Nell Walden (1887–1975 – also featured in the exhibition). Luckily for us, Nell Walden had a Swedish passport, settled before the second big war in Switzerland, was able to weather her couple of husbands. When you look at it, she was also co- founder and -editor of the Sturm magazine and gallery. In addition to suggesting the name Herwarth Walden as a professional handle, Herwarth was her first husband.
It also seems that STURM-Frauen picked up on a 2012 exhibition called Sturm – Zentrum der Avantgarde (“Sturm – Center for the Avant-Garde”) in Wuppertal, Germany – by the way, home and performance space to Pina Bausch, the contemporary dance ur-choreographer. This exhibition, in turn, seems to have benefited from Germany’s late-post-war efforts to pick up the cultural pieces.
The STURM-Frauen exhibition bowled me over.
I was a man who suddenly discovers he has a long-hidden, parallel family of magical sisters, all of ‘em obvious blood plus spiritual relations.
I even met a previously unknown favorite sister among them, a certain Emmy Klinker (1891-1969). I noticed her because she painted people I have known along with a lot of my emotional color and landscape.
Klinker’s eye has Franz Marc color fluidness in it; her hand makes me think of Marc Chagall, but seems less emotionally contrived, more esthetically nuanced, than the great man’s stuff. She struck me as a pure painter in the same way as Emily Dickinson is pure poet: staying out of the way and to let me look.
The Herwarth-Nell Waldens represented European artists active in the Expressionist, Cubist, and Constructivist movements. Visual artists in the Sturm gallery stable included then- and now-renowned artists such as Kandinsky, Marc, Kokoschka, Klee and Chagall as well as the 30 woman artists presented in the STURM-Frauen exhibition.
In addition to Sonia Delaunay, wife of painter and color theorist Robert Delaunay, and the single and childless Emmy Klinker, the better known among these artists included Natalja Gontscharowa (1881–1962), Gabriele Münter(1877–1962) and Hilla von Rebay, ((1890-1967), respectively, wife of Mikhail Larionov, “founder” of Russian abstraction; first wife of Wassily Kandinsky; and co-founder of the Guggenheim.
Artists less- or un-known to me were Vjera Biller (1903–1940), Marcelle Cahn (1895– 1981), Marthe Donas (1885–1967), Alexandra Exter (1882–1949), Helene Grünhoff (1880−?), Jacoba van Heemskerck (1876– 1923), Sigrid Hjertén (1885–1948), Magda Langenstraß-Uhlig (1888– 1965), Else Lasker-Schüler (1869–1945), Lavinia Schulz (1896–1924), Maria Uhden (1892–1918), and Marianne von Werefkin (1860–1938).
Because I had been so moved by STURM-Frauen and the work I had discovered there, until recently I had been closing my eyes at least once a week and wishing the exhibition would show up here in Paris.
Yesterday, Monday, I was having a pint with a dear friend of mine, a man of wit and talent from Germany. I mentioned Anna-Eva Bergman and STURM-Frauen and all that. He said, “Really? Interesting. Bergman’s the wife of Hans Hartung, isn’t she?” Then he asked the server for more chips.
So, there it is.
As far as I know, STURM-Frauen has not traveled, been reproduced or been picked up on or otherwise copied anywhere. The catalog, STURM-Frauen. Künstlerinnen der Avantgarde in Berlin 1910–1932 by Ingrid Pfeiffer and Max Hollein(ISBN : 9783868322774), is out of print. STURM-Frauen has tumbled, perhaps, into a ruck of positivist solo retrospectives of those woman painters with sufficient remaining oeuvre to highlight painting by women in the past.
I now reckon the void and failure of my STURM-Frauen wishes comes faute de ruby slippers – I have no power and money to make it otherwise.
In my wishing, I should have remembered that Gretchen, as earlier noted, born in Frankfurt with Goethe, is obviously the subject and hero of Faust.
But I was about as attentive to that fact when first I heard it as my friend was to me yesterday. It may even have been this friend who had made the remark .
Anyhow, it is just so difficult to pay attention to woman stuff when it comes to art, is it not?
Thinking about Glynda, Good Witch of the West and hollow positivist, Gretchen’s Faust, Anna-Eva Bergman as painter, Sonia Delaunay and her 400 works, the disappeared STURM-Frauen exhibition, me and my inattentive friend and the paintings of Emmy Klinker, has made me think that the dearth of woman painters is owing to woman “invisibility” more than anything else.
Invisibility is the tool of consciousness that enables groups and individuals to selectively blank out categories of real things, people, deeds, feelings and ideas, according as a given structure of consciousness requires.
Invisibility is the perceptual mechanics behind “How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” Cutting is its short form.
Invisibility does not interfere with the actual physics of reality. Say, building explosive spy drones.
The fate of Emmy Klinker and her works and days is a good example to help in understanding how woman invisibility works. It shows that there is a sort of rippling traffic light, a trinary flicker, that selects her out of consciousness even while leaving a “biography” of materialized traces of a life lived or just later projections by others.
Emmy Klinker’s creative and social lives were suggestive, novel- or Netflix-like, both showing real genius and fine character.
Klinker, they say, began painting at 16 – youthful interest apparently being a prime legitimating factor for woman painters. She was good enough to attract Kandinsky’s attention and became a part of that man’s famous Der Blaue Reitercircle. She was represented by Herwarth and Nell Walden, was particular friends with people such as fellow-creators Gabriele Munter, Der Blaue Reiter co-founder Franz Marc and the American “witness” to the period, Albert Bloch …
Apparently single, Klinker was also apparently wed to her creation. She was quite normally productive as we can deduce from her experience in Germany’s 1933-45 Bully-Boy Zeit. Klinker was culturally prominent, as well as a principled mensch.
The boys apparently saw enough of her to make Emmy Klinker a suitable whipping girl. She was named, along with her friend Franz Marc, already dead (killed in the First World War) and many others, including, just for instance Kokoschka and Matisse, a degenerate painter.
Klinker’s work Weiss Pferde (“White Horse”), for example, was original and popular enough to merit destruction to enthusiastic public contumely. Klinker’s cultural notoriety was such, I read someplace, as to merit a warning visit from indignant “Brown Tide” stalwarts.
Because Klinker had courage enough to hide a Jewish friend at her house, she was sent to Dachau concentration camp for a three-month warning visit.
Although fairly soon after 1945 Klinker seems to have won prizes for her past work, it is unclear if she was producing and showing new work. Her work, from before 1936 or after, I can’t determine, but I think not, has featured in a few collective retrospectives in the past 20 years.
Why does painter Emmy Klinker touch me so? Because her self-portrait makes me think of Rimbaud reassuring his mother as to his respectability? No. It’s the woman invisibility that brushes out contexts and connections. For instance, I can think of no mention of Klinker in any Wikipedia entries for her painter friends and colleagues … All that is left of her is a lonely curriculum vitae, the CV isn’t the person who did that painting and the woman who did the painting is not my secret sister.
Worst of all, I’m as implicated in woman invisibility as anybody else. I’ve also cut people.
Invisibility is Glinda, Good Witch of the West: positivist solutions that really address a problem don’t really exist.
Invisibility is how Gretchen creates and shapes a book that even the author called Faust. Invisibility is my friend’s and my slip-slide attention to subjects that concern us.
And the STURM-Frauen painters?
A good, solid case study in how woman invisibility works. And that’s why STURM-Frauen, like woman painters generally, has slipped and slid down into an entry on its very fine curator’s CV.
Still, in the same way as the Waldens’ Sturm notes made the STURM-Frauen, the exhibitions’ 30 painters, can take you on a course in invisibility mechanics. No matter what the number of works on show and the esthetic and cultural merit, taken together, each “biography”, from Vjera Biller, euthanized, to Hilla von Rebay, philanthropist, to Marianne von Werefkin, stateless noble, to Maria Uhden, dead in childbirth, tells a story the mechanics of woman invisibility.
The portraits, on the left, from top to bottom, are from the Schirn Museum’s Sturm-Frauen and Flikr. From top to bottom, Emmy Klinker, Selbstbildnis (“Self-portrait”), 1918; Natalja Gontscharowa, Selbstbildnis (“Self-portrait”), 1908 © Tate, London, 2015 ; Lavinia Schulz, Selbstbildnis (“Self-portrait”). Photo Courtesy Wikipedia; Maria Uhden, Frau mit Vogel “Woman with bird”) 1917; Emmy Klinker, Bildnis einer jungen Frau (“Portrait of a young woman”) 1921; Marianne von Werefkin, “Self portrait”. Photo: Google Art