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Updated: Dec 18, 2021

Group Dynamics 1: The Blue Rider exhibition, held at the Lenbachhaus Museum, Munich, marks the rehang of the world’s biggest collection of the famous German collective: paintings made by the Group, hung together with artefacts, prints and literature that its members collected. The galleries dedicated to permanent exhibition opened their doors on 23rd March 2021. The Blue Rider group was pioneered by Wassily Kandinsky, alongside Franz Marc in 1911 in Munich.

First Blue Rider exhibition, 1911–12, at Galerie Heinrich Thannhauser, Munich

Room 1 (from left to right): (cut off) Gabriele Münter, Dunkles Stilleben (Geheimnis) (Dark Still Life

[Secret]); (in the adjacent room) Wassily Kandinsky, Komposition V; Albert Bloch, Drei Pierrots (Three Pierrots); Heinrich Campendonk, Springendes Pferd (Leaping Horse); Henri Rousseau, La Basse-Cour

(The Farmyard); Franz Marc, Portrait of Henri Rousseau; (cut off) Robert Delaunay, La Ville No.2. Photograph: Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich

As the Museum site says: The Blue Rider is one of Germany’s most important groups of avant-garde artists in the early twentieth century. On her eightieth birthday in 1957, the painter Gabriele Münter bequeathed more than a thousand works by the Group to the Lenbachhaus, among them ninety oil paintings by Kandinsky as well as around 330 watercolours and drawings, sketchbooks, and reverse glass paintings by the artist and his printed oeuvre. The bequest also included more than twenty-five paintings by Münter herself and works by other eminent artists such as Franz Marc, August Macke, Paul Klee, Alexej von Jawlensky, and Marianne von Werefkin.

Artist: Franz Marc

Title: Deer in the Woods II

Year: 1912

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 110 × 81 cm

G 13321, Bernhard and Elly Koehler

Foundation 1965

Artist: Gabriele Münter

Votive picture, ca. 1908/09

Gabriele Münter Foundation 1957

Curated by Annegret Hoberg, Matthias Mühling, Anna Straetmans, Group Dynamics 1 has focused attention on the group’s collective creative processes, exploring their shared visions and goals – rather than the oeuvres of its members, such as the legendary Kandinsky. The first and second exhibitions at both Galerie Thannhauser and Galerie Hans Goltz, Munich. The exhibition takes a new turn and focuses on the group’s important cast besides Gabriele Münter, Kandinsky, Marc, Macke, and Klee: Elisabeth Epstein and Maria Franck-Marc are featured as well. These two women artists had always been left out in the story of the Blue Rider, with Münter’s role often being downplayed as well, in favour of highlighting her position as Kandinsky’s mistress until 1914. The show attempts to re-address this narrative.

Artist: Maria Franck-Marc

Title: Dancing Sheep

Year: 1908

Lenbachhaus Munich

Installation Shot, Group Dynamics – The Blue Rider, 2021

Lenbachhaus Munich

Photo: Simone Gänsheimer

Artist: Gabriele Münter

Title: Kandinsky and Erma Bossi at the Table by

Year: 1912

Size: 95.5 cm x 125.5 cm

Gabriele Münter Foundation 1957

The project does an in-depth analysis of how the circle perceived art viz-a-viz European colonialism. The group’s point of view was certainly influenced by pre-World War I imperialism. However, the Group held on tightly to its fundamental belief that all artistic works were equal notwithstanding their origin or their time of production.

Anna Straetmans shares,

"The art of the Blue Rider circle has been canonized by art history for decades and is today often misunderstood as aesthetic common property. Against the backdrop of the question of why it is still relevant to show artworks from over 100 years ago, we try to make aware how these works are connected to our zeitgeist and the general questions we face in society today. By connecting the international popularity of the Blue Rider with our current discourses and questions, we open the timeless art of the artist collective to new perspectives and audiences, hopefully offering an enriching and holistic experience through the exhibition."

The Blue Rider

In 1908, Kandinsky, a Russian native, joined hands with other unconventional artists - Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin - to form the Neue Künstlervereinigung München (New Artists’ Association Munich, NKVM). The association began growing, with more artists, including Franz Marc, joining in 1911.

On the balcony of Kandinsky’s and Münter’s apartment at 36 Ainmillerstrasse, Munich, ca. 1911/12

From left: Gabriele Münter, Maria Franck-Marc, Bernhard Koehler sen., Thomas von Hartmann, Heinrich

Campendonk, Franz Marc (seated)

Photograph: Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich

After failing to reach a common ground, Kandinsky, Marc, and Münter resigned from the

NKVM association on December 2, 1911. They then conceived the Blue Rider Almanac, published in May 1912, shortly after the first exhibition in 1911. The second exhibition took place the following year, while others were conducted two years later.

The first exhibition of the Blue Rider was conducted two weeks after its protagonists left the NKVM. The exhibition, which took place at Galerie Thannhauser, Munich, featured their art amongst those of their colleagues. August Macke, Robert Delaunay, Elisabeth Epstein, Albert Bloch, David, Vladimir Burliuk, and Heinrich Campendonk are a few of the many artists whose works were featured in the exhibition.

Vladimir Burliuk

Title: The Trees

Year: 1911

Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich

Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Der Blaue Reiter almanac, 1912,

Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich

Double page spread from the, Der Blaue Reiter almanac, 1912,

Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich

Large-format subscription prospectus for the Der Blaue Reiter almanac, 1912

Lenbachhaus Munich

The Blue Rider almanac states that "the whole body of work we call art knows neither borders nor nations but only humanity." The association's diversity propelled its growth and influence in the then-global art world. The exhibition brings to us art from different cultures and nations, making it possible for the general public and cognoscenti alike to observe and analyse the linkages between them.

First Blue Rider exhibition, 1911–12, Galerie Heinrich Thannhauser, Munich, Room 2 (from left to right): (cut off) Gabriele Münter, Stilleben (rosa) (Still Life [Pink]); (above) August Macke, Indianer auf Pferden (Indians on Horseback); (below) Robert Delaunay, St. Séverin No. 1; (above the door) David Burliuk, Pferde (Horses); (above) Franz Marc, Landschaft mit Pferden und Regenbogen (Landscape with Horses and Rainbow); Wassily Kandinsky, Mit Sonne (With Sun); Wassily Kandinsky, Improvisation 22.

Photograph: Gabriele Münter and Johannes Eichner Foundation, Munich

Interestingly, Robert Delaunay was part of both exhibitions, wherein in the first, his major paintings were shown. The second overall contained mainly works on paper, at least one of Delaunay, as far as the museum can reproduce. Also, despite the Blue Rider group claiming to be an international one, the first exhibition was presented mainly by the European Avant-Garde. It was the second exhibition that was able to include artists from Russia and Switzerland. Most importantly, the core of their international manifestation is presented in the almanach.

Artist: Elisabeth Epstein

Title: Self-Portrait

Year: 1911

Lenbachhaus Munich

Alongside the Blue Rider show, Collectives from the Modernist Period furthered this international agenda. The Lenbachhaus brought together artists’ collectives from all over the world: including Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Sudan and the Middle East.

Installation Shot, Group Dynamics –The Blue Rider, 2021 Lenbachhaus Munich, Photo: Simone Gänsheimer

About the exhibition’s architectural setup, Dr Eva Huttenlauch. shares,

“The exhibition designers developed dif erent and particular architectural elements for every gallery/group. They took a characteristic from every group and transformed it into architecture that is both functional and meaningful at the same time”

But, most interestingly, the Blue Rider exhibition itself stretches the idea of the Modern: it features folk art, children's art, African carvings, and Bavarian glass paintings as well as the Japanese woodblock prints (of Hokusai and Hiroshige) that the Group (especially Marc and Kandinsky) were so inspired by. As you move from one room to the next, you immediately connect with the almanach's aspirations. From the earliest to their later works, you can trace the development of the artworks as well as their influences and cultural context. Like-minded artists from across the globe came together to form creative collectives to get away from the moribund academic practices that came before them. These dynamic groups explored the diversity of culture, open-mindedly developing new and hybrid forms of art. Thus, art played a significant role in uniting different cultures and peoples from across the world in the 20th century. Exhibitions like The Blue Rider and Collectives of Modernist Period remind us of this fact.

As art historian Zehra Jumabhoy says,

“With these Group shows, Lenbachhaus manages to underscore the plural nature of the Modernist project, arguing that it must be seen as an international rather than simply national – or merely Western – endeavour. By making visitors to the Blue Rider display walk through the section dedicated to Collectives of the Modernist Period, Lenbachhaus rewrites the art historical narrative of the Modern and the Blue Rider Group itself. This seminal German Expressionist group is situated within a wider global context; its aspirations, hopes and dreams of Utopia are seen to be shared by so many other artists’ collectives in the world.”

The project is supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation as part of its program "Global Museum. Collections of the 20th Century from a Global Perspective. "The new presentation of art from the Blue Rider collection is followed by a second exhibition "Group Dynamics—Collectives of the Modernist Period", dedicated to international artists’ groups, that is scheduled to be on view from October 19, 2021, until April 24, 2022.

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