We all wish we could draw like Egon Schiele. He could capture anybody. He saw right through a sitter and pulled out the inner character. Sad story though. They should do a movie. David Bowie was going to play him at one time but he waited too long as Schiele died at 28.
This show has a 220 volt cattle prod electric charge running through it. It’s not your typical art show trying (yawn) another attempt at a shock of the new. These powerful drawings bristle with energy. Pencil lines as hard won as railroad tracks tease and hammer out skulls, eye sockets, jaw lines, skeletal hands. They sculpt wasp- waisted models with economy. Not a line out of place here. Exaggeration and distortion madly dance over the structure of anatomy and laws of physics. Nor are they figure drawing exercises but x-rays that bare the soul of the sitter. Secrets rarely escaped this artists burning eye.
The painting of his sister Gerte looks like it was done yesterday. We would never guess it was done over 100 years ago, before the modern age of automobiles, telephones, electricity and airplanes.
Beautifully curated, on one wall a huge painting of his wife stands frigid as a stuffed doll in a wildly gesturing costume. On the next wall drawings hang salon style of lavishly unadorned models vamping it up in his studio. These drawings were sold to gentlemen who, with a wink and a nod, broke them out over cigars and brandy in the parlor.
Later the bourgeoisie turned on him and he was imprisoned for rape, kidnapping and moral indecency. He was never the same upon return to freedom. His restless fever of draughtsmanship endeding in the Spanish Flu epidemic.
Now we live in the dark ages of classical drawing. Yale routinely debates the value of teaching figure drawing in their art program. In California, The Art Center College known for turning out classically trained artists, has pretty much abandoned that program.
But this exhibit makes you want to toss over your iPad, grab pencil, paper and go sketch. When was the last time an exhibit made you want to draw?
Drop whatever you are doing, brace the weather and see this stunning show. Come early. A museum guard, citing crowd control, sidewalked over 40 people in 20 degree weather last Sunday morning.
It’s the best exhibit we have seen in a decade.
All images courtesy of the Neue Galerie. The exhibit is up until January 19th.