Paul Klee

- Selected Press

Art fairs used to be principally trade shows for specialist audiences, and few were more established and exclusive than the European Fine Art Fair — which each March lures museum directors and deep-pocketed connoisseurs to Maastricht, in the southern tip of the Netherlands. Now, fairs constitute a year-round global festival of commerce, chitchat and champagne sponsorship, and Tefaf has established a pair of smaller New York spinoffs: a fall edition focused on older art, and a spring show with a more modern orientation.

Three years in, Tefaf New York Spring has matured from an experiment into an appointment, with offerings of notably higher quality than most of its New York competitors. Though galleries of modern art dominate this spring jamboree, it’s also accented with furniture dealers, specialists in antiquities and a few lavish jewelers flogging all manner of drop earrings and diadems. Tefaf is also unique among art fairs for its rigorous vetting process, which involves dozens of experts combing the booths to authenticate the wares on offer.

Many dealers here have turned their booths into solo shows (Pace has filled its booth with an array by Jean Dubuffet), regional showcases (Gladstone Gallery’s all-Brazilian booth is a showstopper) or thematic mini-exhibitions. (At Sprüth Magers, all the works are by women working in a political vein in the 1980s.)

The fair runs through Tuesday; here are some highlights, whether you’re buying or browsing.

If you’re a painter or sculptor wondering how to persuade a gallery to represent you, perhaps you might try dying? Lately the biggest galleries have jostled with one another to represent the estates of deceased artists, and last month David Zwirner has nabbed a heavyweight: Paul Klee, the splendidly cagey Swiss-German modernist and Bauhaus professor.

Zwirner is trumpeting its coup with an all-Klee booth here, full of wily small-scale watercolors like “Signs in the Field” (1935), with its joyously inscrutable cloud of glyphs, ovals and eyes. Yet the fair’s best Klee is on the booth of David Tunick, a specialist in prints and drawings, where you’ll find a knockout 1923 portrait of the soprano Lilli Lehmann, goggle-eyed and adrift in a sea of beige. Klee executed it with a unique blend of oil and watercolor, and its spare, witty lines make it appear almost as a comedic double of his imposing “Angelus Novus.”

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"A line is a dot that went for a walk" – Paul Klee

Aiming to advance the legacy of the artist, the Paul Klee Family recently joined forces with David Zwirner to promote the work of Klee through Zwirner’s respected galleries in New York, London and Hong Kong, with scholarly publications and by participation in the world’s top art fairs.

A master of modern art, Klee was one of the most influential artists of his generation. A teacher at the Bauhaus for ten years, he developed an idiosyncratic style of drawing and painting that was inspired by Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism, as well as Outsider Art and the naïveté of children’s drawings.

Branded a degenerate by the Nazis, the Swiss-born, German artist was forced out of a teaching position in Dusseldorf in 1933 and returned to Switzerland, where most of the ten works in this exhibition at TEFAF New York Spring—the first presentation since the gallery began representing the artist’s estate in April—were created.

Trained as a violinist, Klee used color and line like musical notes. Employing simple materials, he developed modes of abstraction in revolutionary ways. For example, the earliest piece in the show, the 1931 watercolor Ballett scene (Ballet Scene), poetically portrays the structured movement of dancers in delicate, abstract forms.

Klee experimented with a variety of graphic techniques, including one in which he would apply pigmented paste to paper and then scrape it away with a knife to create a broad line to define the subject’s form. He used this procedure in the 1933 painting on paper Zwei Frauen im Wald (Two Women in the Woods), where he highlighted details of the women with colored chalk, and the 1938 piece Maske "nach dem Verlust" (Mask: After the Loss), which depicts a face emerging from the primal mud that forms the flesh-colored ground.

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When I was 13 years old, my parents gave me an enormous book about Leonardo da Vinci for Christmas. Inside were large color pictures of “The Virgin and Child With St. Anne,” the “Mona Lisa” and “St. John the Baptist,” as well as an impressive “Last Supper” centerfold. The book included drawings of nature, anatomy, innovative weaponry and flying machines—all of which struck me then as very cool. I admired and pored over their details. But what I remember most was that the paintings and drawings didn’t move me, and the secret shame I felt because I knew that Leonardo was considered among the greatest artists of all time. What did it say about me that I wasn’t excited by his work?

It took a long time for me to have my first real art experience. It happened when I saw Paul Klee’s 1928 abstract painting “Howling Dog” on a college road trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, in 1983, and became mesmerized. It was not the first great painting I had seen face to face; and, at roughly 18 inches high by 22 inches wide, it was far from the largest. But it was the first artwork to inspire me, the first with which I formed a relationship and through which I took a journey. Klee had died in Switzerland decades before, in 1940 at the age of 60, but his painting spoke to me, a kid who’d grown up in the American Midwest a generation later, with a startling immediacy. Art has that kind of power. It leaps across borders, continents, decades and even centuries.

I came to “Howling Dog” because of my affection for animals. I was held, however, not by the painting’s subject, but by its colors, so much so that I later told a friend that looking at it felt like “an eye massage.” Then there was its cool light, and the way, more than just a representation of something in the natural world, it evoked a living universe entirely its own.

I was also intrigued by its power of seduction. Why, I wondered, did this painting hold me in a way that others hadn’t? Other thoughts followed. Were those colors being stirred by the dog and its howls? Or had the full moon moved them to whirl and the animal to wail? Eventually, I decided that Klee’s radiant moon was both cause and spectator of this show. And since the imagery of “Howling Dog” was closer to a child’s finger painting than to the realistic forms of those Leonardo works in my Christmas book, the picture raised the question of whether an artist can paint like a child without making a childish painting. In other words, Klee’s picture inspired me to begin a dialogue, a give-and-take, to communicate further with an artwork because it had already spoken to me.

As I swam in the picture’s colors, I began to understand Klee’s taut, muscular line. It had dynamism and volume. It was not merely resting on the surface, but served as energy source and skeletal structure to the painting. It rises and falls, opens and closes, expanding and contracting the picture like a bellows. And I realized that these movements seemed to breathe air and life not just into the dog and its howls but also into the painting as a whole. Klee had painted not just a dog baying at the moon. He had given form and humor and life to those howls: their reverberations stirring the air, revolving around the moon and puncturing the quiet night and the wide-open mouth of the moonlit sky.

Klee’s painting taught me that engaging with art is a full-body experience, one in which color, form, space, weight, rhythm, timbre and structure are felt as much as they are seen. Art, before it is understood to represent a sunset, the Virgin or an abstract form, begins by striking within us physical and emotional chords. “Howling Dog” awakened me to what is possible in a work of art. Its experience was an immersion in the way an artist explores his theme. Klee opened up for me not just the world of abstraction, but the world of art.

Paul Klee never visited the United States, but he played an important role in American art in the 1930s and ’40s. Exhibitions and reproductions of his work, and later translations of his writings, gave American artists permission to do things that weren’t in the shadow of Picasso or Matisse. He seemed a genial figure, and his work was, too, and American artists admired his particular mix of spontaneity and discipline. Klee, it seemed, offered a wealth of visual inspiration, and a way forward, without demanding that anyone wear the straitjacket of a particular style.

“Ten Americans: After Paul Klee” at the Phillips Collection examines the U.S. legacy of the Swiss-born German artist through the work of painters including Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis and Norman Lewis. In some cases, the influence is strikingly obvious, even to the point of outright theft. In other cases, it is more the spirit of Klee than the particulars that has been transmitted. But most of the work on view takes up a small set of visual and creative ideas that were central to Klee’s art: his interest in archaic or “primitive” visual archetypes, the power of the unconscious and his enigmatic, hieroglyphic sensibility.

“Klee was a genius,” the critic Clement Greenberg wrote, before adding, “but he was not a big genius, remarkable as he was, and his influence has been viable precisely because it could not occupy for its exclusive use all of the new territory it opened up.” Greenberg is in bad odor these days for his overbearing influence and dogmatism. But this sums up the show nicely. Klee is a powerful presence, but he leaves room for others, and while it’s easy to admire and even love Klee’s work, it always seems a bit small, not just because he tended to work on a small scale, but because most his paintings are tidy vignettes, putting forth an idea with clarity and charm and occasionally just a hint of something darker. The exhibition curators even quote the museum’s founder, Duncan Phillips, who collected more than a dozen works by Klee, affirming part of this judgment: “Klee builds himself a little house of art in a realm somewhere between childhood’s innocence and everyman’s prospect of infinity.”

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Paul Klee, widely considered to be the father of abstract painting, never once set foot in America. When a gallerist entreated him to visit New York in 1937, he famously brushed off the invite: “I would love to, but as you can see, there is so much work to do that I am afraid I shall never find the time.”

But Klee’s disinterest didn’t prevent his art, or the irreverent ideas that informed it, from traveling across the pond in the mid-20th century—and indelibly shifting the course of American art in the process. Klee’s inventive canvases and his original approach to painting (illuminated in his extensive writings) inspired a host of famed American abstractionists, from Jackson Pollock and Adolph Gottlieb to Norman Lewis and Robert Motherwell.

Even the era’s toughest critics hailed Klee as an crucial influence in the States. “Almost everybody, whether aware or not, was learning from Klee,” Clement Greenberg proclaimed in 1957. Harold Rosenberg chimed in with a similar view in 1969: “Klee spun off enough pictorial clues to keep New York studios on the trail for the next twenty years.”

Yet Klee’s impact in the U.S. has been under-explored—until now. “Ten Americans: After Paul Klee,” a new exhibition at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., presents Klee’s canvases alongside those of 10 mid-20th century American artists whose work clearly resonates with their Swiss predecessor’s.

“Compared to other European figures whose influence on American art has been investigated extensively, like [Pablo] Picasso and [Henri] Matisse, Klee has not had the same in-depth study,” said Elsa Smithgall, co-curator of the exhibition. “This show is overdue. It was time to show Klee’s work in direct dialogue with American art.”

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An exhibition of work by Paul Klee aims to reveal a darker side of the Swiss-German painter. Currently on view at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland, “Klee in Wartime” features an array of often fantastical works informed by the artist’s experience during World War I.

“I always thought that the time during the first world war was so important for Klee’s development,” the Swiss museum’s chief curator Fabienne Eggelhôfer told artnet News. “It’s strange because even though he had to go to war, he always found the time to really work and evolve. It’s interesting to see how those two worlds go together.”

In the early 20th century, Klee was already well-established as a member of the avant-garde movement Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider), participating in numerous exhibitions in the years before the war. But the buzzing art scene came to an abrupt halt when conflict broke out in the summer of 1914. Klee’s friends and fellow Blue Rider artists, August Macke and Franz Marc, were killed in action in 1914 and 1916, respectively, and abstract pioneer Wassily Kandinsky temporarily fled back home to Russia.

Klee was drafted into the German army in 1916. Fortunately for him, he was not deployed to the front. Instead, he was posted to airfields far behind the lines where he was responsible for cash administration and painting aircraft with templates in the army’s air corps. Eggelhôfer, who conceived the idea for the Klee show, says she has long been fascinated by the artist’s continued artistic output during this period, as well as his ability “to keep this kind of ironic distance to what was happening during the war.”

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“I cannot be grasped in the here and now,” the artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) once wrote. Not any old declaration, Klee so fully wanted this phrase—part promise, part repudiation of blame to both fans and detractors alike—to stand as a testament to his work, that he penned the line for his tombstone.

But of all of the most beloved artists from the turn of the century, there is something that makes Klee a little harder to pin down. So understanding why he warrants the honor of being today’s Google Doodle might need a little explaining. Klee never settled for one style.

Born to a German father who was a music teacher and a Swiss mother who was a trained singer in Münchenbuchsee, Switzerland, his parents pushed him toward a career as a musician. But Klee, even then wanting to forge his own path, chose art. The lessons he took from music, however, would remain important to Klee’s practice as he explored (and later taught, as an instructor at the Bauhaus) the idea of what musical concepts like rhythm could mean when applied to art.

It was these thoughts that endeared Klee to the artists Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and August Macke, whom he met in 1911 and soon joined ranks with, under the name Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Riders). But unlike his compatriots searching for a characteristic look through which to express their ideas, Klee spent his career jumping between visual styles. As such, the sum of his work ended up being not only less easy to define than many artists of his time, but also, as the artist himself noted, perhaps a little harder to understand Here are six representative works that elucidate some of the ideas he worked with, and the ways he tried to give them physical form.

Paul Klee, Flower Myth, 1918. From his expressionist period, this watercolor painted over a chalk ground on paper exemplifies the artist’s exploration with symbols. Here we see the sun, moon and his first use of birds rendered in what he fully embraced as a childish way, representing his awe of natural wonders from the earth and up to the stars.

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Hugely influential Swiss modernist artist Paul Klee has been honoured with today's Google Doodle.

Born 139 years ago today, Klee was influenced by cubism, surrealism and expressionism and considered one of the great innovators of his time.

His influence on abstractionism can be seen in the works of artists such as Rothko and Miró, and he is known to have completed thousands of works.

Klee's extraordinary body of work is also popular among calendar and postcard-buyers, yet little is known about him.

Here's what you need to know about the prolific artist.

Born in Münchenbuchsee to a German music teacher and Swiss singer, Klee studied music in his early years and was an accomplished violinist and member of a symphony orchestra, before he switched to studying art as a teenager.

He kept a diary of all of his works and became affiliated with an influential group of aritists known as Der Blaue Reiter from 1911 to 1914.

Graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich at the turn of the century, Klee later taught at the Bahaus in Weimar, Germany from 1921 to 1931.

The school still uses the Pedagogical Sketchbook he wrote for his students to this day.

He taught there until he was dismissed by the Nazis who condemned the Modernist movement.

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The key to Paul Klee’s wonderfully shaped energy is not ironic detachment, as the title of the Centre Pompidou’s current retrospective suggests, but rather the playful and idyllic emotion he transmits through masterly line and dusty color. There is certainly antagonistic intellectual wit in his brand of romantic spirituality, but I see more tenderness than detachment.

Klee, also an astute theoretician, shunned most artistic dogmas in favor of the greatest possible independence. In that sense, his particular authenticity as an artist is closer in spirit to Franz Kafka than to Honoré Daumier. In L’Ironie à l’Oeuvre (“Irony at Work”), I found Klee’s graphic work essentially solitary, even while within Expressionist, Cubist, and Surrealist traditions of visual innovation. His work is as solitary and singular in the modern art canon as Kafka’s is in modern literature.

The full breadth of that singularity is on view here, with about 230 works on loan from the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern and a slew of complimentary loans. The exhibition is divided into seven thematic and chronological sections that highlight each stage in Klee’s artistic development, from his early caricatures, through Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism, on to the Bauhaus, Picasso, and Naziism.

The first wall of the exhibition showcases very impressive early etchings. “Der Held mit dem Flügel, Le Héros à l’aile” (1905), and others like it, are majestic, German-inspired visual delicacies, recalling the precise and delicate line of Albert Durer, on one end of the timeline, and Hans Bellmer on the other. Klee practiced a light-touch graphic irony that was inspired by the philosopher Friedrich von Schlegel. Schlegel held that: “All must be playful, and all must be serious, frank, and deeply hidden.” To follow that decree, I submit, would not lead an artist to an ironic or satirical approach, contrary to the suggestion of this exhibition’s title. Looking tells me that Klee was more interested in intricate forms of non-work; in the critical pleasure found in play.

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I first came across Paul Klee while I was studying art at school in London. I was 15 and read a book featuring lots of painters from the early 20th century, Kandinsky and Franz Marc among them. It was Klee I kept coming back to, though. His paintings struck me as almost childlike, like someone discovering their surroundings for the first time. Perhaps that was the way I was feeling, too.

There are so many emotions in his work. Sometimes it’s dreamlike or idyllic, sometimes full of anger and passion. I love its seeming simplicity, the way he manages to make the complicated clear and straightforward. And then there’s his mastery of colour.

Klee was born in Switzerland in 1879 and studied in Munich, where be became involved with a group of expressionists. Kandinsky was a good friend, and he was influenced by the cubist work of Picasso and Braque. But it was when he travelled to Tunisia in 1914 that everything changed. The paintings suddenly heat up. He starts using reds, oranges, greens, placing them alongside these intense north African blues. Some of the paintings he made in Egypt almost burn. And they get more and more abstract.

As he got older, life became harder. In 1933, the Nazis declared his work “degenerate” and he was forced to return to Switzerland. His colours disintegrate, like his health was disintegrating. The paintings become a lot more abrasive: bolder lines, darker shapes.

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In a brief memoir of his childhood in the Swiss capital Bern, Paul Klee describes taking to a field a little girl “who was not pretty and wore braces to correct her legs” and deliberately pushing her over. “It tumbled,” Klee, then five or six, told the child’s horrified mother. “I played this trick more than once,” he writes.

Looking back 30 years later, the artist recalls this incident and various other boyhood cruelties and kindnesses, his fantastical imagining of the maid’s pudenda, his terror of tramps and monsters, with a deadpan detachment, evoking the way he saw them at the time, without the benefit – or hindrance – of adult moralising or interpretation.

In the marble table tops of a restaurant owned by his uncle, “the fattest man in Switzerland”, the young Klee would discern “a maze of petrified layers in which one could pick out human grotesques and capture them with a pencil.” Anyone even slightly familiar with the translucent layers of his watercolours, his propensity for “taking a walk with a line”, will feel a sense of recognition at his first conscious discovery of the visual world.

His entire subsequent career – mapped out in a new survey of his work at Tate Modern – might be seen as an attempt to capture the honesty of a child’s vision. I say “might”, as of all the leading figures to emerge in that extraordinary period in the early 20th century when art and a great many other things were turned on their heads, Klee is at once perhaps the best loved and the least understood.

There’s a certain mood that comes with the name Paul Klee, often characterised as childlike or fairy tale – rich colour and pattern seen on an intimate scale, dotted with whimsical hearts and arrows. Yet beyond this superficial prettiness it becomes difficult to pick a path among his bewilderingly diverse forms of expression: serene studies in colour harmony, graffiti-like scratchings, off-the-wall extemporisations on perspective and visual space with darker resonances that belie the apparent cutesiness that has made him a perennial favourite in the world of ready-framed pictures for the first-time buyer.

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ast winter, the Paul Klee Centre in Berne had a brilliant idea for an exhibition. They partnered a large selection of works by Klee with a broad sampling of the work of Klee's contemporary, Johannes Itten. When I saw it at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin, it was quietly devastating. Itten is one of those figures always referred to as "very interesting" by art historians, meaning almost the opposite. He was a contemporary of Klee's, and, briefly, a colleague when they both taught at the Bauhaus in its Weimar years from 1919. Itten was a curious person: he led a mystical religious movement at the Bauhaus called Mazdaznan, whose followers wore purple robes and ate nothing but garlic (Alma Mahler said that you could tell when you had walked past a Bauhaus student in those early years). Both Klee and he were somewhat mystically inclined, and thought deeply about the significance of colour. Both were restless creators, and their work changes dramatically every two or three years. They ought to be very good companions in a gallery survey.

Instead, you felt intensely sorry for Itten. Every shift in style in Itten's work was expertly achieved, closely argued-for and deathly dull. His grid-pattern abstracts are so tedious they give the impression of boring even their creator. Strikingly, every time Itten moves from one pictorial manner to another, he seems to leave everything behind. There is nothing that would convince you that one of his 1960s abstracts, such as Adieu (1965) was painted by the same artist that reduced a leaning woman to a pattern of lines in Woman with Birds (1945) or a still life of vases in 1922. There is no character there at the core. But Klee has an irreducible centre, and though he changed his style and approach many times in the 40 years of his mature career, there is always something there that makes you say "Klee" without hesitation. When Klee appears in a photograph, I've observed that even people who don't recognise him are drawn to his extraordinary, warm, humorous face – there is an unforgettable one of him with his Great War regiment, his expression turning the spiked Pickelhaube he wears into a moment of pure comedy. His work is much the same. At the calm centre of his enormous fantasy, there is an ego-denying self, looking outwards into the world.

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