The air of perversion, with its prostitutes, piggish industrialists, tortured souls and general depravity, is why the German Expressionist show at Neue Galerie is so appealing.
Reacting against the horrors of World War I in their work, most of the artists were deemed degenerate by the Nazis.
Ablaze with raucous color, the first gallery addresses the countryside, the city, the artist’s studio, the circus and cabaret in the works of the founding German Expressionist groups Die Brucke and Der Blaue Reiter.
It leads with two vibrant, early Vasily Kandinsky streetscapes, a pair of electric-striped bathers by Erich Heckel and Max Pechstein’s erotic “Young Woman with Red Fan.”
In the next room, focusing on Germany’s dark side, are masturbating nude burlesque dancers by Christian Schad, fat cats by Georg Scholz and a commanding, bulging self-portrait by Max Beckmann, who looks as if he might explode.
A magnificent gallery devoted to the Bauhaus includes paintings, furniture, glassware, graphic and industrial design. A sleek tubular-steel armchair and footstool here once belonged to architect Philip Johnson.
Amid the emotive exaggerations and deformities beloved of the Expressionists are the understated abstract masterworks of Paul Klee.
His oil and tempera painting “Town Castle” resembles a finely woven carpet or an inlaid grid of jewels. Its uneven surface, undulating like sand dunes, evokes a twinkling wonderland -- a desert mirage.
Klee’s tempera painting, “Portrait of an Expressionist,” of a crazed, flying man-beast -- chased as if by his own fiery tail -- adds knowing levity and strikes a balance between this show’s debauchery and poise.
“German Expressionism 1900-1930: Masterpieces from the Neue Galerie Collection” runs through Apr. 22 at the Neue Galerie, 1048 5th Ave. Information: +1-212-628-6200; http://www.neuegalerie.org.
New York artist Zarina Hashmi, born in Aligarh, India in 1937, has a feel for paper, her signature material, which she likens to human skin.
In her compact, tender retrospective at the Guggenheim, she is primarily a graphic printmaker with a boldly political yet minimalist touch.
She works with black lines, geometric shapes and rubbings that are simultaneously tentative and intrepid, natural and abstract. Her pictures resemble maps, aerial views of cities, spider webs, script, crosses, charts and mandalas.
Some works deepen toward pure black. Others call to mind the faint markings of a bird’s footprints in snow.
Occasionally she resorts to family photographs, weaving, text and gold leaf. Sometimes, she incises the paper with a knife or repeatedly pricks it with a pin.
Most of the works, as in “The Ten Thousand Things,” a grouping of 100 small collages installed in a circular vitrine, feel like visual diary entries plotting ideas and moods.
Sometimes these materialize as sculpture. Spare paper and bronze forms conjure windows, petals, pods and cocoons.
Vaguely spiritual in nature, “Paper Like Skin” is varied yet cohesive. But as an oeuvre -- an artistic vision -- it is fragmentary and unsatisfying, as if constricted by paper itself.
In one curved gallery, 500 little silvery, bird-like forms swoop across the wall. If there is a breathtaking moment here, this is it.
“Zarina: Paper Like Skin” runs through Apr. 21 at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 5th Ave. Information: +1-212-423-3500; http://www.guggenheim.org.
(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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