Almine Rech Gallery London presents a solo exhibition by German artist Ernst Wilhelm Nay. The exhibition marks the representation of the artist by Almine Rech Gallery and is comprised of a selection of historical paintings.
The pictorial and graphic œuvre of Ernst Wilhelm Nay spans almost half a century, having begun in 1922 — with a stark, though beautiful, quasi-monochrome self-portrait — and ending in 1968, with an extraordinarily warm and lyrical, reflection on colors: Weiß – Schwarz – Gelb, closing an extraordinary career brought to an abrupt end by a sudden heart arrest: Nay was 66 years old. These two dates bracket nearly fifty years of intense, manifold artistic practice initiated under the tutelage of Expressionist artist Carl Hofer, and ending with a series of extraordinary chromatic meditations, in part an homage to Matisse’s papiers découpés, in part the result of a relentless, continuous exploration on the plastic possibilities available within the interstitial divide between abstraction and figuration.
The span of Nay’s artistic career coincided with one of the most tumultuous epochs in the history of mankind, with its epicenter in Germany. No sooner had the Nazis come to power in Germany than his work gained immediate attention in the Fascist steeply conservative media : one of his work (Liebespaar) was jeered as a “Meisterwerk der Gemeinheit” (a masterpiece of vulgarity). Not surprisingly, his work found its way a few years later into the ominously famous “Entartete Kunst” exhibition, upon which he was forbidden to exhibit in Germany. Immediately after the war, however, Nay’s artistic career received a huge accolade, not only in Germany, but in Europe, and soon over all continents. His work occupied a central feature in the First Documenta, 1955 — a cultural and historical sea-change, and the signal of a vast, and powerful revival of international artistic activities, of which we see today the legacy in this year’s Documenta 14. Though steeped in the Expressionist atmosphere of the time, the earliest works of Ernst Wilhelm Nay are strictly figurative, typically portraits of friends, family, or himself. His Bildnis Franz Reuter (Portrait of Franz Reuter, 1925), which would earn him a spot in Carl Hofer’s master class at the Academy of Charlottenberg, was hung at the Spring Exhibition of the Prussian Academy of Arts between works by leading Expressionist painters Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Oskar Kokoschka. The human presence nurtures Nay’s artistic vision and imagination from the outset, and even when he turns to landscapes the human figure is rarely absent. Indeed, shortly after the artist’s death in 1968, his own wife Elizabeth noted his seemingly one track fascination with the human, reminiscing that “Nay was never interested in landscapes, he was only ever interested in the human.” As Nay progresses, he began to distance himself from the “realistic motifs” of his early works and move further into growingly abstract depictions of the human form. But, in truth, the one-way journey from representation to abstraction accomplished by Kandinsky (whom Nay met when he was stationed in France in 1943), never seemed to hold great appeal to Nay — who preferred to be free to alternate, oscillate, or even conjugate the two worlds. Nay’s art, in fact, seemed to be constantly activating a toing-and-froing between the two practices, without ever declaring his monogamous attachment to either figuration or abstraction.[…] Nay’s paintings succeed in being resolutely the fruit of their anxiety-ridden epoch, without ever giving in to some taciturn results: quite the contrary, there remains throughout Nay’s extraordinary œuvre, an abiding underpinning source of joy, or fun — of faith in humanity.
Ernst Whilelm Nay (1902 – 1968), has exhibited extensively in solo exhibitions at institutions and galleries such as: Michael Werner Kinsthandel, Köln, DE (2013); Museum Liner Appenzell, CH (2013); Kunstmuseum Bonn, DE (2012); Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, DE (2009); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1998); Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt, DE (1994); Kunsthalle Basel, CH (1991); Leopold-Hoesch-Museum, Düren, DE (1987); Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City (1976); Museum Folkwang, Essen, DE (1962); Leopold-Hoesch-Museum, Düren, DE (1955); Galerie Buchholz, Berlin (1937). He has also been included in many noteworthy surveys of Contemporary German Art: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg, DE (2003); Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, US (1992); Darmstadt Kunsthalle, Darmstadt, DE (1990); Academy of Arts, Berlin (1975); Kasseler Kunstverein, Kassel, DE (1972); Grace Borgenicht Gallery/ Weyhe Gallery, New York, US (1956); Kurhaus, Baden-Baden, DE (1947).Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Geteilt durch Rot und Blau, 1967, Oil on canvas, 200 x 190 cm / 78 3/4 x 74 3/4 inches / © 2017 E. Nay-Scheibler, Köln / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Courtesy Almine Rech Gallery / Photo: © Simon Vogel, Köln