With an exhibition scheduled until 3 March, the MUDEC in Milan puts Paul Klee’s fascination for primitivism on display.
In almost 100 works hailing from museums and private collections, Klee. At the Origins of Art reveals the complexity of the master of Expressionism, whose artistic maturity was influenced by contrasting pre-classical epochs, such as Ancient Egypt, and those of his time, considered barbaric or decadent, like the late-antiquity period.
It was a journey to Italy in 1901 and 1902 that arouse in the Bernese painter an interest for all that is wild and primitive in art. In proximity to the wonders early-Christian Rome, he felt like a descendant, a tardive heir to an illustrious civilisation that had reached its sunset.
Transforming that disappointment into style, abandoning a taste for the monumental as per the training he received in Munich and embracing progressively-new expressive forms, the sense of nostalgia combines with an inclination towards mockery, pastiche, caricature and deformation.
Parody and homage coexist in the creativity of Klee, ranging from the reinterpretation of sacred art, the use of symbols, ideograms, runes and invented alphabetic elements, through to an interest for cosmic themes that prevail in the mystical paintings from the years of World War I.
The exhibition recounts this condensed formation process, revealing to the public a genius even more charming than it appears from the better-known abstract and polychrome canvases, which are not lacking in exposure.
Flanking the masterpieces of painting is a unique example of the puppet theatre that the artist, interested in infantile expression and that of ethnographically-distant populations, built for his son Felix.
The creations dialogue with the paintings, demonstrating how the artist has long studied and understood that world so far-off from the western tradition, rendering it a fundamental element on his own journey.
A parody of and homage to the ancient coexist in the creativity of Klee, ranging from the reinterpretation of sacred art to the use of symbols, characters and runes.
Wald Bau (forest-construction) (1919)
Watercolour on plaster-primed linen on paper on cardboard
Milan, Museo del Novecento
© Roberto Mascaroni/Saporetti Immagini d'Arte, Milan
With Gas Lamp (1915)
Watercolour on paper, on cardboard
Rome, National Gallery of Modern Art
© Photo Scala, Florence, by concession of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities
High Guardian (Hoher Wächter) (1940)
Wax painting on canvas; original frame
Zentrum Paul Klee, Berna
© Image archive Zentrum Paul Klee, Berna
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