Natural and found materials and images speak for buried and present histories in Alison Saar’s powerful art. Here the American sculptor, painter and installation artist discusses the powerful wood carving “Dancer with Necklace,” 1910, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Alison Saar on Ernst Ludwig Kirchner





24th September 2016


It was in Berlin, between his years in Dresden and Davos, that Ernst Ludwig Kirchner created his central oeuvre, from 1911 until 1916. The main works of this Berlin oeuvre have the city itself as their theme, namely his “Berlin Street Scenes”, culminating – as was typical of Kirchner – in a huge painting measuring 2 metres in height: “Potsdam Square”, 1914.

This great “hieroglyphical” work of Kirchner's – Joachim Jäger calls it an “urban icon” – now hangs in the middle of the exhibition of around twenty Kirchner paintings from Berlin's Neue Nationalgalerie, curated by Joachim Jäger and Udo Kittelmann and currently on show at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin.   

Kirchner's “Potsdam Square” is the central work of the entire collection of German Expressionists at the Nationalgalerie, the predecessor of which was, until 1937, the Kronprinzenpalais, the mother of all museums of modern art. What was hardly mentioned in the media during the famous MOMA exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in 2013 was the fact that MOMA  was actually the “daughter visiting her mother's grave”. Indeed, MOMA was conceived and organized in 1929 by Alfred H. Barr on the example of the Kronprinzenpalais and several other museums of contemporary art existing in Germany at that time, some of them being conderably older. The significance of this museum, and of Expressionism in particular, was that it could experience a revival of its old glory in the planned new building of the Nationalgalerie, in the “Museum of the 20th Century”. 

Thus it was that, with the BrĂĽcke Museum and the Neue Nationalgalerie, Expressionism had found a good home in Berlin, at least as far as the visual arts were concerned. However, Expressionism was – and it was absolutely unique in this regard – a movement in all the arts: visual art, literature, theatre, film, dance, music – transcending boundaries or even creating complete crossovers. This Expressionism in all the arts had its centre in Berlin both before and after the First World War and may be seen as this city's most significant contribution to world art.    

In order that this significant period of art in Berlin cannot be forgotten and will never fail to be a source of inspiration to the art world of this city, a special kind of “embassy” or “permanent representation” has been set up in Berlin. It does not represent a country or a  state but rather a “universe”, namely the art of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: the KIRCHNER OFFICE, Schöneberger Ufer, only a short walk away from the Neue Nationalgalerie. It houses the “Ernst Ludwig Kirchner Gesellschaft Berlin e. V.”





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