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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Karl Hofer

Grosser Karneva, 1928, Karl Hofler, from the Wiemar period.
It's a measure of how relatively unimportant art, artists, and especially painters, are in today's world that seldom do they have to endure persecution by their government, social goups, religious groups, or even individuals. Only rarely do we read in the news or on the Internet of a figure in the arts (usually the performing arts) being criticized for something they've done or (more commonly) said. That's good, I guess, such freedom of creative expression being the life's blood of the arts. Except that it isn't. Not today, not any more. The fine arts are literally drowning in freedom of expression, almost hoping their work might be controversial enough to warrent at least fifteen minutes of fame. Yet, it seldom happens. Today, only videos go viral, only motion pictures get noticed, only the most shocking and disgusting works in any of the other arts stand a ghost of a chance in being noticed. Even the best motion pictures have a shelf life of more than a few weeks on the box office charts. Viral videos usually have a lifespan of more than a few days.
Tessiner Landscape, ca. 1928. Karl Hofer
Karl Hofer, Self-portrait, 1928
During the 1930s, Karl Hofer had his entire career destroyed in less than a year. The German artist, born in 1878, had been painting for about thirty years. He was not a member of any notable group of other artists such as Die Brucke (The Bridge), and by no means, at the top of his profession as an artist. But his works were selling, were in demand, and gaining some notice in the then world of German Expressionism. He had a comfortable job as a professor at Berlin's High School of Fine Arts. He'd traveled broadly throughout Europe, even spending extended periods in Paris and Rome, where he soaked up classical influences and the work of Cezanne and the Fauves. Then, in 1937, Adolph Hitler declared Hofer and his work to be "degenerate." Then in 1941, Hofer's wife Mathilde, was accused of being a Jew, then sent to her death in a concentration camp. Hofer's Santa Denunziata (below, left) suggests a fear that artists might be next on the list to be exterminated.
The Wind, 1930, Karl Hofer, a winner in America's Carnegie Competition.

Santa Denunziata,
1941, Karl Hofer
As a "degenerate" artist, Hofer found himself in good company, although he could hardly be considered the lightning rod for Nazi persecution that Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, or George Grosz became during this period. Yet his work, like theirs, was confiscated, often destroyed, and banned from display. Overnight, his work disappeared from museum and gallery walls. Despite this, in 1938, one of his paintings, The Wind, won a gold medal at the Carnegie International Exhibition in the United States. Hofer's work is heavy with phantoms, ghosts, and horrific skeletons, the aftermath of the devasting lingering psychological impact from his service in World War I, when he served in the French army.

Night of Ruins, 1947, Karl Hofer
Despite not being a part of any expressionist group, Hofer, even after the war, even after much of his work had been destroyed, came to be seen as one of the leading German Expressionist. After the war he got his old job back teaching art to German youth, except that after the war he became president of the school (quivalent of principal in the U.S.). In that position he and the newly prevailing Abstract Expressionist of the time found themselves locked in a prolonged dispute as to the validity of art produced by the new breed of expressionists his paintings had spawned. His Fruit Still Life (Apple in a Bag), created in 1946, marks a transitional work from the old to the new, receiving much the same critical aclaim as his best work before Hitler did him in. Karl Hofer died in 1955.

Fruit Still Life (Apples in a Bag), 1946, Karl Hofer 


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