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Marsden Hartley: The German Pictures

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William Kherbek reviews the exhibition Marsden Hartley: Die Deutschen Bilder 1913-1915 at the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, on view through June 29, 2014.

Kherbek writes: "In these works, Hartley’s inclination towards symbolically-themed abstraction finds a concrete expression in the visual accoutrements of military insignia and national flags… From a painterly perspective, the works retain the expressionistic vibrancy of [Hartley's] Blau Reiter period, but bring a much tenser sense of colour and composition. The easy contemplativeness of his early works is subsumed by an ambivalence, even foreboding. In some ways they resemble Hartley’s Mexican landscapes and perhaps serve as a kind of preparation for them, a kind of psychogeography project avant la lettre. The personal narratives of love and loss are also profoundly realised. For paintings of medals and badges, they are supremely animated. Such disillusionment seems to have played a role in sending Hartley on the journeys of his later life, and the final room of the exhibition hints at his interest in indigenous American cultures as a possible source for the spiritual wisdom he sought."

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