Socialist Worker

Tate Modern exhibition shows how rhythms of colour make Paul Klee a model of an artist

The latest superstar exhibition of the work of Paul Klee at Tate Modern in London is worth the queues and the hype, argues Jeff Jackson

Issue No. 2377

It has become increasingly difficult to write an encouraging review about a  superstar exhibition at one of London’s leading museums or art galleries. 

They are expensive. And the experience of looking at the art takes on the experience of looking at a poster while waiting for a London Underground train.

You are constantly jostled by other visitors, who are in turn jostled by an endless flow of people in overcrowded spaces.

There is a constant babble of headphones as every third person listens to audio explanations of works they will barely have time to look at.

Exit is, almost certainly, through the gift shop. Everything from fridge magnets to the latest academic interpretations of the artist’s work are available to those with money to spare.

Yet to miss this exhibition would be a serious error. This is because much of Paul Klee’s (1879–1940) work radiates a quality that can engage the viewer and quickly immerse them into their subject.

His apparently playful rhythmic graduations of colour and scratchy, childlike movement of line have an ability to enchant.

Some of the works have something of a musical quality. You feel you can hear them with your eyes. Others can be witty, playful and scornful of tradition, both artistic and social.

As one of the 20th century’s leading Modernists, Klee is a central figure in the development of European art.

He was an early member of the groundbreaking and influential pre First World War Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider).

Klee won recognition and acclaim and in 1921 was invited to become a master at the revolutionary Bauhaus school. This sought to become “a center for the most intensive artistic work … beyond the reach of reactionary elements’’.

Radicalised

Klee leapt at the chance. The First World War had radicalised him and, along with millions of other Europeans, he felt a desire and need to create a better world.  

His early German chauvinism was transformed into a deep commitment to be part of a culture and society that would enrich humanity.

Over the next decade he and others at the school developed a theory and practice that shaped how many of us see and think about art.  

The dadaist Tristan Tzara maintained that Klee had given his contemporaries “a birth-of-the-world cure”, never ceasing in his exploration of form and colour. 

He was always seeking to hone and develop his technique without losing his ability to imbue his work with a sense of mischievous magic. 

Klee left the Bauhaus in 1931 shortly before it was closed. He was sacked from his post at Dusseldorf in 1933 as soon as the Nazis took power.

His work featured heavily in the notorious Nazi “Degenerate Art’ exhibition. Klee, born in Bern of German and Franco-Swiss parents, was labelled a Galician Jew.

Klee fled to Switzerland in 1933 where he continued to work despite failing health until 1940.

On leaving Germany he wrote to his wife, “Even if I were a Jew and originated from Galicia, it would not alter the value of my person and achievement by a single iota. 

“I must not voluntarily abandon my personal standpoint, which is that a Jew and a foreigner are not inferior to a German and native, because otherwise I would forever set myself up as a monument of ridicule.

“I would rather take adversity upon myself than represent the tragic-comical figure of someone who tries to gain favour of those in power”

Paul Klee: Making Visible, Tate Modern until 9 March 2014.

tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern


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Reviews
Tue 29 Oct 2013, 17:25 GMT
Issue No. 2377
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