‘Half winged-half imprisoned, this is man!’
PEDAGOGICAL SKETCHBOOKS, Paul Klee, 1925
Cruising from Westminster to Greenwich, we passed
Tate Modern, the old Bankside power station –
art as regeneration. The current show
was ‘Paul Klee – Making Visible’. “Making
a fool of himself, more like!” called the captain
over the tannoy. There was much laughter
and some applause. The 02 Arena
and the Thames Barrier came into view –
two works of abstract art as engineering.
In the Royal Hospital’s Painted Hall
are Thornhill’s baroque maritime murals –
representational art as décor
and establishment propaganda.
On the return trip, a different captain
made the same remark – to the same effect.
Klee and his peers had been many decades
dead and were, seemingly, still a threat –
despite the sponsor, EY – Ernst & Young –
trusted global accountants and auditors!
Klee catalogued his work precisely.
‘Making Visible’ followed his schema.
In the ‘20s room, I studied his ‘Wohin?’ –
‘Where to?’ – oil on paper, A4 more or less –
a stylised landscape of seven trees –
straight trunks, leaves and branches circular,
six deep green, paint richly daubed, the seventh
a discreet orange – and varicoloured,
irregular fields, no lanes, paths – the title
painted in as part of the picture.
I had seen the work before: exhibited
in Chicago’s Art Institute, built
as part of the 1893 World Fair –
architectural art as marketing.
The exhibition was a reprise –
a sort of victory roll – of the Nazi’s
‘Entarte Kunst’ – ‘Degenerate Art’,
mastered by Goebbels, opened by Hitler
in ’37 in Munich’s Chamber
of Visual Arts. In addition
to Klee’s, there were works by Chagall, Grosz,
Kandinsky, Kokoscha, Mondrian et al –
snatched from the public galleries of the Reich.
One might have expected the exhibition
to have been followed by the public
immolation of the works of art,
like the burning of books in ’33.
Some disappeared as Europe broke apart.
Many, like ‘Wohin?’, travelled safely
abroad. Money makes the art go round.
In ’33, vilified by the Nazis,
he left Germany and returned to Bern.
His was, as he put it, ‘a thinking eye’,
seeing truly the scope and the nature of things;
Picasso’s ‘master of colour’; versatile
in his use of materials; prolific.
In ’36, he was diagnosed
with scleroderma, an incurable
degenerative disease, that affects
motor skills. He died the month the Werhmacht
took Paris. He painted to the end.