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An Art of Inner Necessity: Expressionist Works from MMoCA’s Permanent Collection

July 18, 2008 – July 19, 2009


An Art of Inner Necessity: Expressionist Works from MMoCA’s Permanent Collection examines the expressionist tradition in modern and contemporary art through paintings and works on paper from the permanent collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. It is the second in a series of three exhibitions that focus on the major styles of twentieth-century modernism in the visual arts. Other exhibitions in the series present works from the museum’s collection to illustrate abstraction and realism as components of modernism.

Expressionist works represent their subjects in recognizable form. However, unlike realist approaches, expressionism plays upon the evocative power of exaggerated color, distorted shape, and gestural line. Such transformations proceed from the artist’s personal need, or “inner necessity,” to make tangible his or her feelings—often intense—toward the subject. These alterations of natural appearances, in turn, recreate the artist’s state of mind in the viewer’s own imagination.

With roots in the Post-Impressionist art of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, expressionism found its first twentieth-century manifestations in the works of the German Expressionists and French Fauves. Expressionist style also characterized aspects of other art movements, including Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism. Unlike most modernist styles, expressionism has had a continuous history in the visual arts since its inception, including photography, film, and architecture. There have also been important counterparts in the literary and performing arts. Without question, expressionism has played a seminal role in the history of modern and contemporary art.

Artists in the exhibition include, among others, Max Beckmann, Jim Dine, Erich Heckel, Käthe Kollwitz, José Orozco, Georges Rouault, Joan Snyder, and TL Solien.

Exhibition Support

Exhibitions in the Henry Street Gallery are generously funded through an endowment established by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.