Martin Museum of Art exhibit to showcase power of femininity

Photo courtesy of Martin Museum of Art

By Kalena Reynolds | Staff Writer

The Martin Museum of Art will introduce an exhibition of works from German artist Käthe Kollwitz, titled “The Hammer That Shapes Reality,” on May 14. The exhibit has been in the works for over a year and will run until Nov. 10.

Michael Schuetz, collections manager for the Martin Museum of Art, said Kollwitz was heavily involved in social issues — especially during the Weimar Republic of Germany from 1919 to 1933 — and showcased that through her artwork.

“She did protest posters, and she was an anti-militarist,” Schuetz said. “She was a big fan of the proletariat, so she believed in the cause of the working people [against] the oppression that they were facing at that time.”

Schuetz said Kollwitz displayed these issues through various printmaking methods, and most of the prints are black and white.

“There are lithographs, etchings, aquatints and woodcuts as well,” Schuetz said. “So those are different methods within the larger umbrella of printmaking, per se. So from a technical standpoint, our viewer is going to get a lot of different variety within the printmaking field. You’re going to get to see a lot of different ways that she made these pieces.”

Because of the emotional element of Kollwitz’s work, she discarded painting as an art form. She saw black as an inspirational representation of tragedy and white as a contrast.

“There’s no color in the show whatsoever, and so that kind of digs into her own aesthetic, where she had rejected painting early on and saw the graphic nature — darkness and black-and-white high contrast — as something that could give real impact to her work,” Schuetz said.

While the recurring theme of black and white in Kollwitz’s art represents the tragedy of humanity, Schuetz said Kollwitz’s prints are intentionally strong and purposefully created to induce feelings.

“If I were going to describe her in a nutshell to somebody that was not an artist, I would say that all the work is figurative,” Schuetz said. “It largely focuses on the female and the relationship of females, mother to child. But the stature and the stylization of the figures are very strong. They feel strong and kind of monumental, almost sculptural.”

The idea for the exhibition began when Schuetz came upon some of Kollwitz’s prints. As a longtime fan of the artist, he began to dig deeper into the collection and realized that Baylor had multiple of her pieces.

“I saw that the prints that we had represented a good span of works during her career,” Schuetz said. “So I got excited and I kind of scattered [down] some notes, and then I thought to myself, ‘We should do a show on this sometime.”’

Allison Chew, director of the Martin Museum of Art, said she was excited when Schuetz brought the idea to her to create an exhibit exclusively showcasing Kollwitz’s work — and that the themes represented in the artwork resonate just as powerfully today as they did when they were created 100 years ago.

“I was excited in terms of showcasing our collection,” Chew said. “I’m always looking for an opportunity to show off what we’ve got, and at the Martin, we’ve never done a dedicated show for her in the past.”

As far as the idea for the exhibit title goes, Schuetz said he was collaborating with an intern at the time and drew inspiration from a quote by German playwright Bertolt Brecht that felt fitting.

“The quote our title is taken from is ‘art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it,’” Schuetz said. “That title came up from the intern, who included it in her writing, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s great.'”

Chew said the title also represents the question of whether “art imitates reality or reality imitates art.” Ultimately, she said, the answer is both.

Kollwitz’s work is intended to inspire these questions about life and display important messages that revolve largely around feminism and viewing women in an accurate form.

“I think at the heart of what she’s trying to get across with her work is both content, contextual, formal,” Chew said. “She’s looking at women in the face of tragedy and hardship, and that we endure, we persist. Women are not these fragile things. We’re not these idealized beauties. We’re real. We’re human, and we go through things.”