December 26, 2008

Alfred Kubin at the Neue Galerie

At the corner of Fifth Avenue and 86th Street stands an elegant limestone and brick Beaux Arts mansion that was built in 1914 as the home of industrialist William Starr Miller. In 1994 the building was purchased by entrepreneur and philanthropist Ronald Lauder and his great friend the art dealer Serge Sabarsky, who undertook an extensive restoration of the premises. Mr. Sabarsky passed away in 1996, but Mr. Lauder continued the project alone and the Neue Galerie was unveiled to the public in 2001. Part showcase of Mr. Lauder's superb collection of Austrian and German Art and part tribute to his late friend and mentor, the Neue Galerie presents both special exhibitions and selections from its own magnificent permanent collection.

Now on view is "Alfred Kubin: Drawings, 1897-1909". This is not a cheery holiday show, but it is an interesting one. Alfred Kubin was born in Austria in 1877 and after a very traumatic childhood and an erratic education, he emerged as an excellent draftsman and a promising artist. Plagued with anxiety, sexual paranoia, an obsession with death, murder and suicide, he became the prototypical "tortured artist" and created exquisitely rendered drawings of bizarre and macabre subjects. Think Max Klinger, Francisco Goya, FĂ©licien Rops or Edvard Munch and the dark, hallucinatory worlds they created and you'll have an idea of what's in store! Take for example "The Lady on the Horse" (right), where a rider on a rocking horse is blithely chopping people into pieces with the blades of the rockers. Or a 1900 drawing of a nude woman leading a trail of heads and skulls and entitled "Earth Mother to Us All", or ... well, you get the picture.

This is the first major U.S. retrospective of Kubin's work, and it has a certain morbid fascination. The premonitions of the horrors of World Wars I and II are indisputable and the irony of a contemporary of Sigmund Freud exhibiting such graphic sexual deviations is delicious. If you are still interested to go, the show runs until January 26, 2009.

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