Paul Klee is one of the great innovators among twentieth-century artists, celebrated for his inventiveness, wit and extraordinary use of colour. A major new exhibition at Tate Modern provides a revelatory experience of the work of this modern master and a unique chance to explore his innovations and ideas.
Bringing together drawings, watercolours and paintings from collections around the world, Paul Klee: Making Visible will span the three most productive decades of his career. From his emergence in Munich in the 1910s, through his years of teaching at the Bauhaus in the 1920s, up to his final paintings made after the outbreak of the Second World War, this fascinating exhibition highlights important groups of paintings from key moments in his life. Having since been dispersed across museums and private collections, Tate Modern will once again show these exhilarating works alongside each other, often for the first time since Klee did so himself.
Paul Klee was renowned for his teaching at the Bauhaus, and was both a playful and a radical figure in European Modernism. Born in Switzerland in 1879, he started out as a musician like his parents but soon resolved to study painting in Munich, where he eventually joined Kandinsky’s ‘Blue Rider’ group of avant-garde artists in 1912.
Paul Klee: Making Visible begins with his breakthrough during the First World War, when he first developed his individual abstract patchworks of colour. The many technical innovations that followed will be showcased throughout the exhibition, including his unique ‘oil transfer’ paintings like They’re Biting 1920, the dynamic colour gradations of Hanging Fruit 1921 and the multicoloured pointillism used in Memory of a Bird 1932.
The heart of the exhibition will focus on the decade Klee spent teaching and working at the Bauhaus. The abstract canvases he produced there, such as the rhythmical composition Fire in the Evening 1929, took his reputation to new international heights by the end of the 1920s.
The 1930s then brought about radical changes, as Klee was dismissed from his new teaching position by the Nazis and took refuge in Switzerland with his family, while his works were removed from collections and labelled ‘degenerate art’ in Germany. Despite the political turmoil, financial insecurity and his declining health, he nevertheless became even more prolific. Paul Klee: Making Visible will bring together a group of his final works from the last exhibition staged before his death in 1940.
Although he saw his art as a process of spontaneous creativity and natural growth, exemplified by his famous description of drawing as “taking a line for a walk”, Klee actually worked with great rigour. He inscribed numbers on his works in accordance with a personal cataloguing system and wrote volumes on creative practice and detailed lecture notes. In grouping these works as Klee himself did, this exhibition presents an extraordinary opportunity to explore them in a new light and understand them as the artist intended.
Klee’s works, presented in a symphony of yellow, blue and red, create an inexplicable impression of joy, of music and of freedom. Art, artifice or magic?
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