The Schirn Kunsthalle exhibition, complemented by a well-documented catalogue, is devoting 18 rooms to present the major works of 18 women artists (280 works) who played a critical role in Der Sturm’s history. This is the perfect opportunity to revisit art history in light of an avant-garde that remains far too unknown to this day.
Artist and writer Herwarth Walden, with his Der Sturm (“The Storm”) magazine, founded in 1910, and an identically named gallery that opened its doors in 1912 in Berlin, is certainly one of the most important discoverers and promoters of the German avant-garde of the early 20th century. The open-minded Walden, spurred by a particular desire to challenge preconceptions, was receptive to all movements, whether expressionist, futurist, orphic, or even cubist. Most importantly, defying the prejudices of his time, the gallery owner never hesitated to exhibit numerous young women artists, from any country and belonging to any avant-garde movement. While some of them are now well-known, such as Sonia Delaunay or Natalia Gontcharova, most of them have been unfairly forgotten and erased from the history of art.
German expressionist painter Gabriele Münter, a member of the Blaue Reiter movement, was one of the first women artists to be displayed by the Der Sturm gallery in January 1913. She was soon followed by Sonia Delaunay, who was included, the same year, in the first Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon (German autumn art show), organized by Walden and hosted by the Sturm. For the occasion, the artist presented her “first simultaneous book,” La Prose du Transsibérien, created in collaboration with Blaise Cendrars. She received her own solo show in 1920.
With a mind to show the many sides of the avant-garde, Walden got in touch with the Société Anonyme, Inc. founded in New York by Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Katherine Dreier, who paid a visit to the gallery in 1921 and introduced the gallery owner to the works of artists Marthe Donas, Jacoba van Heemskerck, and Maria Uhden.
In 1916, the magazine announced the creation of an art school, the Sturmschule, which offered music, poetry, theatre, and painting classes. The following year, Walden launched an experimental theatre, the Sturmbühne, where Natalia Gontcharova would work as a set designer. It’s in this context that Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt created a series of masks and costumes they would wear during their Die Maskentänzer (“the masked dancers”) theatrical performances.
It goes without saying that the style of the women artists supported and promoted by Walden was every bit as eclectic as the men the gallery represented. But every single one, through their ingenuity and fertile creativity, played a significant role in the development of modern art. Hats off to Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle for working hard to whisk them back out of obscurity.
At Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, 30 October 2015–7 February 2016.