The Blog

Kirchner's Hollow Women

German expressionism on display at the Museum of Modern Art.

12:00 AM, Sep 10, 2008 • By KATHERINE EASTLAND
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

First of all, like Eve, she puts on clothes. But in fashion-conscious Berlin, she puts on extravagant hats and heels and ankle-length coats--all of which become silent invitations for the public to view her. It is at this point that she resembles an advertisement or shop window. She offers a tangible product to the timid men painted behind her and to the viewer, whom she looks directly in the eye, as in "Berlin Street, 1914." But matters are not that simple. The clothes that lure her audience serve a second purpose: They conceal her. In fact, Kirchner dresses his women so lavishly that the only parts of their bodies exposed are their hands and faces, which are caked in garish make-up.

As such, these streetwalkers become emblems--city goddesses, even--personifying war-torn Berlin. They are a far cry from Boticelli's Venus, rising from the clam shell to proclaim--by her nude flesh--that she is truth and beauty incarnate.

Deborah Wye should be commended for arranging a show that, small in scope, allows viewers a rare, intimate window into one man's wrestling with the predicament of modern, public life--in a public building, no less, three floors above the bustling streets of New York.

MoMA's "Kirchner and the Berlin Street" runs through November 10.

Katherine Eastland is an assistant editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.