Book Reviews -- German Expressionism: Documents from the End of the Wilhelmine Empire to the Rise of National Socialism Edited by Rose-Carol Washton Long / Autrian Expressionism by Patrick Werkner and Translated by Nicholas T. Parsons

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Rose-Carol Washton Long, ed. German expressionism: Documents from the End of the Wilhelmine Empire to the Rise of National Socialism. New York: G.K. Hall, 1993. 349 pp.; 50 b/w ills. $45.00

Patrick Werkner. Austrian Expressionism: The Formative Years. Trans. Nicholas T. Parsons. Palo Alto, Calif.: Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, 1993. 309 pp.; 166 b/w ills. $49.50

The book of documents on German Expressionist art, edited by Rose-Carol Washton Long, is a welcome addition to the flood of books that have been published on that subject in recent decades. Its voice is serious and sober amid the proliferating large-format catalogues and artist's monographs filled with plates in blazing colors. The total absence of the color associated with Expressionist painting suggests the purpose of the book, namely to focus on the words and ideas of the artists and their supporters, rather than to celebrate their visual prodigality. To further emphasize textuality, the editor chose to reproduce only three paintings, with the remaining forty-seven illustrations largely consisting f posters and graphics. This is entirely appropriate since, as one of the editors points out, printmaking was a central aspect of the Expressionists' search for communicative forms.

The documents have been carefully chosen to provide a comprehensive coverage of Expressionism from the earliest activities and exhibitions in Dresden, Munich, and Berlin from 1909 to 1914, through its critical promotion during the First World War, to the varied forms of political engagement during the revolutionary period of 1918-19, followed by the critique of Expressionism in the early days of the Weimar Republic and then the full-scale attack leveled by both right and left against it in the 1930s. Each of these stages is represented by documents drawn from the shifting groups that were formed to meet the successive challenges, whether aesthetic, promotional, or political. The voices begin with the conservative protest led by the artist Carl Vinnen in 1911 against modernist art forms that were being promoted by art dealers and museums and end with the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch's defense of Expressionism in 1938. The major protagonists are all represented: members discussing the aims and actions of their groups--the Brucke, Blaue Reiter, Sturm, Dada, Arbeitsrat fur Kunst, Novembergruppe, Dresden Secession Gruppe 1919, Weimar Bauhaus; individual artists debating the purposes of Expressionist art forms--painting, sculpture, architecture, printmaking; and critics arguing over the emergence and the demise of the Expressionist phenomenon.

Washton Long, with the assistance of Ida Katherine Rigby, and with contributions by Stephanie Barron, Rosemarie Haag Bletter, and Peter Chametzky, has provided brief, useful introductions to each section and to each document, as well as footnotes that contain both annotations and bibliographic references. The documents, most of which have not been accessible in English, have been translated into a readable prose edited by Nancy Roth. The judicious choice of documents combined with an academic apparatus that provides basic information and stresses English language bibliography has produced a volume that will be exceedingly valuable for introducing students to the field.

In an endeavor of this breadth, the editors have dealt successfully with the difficulty of attaining consistency in translation and accuracy in details. During a lengthy production time, they have been less able to cope with the daunting task of remaining current in a field that is proliferating.(2) Publications from the last five years are unevenly represented, although this weakness is masked by the unfortunate lack of a selected bibliography for the volume as a whole. Furthermore, since by definition this volume focuses on the documents written by the major artists and critics, it tends to reinforce a conventional approach to Expressionism that isolates the artists from the milieu in which they developed and, in so doing, tends to exalt them. …