Are woodcuts as rough and simple as their reputation suggests? Are they really reflective of the clichéd ideas that are still associated with the medium today? What possibilities does the technical procedure of the woodcut offer, and how have artists used these possibilities through history? Running alongside the large-scale Woodcut exhibition at the Kupferstichkabinett, students from the Technische Universität Berlin tackle this theme in a small, single-room show at the Gemäldegalerie.
According to the Duden dictionary, the German word holzschnittartig (woodcut-like) describes something “coarse” and lacking “detail”, and characterises simplistic, crude depictions. But these descriptions only apply to a limited extent to actual woodcuts. Although the production process involves a division of labour and leaves less room for creative freedom than drawing, for example, many artistic woodcuts boast nuanced depictions and exhibit a virtuosic use of technique. In fact, artists viewed the limitations imposed by the technique as a special challenge. At times, you’d need a second glance to recognise that they are actually woodcuts. But it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that artists began using simplified forms and traces of the working process as deliberate elements of composition, when they rediscovered 15th-century woodcuts, and took inspiration from their “folkloric”, “primeval” qualities.
The exhibition takes audiences on a brief voyage of discovery through the world of the woodcut: 23 sheets extending from the 15th to the 20th century illustrate the technical skills of the artists involved in the production, their passion for experimentation, and the diversity of their solutions to working with the medium. The show features works by Albrecht Altdorfer, Ernst Barlach, Luca Cambiaso, Hendrick Goltzius, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Sabina Grzimek, Giuseppe Scolari, Giuseppe Vicentino and Hans Wechtlin. The exhibition was created as part of a course in the master’s programme in Art Studies at the Technische Universität Berlin, and in collaboration with the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin’s Kupferstichkabinett. It forms an accompaniment to the Kupferstichkabinett’s exhibition Woodcut: From 1400 to the Present (3 June to 11 September 2022).
A special exhibition by the Kupferstichkabinett at the Gemäldegalerie of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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