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Art Review: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
New York Art World
Donald Goddard
March 2005

Kirchner made about 20,000 drawings during his working life, almost two a day (from about 1900 through 1938). Only 41 are in this show, but I would be happy to see all 20,000. The process probably involved bursts of activity, but still must have been fairly continuous. Above all, Kirchner was aware of the possibilities, and that there are more lines in life than can ever be comprehended (lines, anyway, being a conceit of art). The drawings are firmly planted in this world, the artist's immediate life, specifically where he was or chose to be at any given moment, not in some universal space, nor in universal signs and mythologies. Everything is in motion--people, their surroundings, himself--so drawing is a method of approximating, of stabbing at what is there. Nature is translated immediately into gesture and line, which are its equivalents. There is no artist whose drawings more occupy the paper, just as mountains, people, trees, and buildings occupy the world. In that sense they are more like children's drawings than any other artist's--my house, my cats, the tree in my yard, the moon in my sky, me. 

Nothing is wasted or embellished. In Young Nude Woman in a Tub of 1914, the lines indicate the circular shape of the tub, the body of the sitting woman, her sex, her knees bent and head turned slightly downward, a chair and perhaps table behind her, little else. Shapes repeat and echo one another: shoulders and tub, head and chair back, breast and chair seat. We are intensely aware of the paper's blankness, and that what has been put there, or has emerged there, uniquely belongs to that space. The motif could not be simpler, nor the drawing more rudimentary, yet both are visually and emotionally complex. Curved lines billow outward to utterly command the space within the rectangle of the paper. The figure herself is completely engaged, evincing an expressive wholeness and self-regard, touching her left foot with her right hand, curling her left arm under he left knee, gazing downward intently where her right arm and left leg converge. She was not sitting for a portrait, as indeed few of Kirchner's subjects were, just acting through a moment, something like Degas' bathers but in a far more stringent and abstracted language. It is nothing but a drawing, and therefore nothing but the artist.