New gallery mounts impressive show of Expressionist graphics

EVERY period or school of art has its major, even occasionally its great examples: Impressionism had Monet's studies of Rouen Cathedral and haystacks, as well as Renoir's ``The Luncheon of the Boating Party''; Post-Impressionism had Van Gogh's ``Starry Night'' and C'ezanne's ``The Large Bathers''; Expressionism, Munch's ``The Cry''; Cubism, Picasso's ``Les Demoiselles d'Avignon''; and Abstract Expressionism, Pollock's ``Blue Poles.''

The same holds true in the field of prints. With the possible exception of Impressionism and Fauvism, which didn't translate well into etchings and lithographs, all serious recent movements have produced graphic works of quality and distinction.

Expressionism, in particular, has given us a remarkable body of great prints, with at least a dozen ranking among the best graphic images of the 20th century. Erich Heckel's four-color woodcut ``Portrait of a Man'' is unquestionably among this group. Executed in 1919 by one of Expressionism's most famous figures, it easily holds its own next to the finest examples by Munch, Nolde, Kirchner, Kollwitz, Rouault, and Beckmann.

It isn't Heckel's only first-rate print, however. His 1912 colored woodcut ``White Horses'' is also highly regarded by experts in the field, and is included in many of the most prestigious collections of modernist graphic art. Both ``Portrait of a Man'' and ``White Horses'' are among the highlights of ``The Expressionist Figure,'' an exhibition of 40 outstanding paintings, sculptures, watercolors, drawings, and prints by 20 pivotal Expressionists currently on view at Lafayette Parke Gallery here.

Although modest in scale (the largest oil, Max Beckmann's powerful 1919 ``Reclining Nude,'' is only 48 inches wide) and generally subdued in color, this intelligently assembled and effectively displayed exhibition nevertheless packs a punch far in excess of what one would expect from a show of its size. Credit for that must go to Roy Karlen, the gallery's director. Thanks to him, almost everything on view is exceptional.

Even the two or three weaker items (the Klimt, for instance) are still of historical interest. But mostly, Mr. Karlen is to be commended for including the two Heckels, the Beckmann, several excellent works by George Grosz and Otto Dix, a strange but intriguing Egon Schiele, a fascinating Heinrich Campendonk, and eight impressive drawings by Karl Hubbuch, still one of this century's most underrated draftsmen.

All this is especially noteworthy since Lafayette Parke is a new gallery in town, and this is its second show. To have assembled an exhibition of this caliber requires knowledge, excellent professional contacts, and a deep and continuing commitment to a movement that, until recently, was too often ignored on this side of the Atlantic.

Until the Guggenheim Museum's ``German Realist Drawings of the 1920s,'' few Americans had heard of Hubbuch, Rudolf Grossman, or Rudolf Schlichter. Even Dix, one of the most extraordinary German artists of the century, was little more than an obscure name, except to a few specialists and collectors.

And Grosz, unfortunately, was seen by altogether too many as little more than a political cartoonist. That situation now appears to be improving somewhat, thanks largely to a few knowledgeable and committed curators and dealers, and to the emphasis they are increasingly giving to work of the great northern Expressionists and members of Neue Sachlichkeit (``new objectivity'').

Every exhibition such as this one deserves all the support it can get, for it advances our knowledge of, and insight into, the art of the powerful figures who worked in Germany and Austria during the first three decades of our century.

But just as important, it's a stimulating and aesthetically rewarding show. Heckel's ``Portrait of a Man'' is worth the trip to the gallery all by itself - especially since it's an artist's proof and one of the richest impressions of this print extant.

At Lafayette Parke Gallery, 58 East 79th Street, through Dec. 20.

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