Ernst Wilhelm Nay’s work is a work of the century and is tied to the figurative-abstract reinventions of Modernism since the 1920s and the new aspirations of abstract painting since the 1960s.
Nay began his artistic career with Karl Hofer at the University of Fine Arts in 1920s Berlin, painting surrealist-abstract works as early as 1931, in 1933 he participated in the famous exhibition Lebendige deutsche Kunst (Living German Art) at the Alfred Flechtheim and Paul Cassirer galleries. His works were exposed early on to the agitation of the National Socialists. They were considered “degenerate”, Nay was banned from exhibiting.
The gallery rooms in the Niebuhrstraße present a rare cross-section of the central work phases in Nay’s work. Starting with the representational painting Landschaft mit Laterne und Schornstein (Landscape with Lantern and Chimney; 1925), the exhibition brings together examples of the dynamic Fishermen’s Paintings of 1936 and the Lofoten Paintings of 1938.
In Menschen in den Lofoten (People in Lofoten; 1938), figures are transformed into rhythmic abstractions and merge chromatically with the landscape. Harbingers of the colour-intensive, new abstraction are the Rhythmic Pictures such as Einklang (Unison; 1953), and the so-called Scheibenbilder or Disc-Pictures such as Gelb excentrisch (Yellow Eccentric, 1960), in which the circular shape of the disc becomes the dominant motif in all its variations. The late Dynamic Paintings of the 1960s shine with precisely outlined spindle shapes.
A special feature of this exhibition is the painting Fischerboote an der Hafenmole (Fishing Boats at the Harbour Pier; 1930). Purchased by the Berlin National Gallery in 1931, it was confiscated by the National Socialists in 1937 and shown in the so-called Degenerate Art exhibition in the same year.