Galerie St. Etienne
MORE THAN COFFEE WAS SERVED
The Galerie St. Etienne opens the fall season with an exhibition exploring the impact of the café on the development of the visual arts in fin-de-siécle Austria and Weimar-era Germany. This intriguing presentation features artifacts relating specifically to cafés (such as furniture, posters and artists' depictions of the café and cabaret milieu), as well as works more loosely documenting the creative interchanges that this institution inspired. Among the artists to be included are Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Erich Heckel, Josef Hoffmann, E.L. Kirchner, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, Jeanne Mammen, Emil Nolde, Hermann Max Pechstein, Christian Schad, Egon Schiele and Bruno Voigt.
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The café and its nighttime counterpart, the cabaret, were meeting grounds for all members of society in early twentieth-century Austria and Germany, fermenting artistic movements and influencing artists' subject matter. The cross-fertilization that existed among figures in various disciplines, all of whom rubbed shoulders at the leading coffeehouses, contributed in many ways to the rapid and simultaneous emergence of avant-garde movements in art, literature and music. So august were the personages who frequented the leading coffeehouses that no fewer than three were known by the nickname "Café Megalomania": the Café Griensteidl in Vienna, the Café des Westens in Berlin and the Café Stefanie in Munich. It was here that the Secession movements in each of these cities gained impetus, cementing artistic alliances while at the same time sowing the seeds of future rivalries. The German variant of Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, was based in Munich, where contributors to the popular journals Jugend and Simplicissimus gathered at the Stefanie and other coffeehouses in the Bohemian Schwabing district. The Viennese Caféhaus--home away from home, office, letter drop and lending library--was the birthplace of the Jung Wien (Young Vienna) literary movement and the nexus for artistic factions that included both the elegant architect Josef Hoffmann (co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte) and his arch-enemy, the iconoclastic Adolf Loos. It was in the Caféhaus that Jugendstil gradually ceded the ground to Expressionism.
The heady atmosphere of the fin-de-siécle coffee house was to some extent dampened by the impact of World War I. Hereafter, cafés and, especially, cabarets came to epitomize desperation and decadence. If the prewar café had been chaste and largely intellectual, its later incarnation was often blatantly sexual--a marketplace of bodies, not ideas. Particularly in Weimar-era Germany, artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz and Jeanne Mammen used the café and cabaret locale to capture the less savory vicissitudes of urban life. Poverty, loutishness and licentiousness abound in their treatment of the subject. Yet the Weimar-era café was also the home of the 'new woman,' free for the first time to work outside the home, and at least some of the images suggest the emergence of a newly liberated, liberal society.