Galerie St. Etienne
Every Picture Tells a Story
The Galerie St. Etienne’s principal exhibition of the spring season traces the evolution of narrative imagery from the early 20th century to the present. Included will be works by Ida Applebroog, Max Beckmann, Sue Coe, Lovis Corinth, Gregory Crewdson, Henry Darger, Eric Fischl, George Grosz, John Heartfield, William Kentridge, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Käthe Kollwitz, Alfred Kubin, Robyn O’Neil, Herman Max Pechstein, Neo Rauch, Alexis Rockman, Martha Rosler and others. The show coincides with the publication of Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger with illustrations by Alexis Rockman.
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Prior to the 20th century, much art was narrative in approach, depicting scenes from history, the Bible or classical mythology. The advent of modernism, with its repudiation of academicism and realistic verisimilitude, cast such traditional narrative subjects into disrepute. Nevertheless, many modernists, particularly in Germany and Austria, continued to create images with narrative content. Storytelling was a particularly effective way to critique contemporary society, and politically engaged artists such as George Grosz, John Heartfield and Käthe Kollwitz all utilized this approach. Many artists, including Lovis Corinth, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Hermann Max Pechstein, continued to depict traditional religious subjects, albeit in a manner imbued with personal emotional nuance. Others, including Max Beckmann and Alfred Kubin, evolved a more idiosyncratic cosmology that filtered societal observations through the artist’s own interpretations and self-styled mythology.
The dominance of formalist theory in post-World-War-II America cast a shadow over narrative and realist art for many decades, but these impulses could never be entirely squelched. As the art scene has grown increasingly diffuse in the last decades, story-telling has reemerged as a significant concern for many artists. Not surprisingly, narrative remains the method of choice for artists like Sue Coe, Alexis Rockman, Martha Rosler and William Kentridge, whose goal is social commentary. Other artists, again in the manner of their early-twentieth-century predecessors, are more interested in giving form to personal experiences and visions, or recasting historical myths and fables in present-day terms. As popular culture penetrates ever more deeply into the once distinct realm of the fine arts, narrative forms such as comics, movies and television have exerted increased influence on the work of visual artists. Stories are, and have always been, the glue that binds culture together, and hence they are sources of a common visual language that can help us make sense of who we are.
EVERY PICTURES TELLS A STORY is documented by a comprehensive checklist, which is available free of charge by mail or can be down-loaded from the gallery’s website at: