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“The complication of the artist’s being a woman,” mused the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, “ah, that really is a whole new question.” On the anniversary of the publication of Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist by Diane Radycki (Yale University Press, 2013), the author is joined by critic John Colapinto (The New Yorker), scholar Alessandra Comini (National Book Award nominee), author Marie Darrieussecq (2013 Prix Médicis winner), museum director Susanne Gerlach (Böttcherstrasse GmbH/Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum) and artist Grace Graupe-Pillard in a dynamic discussion about the book, and its deliberately provocative sub-title. Is Modersohn-Becker the missing piece in the history of twentieth-century modernism?
Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait, Age 30, 6th Wedding Day, 1906. Composite board, c. 40 x 28 in. (101.8 x 70.2 cm). Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen, Kunstsammlungen Böttcherstrasse.Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist is the first American publication in over two decades on this important early modernist—a daring innovator of gender imagery and the first woman artist to challenge centuries of traditional representations of the female body in art. The book examines Modersohn-Becker’s compelling biography: her personal anguish, including her irresolution about motherhood; her friendships with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and sculptor Clara Rilke-Westhoff; and her professional struggles. Radycki also analyzes the genres of Modersohn-Becker’s work—figure (especially the nudes), still life, and landscape—and details the reception of her work and the rise of her reputation, from obscurity following her untimely death in 1907 to notoriety in the infamous Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937. An authoritative source on the artist, this book makes an important contribution to understanding the significant role of women artists in the complex evolution of modernism.
John Colapinto is an award-winning journalist, author, and novelist. He is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. For The New Yorker, Colapinto has written about subjects such as artist Theaster Gates (“Theaster Gates’s South Side project”), Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer; designers Karl Lagerfeld and Rick Owens; and musician Paul McCartney (“When I’m Sixty-Four”). His interview with Diane Radycki (“Paula Modersohn-Becker: Modern Painting’s Missing Piece”), appears on Page-Turner, the literary blog of The New Yorker. John Colapinto lives in New York City. He is married to fashion illustrator and artist, Donna Mehalko (who introduced him to the work of Paula Modersohn-Becker on their first date). They have one son.
Modersohn-Becker, Reclining Mother-and-Child Nude, 1906. Canvas, c. 32 x 49 in. (82.5 x 124.7 cm). Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen, Kunstsammlungen Böttcherstrasse.
Alessandra Comini, author of eight books, is a distinguished scholar of fin-de-siecle Austrian and German art and music. Her book Egon Schiele’s Portraits was nominated for the National Book Award. In recognition of her contributions to Germanic culture she was awarded the Grand Decoration of Honor in 1990 by the Republic of Austria. Her lively revisionist work in the history of women artists was acknowledged in 1995 by the Women’s Caucus for Art with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Alessandra Comini lives in Dallas, and is in New York City curating an exhibition of Schiele’s portraits at the Neue Galerie opening in October 2014. Alessandra Comini (aka Megan Crespi) has just written her first murder mystery Killing for Klimt.
Marie Darrieussecq is the 2013 Prix Médicis winner for her most recent novel, Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes. In 1996 Pig Tales, her first novel--a best seller--was a finalist for the Prix Goncourt. (Jean-Luc Godard bought the film rights.) In 2007 her Tom is Dead was nominated for both the Prix Fémina and the Prix Goncourt. Darrieussecq’s essential theme has been identified as disappearance and absence, along with the question of identity and belonging. In all the books she has written, the main character is a woman, one who is often in a mother-child relationship. Darrieussecq, a prolific writer, has also written on the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, and is currently working on a novel about Paula Modersohn-Becker. Marie Darrieussecq, born in a village in the Basque Country, lives in Paris.
Modersohn-Becker, Lee Hoetger Holding a Flower, 1906. Canvas, c. 22 x 13 in. (55.3 x 33.2 cm). Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen.
Susanne Gerlach is the director of Böttcherstrasse GmbH. Böttcherstrasse (Coopers’ street) in old Bremen is a district of tourist enterprises and cultural institutions, including the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum. Built in 1927, it is the first museum worldwide dedicated to a woman painter. In 2005 the museum installed in its foyer the thirty-nine-foot double-sided LED column by Jenny Holzer, Mother and Child (for Paula Modersohn-Becker). The museum holds some of the artist’s most important paintings in its permanent collection, including the ground-breaking Self-Portrait, Age 30, 6th Wedding Day. It also maintains a program of changing exhibitions, produces publications, and hosts a gift shop and book store. Tourists come by busloads from as far away as Japan. (Modersohn-Becker is a veritable tourist industry in Germany, akin to Frida Kahlo in Mexico.) Susanne Gerlach lives in Bremen. She joined Böttcherstrasse GmbH in 1982, and became the director in 1995.
Grace Graupe-Pillard is an artist who works in traditional as well as experimental media. Known for a wide range of personal and politically charged images, she has recently created several series of nude self-portraits. Three are executed as a painted triptych, while others are ongoing as meme art. The series Grace Delving into Art is cited as the first example of Facebook art, “made specifically for the tone and temper of Facebook.” Humorous and serious, it features the nude artist interacting with public art, while it challenges traditional representations of the female body in art—and raises such issues as the changing ideals of beauty, the older body, etc. A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and many public art commissions in New York and New Jersey, Graupe-Pillard has had over twenty solo exhibitions and participated in numerous group shows. Her work is in the National Museum of Women in the Arts, among other American and European collections, and is posted online. Grace Graupe-Pillard lives and works in New York City and in a converted synagogue in Keyport, New Jersey.
Modersohn-Becker, Old Poorhouse Woman in a Garden with Garden Ornament, c. 1907. Canvas, c. 38 x 32 in. (96.3 x 80.2 cm). Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen. Kunstsammlungen Böttcherstrasse.Diane Radycki is the author of Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Modern Woman Artist. She is an art historian and specializes in European art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her scholarship focuses on the work of women artists in this period. A recipient of Fulbright and AAUW (American Association of University Women) fellowships, she received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1993 with a landmark doctoral dissertation. Hers was the first dissertation on a woman artist to be accepted in the Fine Arts Department. Radycki served as the first American translator and editor of The Letters and Journals of Paula Modersohn-Becker (1980), a project that began in the Art Room of the New York Public Library when she was a graduate student at Hunter College. Diane Radycki lives in New York City. She is an associate professor at Moravian College, where she directs Payne Gallery.
In its sixth year the program series An Art Book, initiated and organized by Arezoo Moseni, is a celebration of the essential importance and beauty of art books. The events showcase book presentations and discussions by world renowned artists, critics, curators, gallerists, historians and writers.