Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Lyonel Feininger on paper

Lyonel Feininger woodcut on European wove paper. Courtesy of Moeller Fine Art.

No one will ever find April 29, 2003 in Lyonel Feininger’s (1871-1956) approved chronology. Yet, that is the date when, still a graduate student, I took my orals exam to qualify for my PhD at the Institute of Fine Arts. Neither the refined décor of the Institute’s Oak Room nor the majestic view of Central Park distracted me from the “unknown” image Robert Lubar projected onto the screen: A print by Lyonel Feininger I had never seen before. My job was to identify it. I thank the artist for his consistent printing style, his velvety blacks, kinked lines, and force of intention. This was the print that showed me that there was more to Feininger than his Bauhaus work.

To see the artist’s retrospective at the Whitney (Lyonel Feininger: At the Edge of the World, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, June 30- October 16, 2011), an exhibit organized by Barbara Haskell, is to recognize Feininger’s individual approach to fauvism and his brilliant work with color, his amazing visual memory, and of course his incessant humor. While his early works in color combine all these elements and reveal an artist with a point of view, his cubist works speak of confusion, cloudiness, and self-denial. It is another part of his production that made me reconnect with Feininger as I first encountered his work in graduate school and it is currently exhibited at Moeller Fine Art (Lyonel Feininger: Drawings and Watercolors from the Julia Feininger Estate, June 27-October 15, 2011).

Located on one of the most beautiful blocks of the city (on 64th between Madison and Park Avenues), Moeller Fine Art, a gallery that specializes in works by modernist artists, offers the most clear, refreshing, and conclusive presentation of Feininger’s work. Isn’t this what the Whitney aims at? The retrospective at the museum offers a comprehensive show of the artist’s production whereas Moeller Fine Art offers the definite narrative of his trajectory. The gallery, instrumental in helping the Whitney organize the retrospective, is also in charge of the Feininger archive and acts as authenticator of the artist’s work.

What makes the small exhibit at Moeller Fine Art seem as irrefutable evidence of Feininger’s genius (compared to the material on view at the Whitney) is the nature of the works on show: an abundance of pencil or pencil and gouache drawings, watercolors, prints, woodcuts as well as a few of Feininger’s late oil paintings tell the story of the individual artist who remained loyal to a superb level of craftsmanship in drawing and an extraordinary level of accuracy in production. In short, these forty or so works tell a different story than the one at the Whitney. Had he had the confidence to follow and develop his own style, Feininger would have had avoided the endless spin in Cubism’s vortex and freed himself toward his true manner. Most probably, he would have entered many more textbooks and earlier retrospectives as well.

© Thomaï Serdari