MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
To the art world and an exhibit opening next week at the Met, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Thirty-nine paintings by the German expressionist artist Max Beckmann. The show is called "Max Beckmann In New York," and it was inspired by one particular day in the city back in 1950. I'm going to let Sabine Rewald pick up the story from here. She is curator of the show. Hi there.
SABINE REWALD: Yes, hello.
KELLY: So tell us what what happened. December 1950, Beckmann was in New York.
REWALD: Yes, it was a sunny day on December 27. And there was an exhibition called "American Painting Today" that had opened in early December, but he missed the opening. So on that day, he went to see his last - he could know it was his last - his "Self-Portrait In Blue Jacket." But unfortunately, he never made it to the Metropolitan Museum. On the corner of Central Park West and 69th Street, on the side of the park where there is an entrance, he had a heart attack and he died.
KELLY: Is the painting that he was on his way to see - is it part of the show that's about to open?
REWALD: Of course. If I would not have gotten this painting, which is now in the St. Louis Art Museum, I couldn't have done this exhibition. It is the centerpiece.
KELLY: Describe it for us.
REWALD: It is, as always, a painting that Beckmann shows - he shows himself smoking. And he has a bright blue jacket and his shirt is sort of reddish. He painted with much louder colors, I must say, when he was in New York. He lived here for 16 months. He was driven, and he painted often hours and hours in his studio, also at night. And he used neon light. So I think the neon light makes his colors somewhat sharper and more bright.
KELLY: Give us a bit more of a picture of what kind of things he painted. He was known, for example, for self-portraits like the one you just described.
REWALD: He was in the beginning an expressionist, then briefly was part of what is called new objectivity realism. And then in the late '20s, early '30s, he mingled often mythology with realism. And that had to do also because of the rising National Socialism. You see in 1931, after spending 15 years in Frankfurt, he moved to Berlin. And he thought Berlin a larger metropolis which would, in a way, be more secure for him because his painting by '33 was condemned as so-called degenerate by the National Socialists. And then he moved to Amsterdam, where he would spend the next 10 years in voluntary exile.
KELLY: Did Max Beckmann over go back to Germany?
REWALD: He never went back to Germany. He stayed in Amsterdam until 1947, and then Beckmann was invited to teach in St. Louis. And so Beckmann left. And then in 1949, he was appointed to teach at the Brooklyn Art Museum School in New York. So he came to New York and felt that was the end of exile. He said New York is like Berlin - 10 times as vibrant. So he loved New York.
KELLY: For people who maybe don't know Beckmann's work, what's his place now in the art world?
REWALD: I think Beckmann's place as a German artist is comparable to Picasso's place. Beckmann is our most important, well, dead German artist.
KELLY: You say our. I should mention...
REWALD: Oh, sorry, I said German. I still...
KELLY: ...You're from Germany, from Berlin.
REWALD: Yes, I still feel German, so sorry.
KELLY: Based on what we know about him, how much might it have mattered to him all these years later to see that painting finally up on display in the Met?
REWALD: Yes, I think he would have liked it very much. He would have said in his typical cynical, humorous way, nice little show.
KELLY: (Laughter) Well, that's Sabine Rewald, curator of that nice little show, "Max Beckmann In New York." It opens to the public on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thank you so much for talking to us, Sabine.
REWALD: You're very welcome.