CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Woodcut. From 1400 to the present

Exhibition: 3 June - 11 September 2022

„Woodcut: From 1400 to the Present“ is the first in a new series of exhibitions at the Kupferstichkabinett that will showcase different artistic printmaking techniques. By way of more than 100 works on paper – including masterpieces by Albrecht Dürer, Edvard Munch and Käthe Kollwitz – the evolution of the technique will be traced, from its genesis to the present day. The exhibition also foregrounds the technique’s materials and particular characteristics, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the fascinating, diverse world of printmaking.

In the beginning was the woodcut. It is the oldest printmaking technique, and continues to be used today by artists right around the world. This special exhibition shows a varied selection comprising more than 100 works from the rich collection of the Kupferstichkabinett, stretching from the early woodcuts of the fifteenth century (of which often just a few copies have survived) through to large-format contemporary works. While traversing this timeline, focus is placed on diverse themes, such as the interplay between material and technique, or the uses of woodcuts, which range from Christian devotional rituals featuring images of saints through to card games, ornamentation on late Gothic wooden boxes and striking forms of interior decoration, as well as in book illustration, pamphlet production and painting reproductions. Alongside these more practical applications, woodcuts were also produced as standalone artworks for collectors.

The Evolution of Colour Woodcuts

Particular attention is paid to the evolution of colour woodcuts and the ways that artists across all eras have searched for ways of producing full colour prints. A process which at times led to completely unexpected results. For example, the exhibition features hand-painted prints from 1460 as well as the first colored prints by Hans Burgkmair and Lucas Cranach the Elder, who were in a race to be the first to develop this technique. Juxtaposed with these are the multi-colored chiaroscuro woodcuts from the sixteenth century in Italy and the Netherlands, extravagant Rococo colour prints, and sheets from the 20th century produced with more than 20 colour plates which, inspired by Japanese woodcut masters, are more reminiscent of watercolours than woodcuts.

From Expressionist Woodcuts to Contemporary Proponents

Around the turn of the 20th century, Expressionists like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff discovered new approaches to the woodcut, following in the footsteps of Paul Gauguin. They viewed the technique as expressing a new, primal quality, and they created masterpieces in a pared-back visual language. What’s particularly surprising is the range with which artists in the second half of the 20th century continued to engage with this technique. The exhibition features abstract compositions by Helen Frankenthaler, Hans Hartung and Esther Fleckner, along with figurative, photo-realist works by Anselm Kiefer, Georg Baselitz and Franz Gertsch.

The presentation is enriched by contemporary interpretations of the woodcut, which oscillate between the status of one-off artworks and the reproductive, mass-media character of the medium, illustrating the surprising breadth and enduring contemporaneity of this printing technique. A particular highlight is formed by the woodblocks from various epochs taken from the Kupferstichkabinett’s collection, which are being displayed in large number for the first time, allowing visitors to experience the physicality of the material.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive program of supplementary events and a catalogue will be released by Hatje Cantz Verlag.