Artist News

Ernst Wilhelm Nay in Mythos und Massaker

Myth and Massacre
Ernst Wilhelm Nay and André Masson

08.12.2023 to 28.04.2024
Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg

The exhibition in the Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection is the first to be devoted the artistic relationship between the French Surrealist André Masson and the German artist Ernst Wilhelm Nay, whose work came to emblematise post-war West Germany’s politically correct embrace of modernist abstraction.

The starting point of the exhibition is André Masson’s (1896–1987) painting Massacre of 1931. One year later, an image of the picture was published in the influential French journal Cahiers d’art founded by the art critic Christian Zervos. Formally, Masson’s painting – as well as several other paintings and drawings by the artist from the same period – seems strikingly similar to works by Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968) from the 1940s, particularly to his France Pictures of the first half of the decade and his Hekate Pictures of the second.

These similarities notwithstanding, the two artists, who never met, were driven by very different preoccupations. Whereas Masson focused on the memory of the savagery and destruction of the First World War (he was discharged in 1917 after suffering a severe chest injury), the young soldier Nay conjured an alternate, mythical world to counter the catastrophe of the Second World War.