I was delighted to receive an invitation to write about one of the 120 art works selected for The Art of the State, the current exhibition at Montana Museum of Art & Culture. It was difficult to chose from the diverse images and objects on view. Ultimately, I chose Kathe Kollwitz's etching, Conspiracy. Kollwitz (1867-1945) is an artist I hold in the highest esteem. While her work can be deeply personal and intimate, this print demonstrates the power of her socially-concerned art.
Curator Brandon Reintjes notes that this print from The Revolt of the Weavers series was completed in 1895. "Kollwitz was inspired by.... Gerhart Hauptmann's play The Weaver, which explores the failed revolt to the Langembielau weavers in 1842. The series was exhibited to acclaim in 1898, and at the Great German Art Exhibition Kollwitz was nominated for a gold medal." However, Kaiser Wilhelm II was so infuriated by the six print series, he prevented the award.
|Conspiracy, 1895. Etching, 11.25x6.75".|
What so infuriated the old Kaiser? What makes this image provocative today, and how is that accomplished?
In Conspiracy Kollwitz uses the force of linear perspective to sweep viewers back from the starkly lit foreground to a more remote darkness. There figures merge in shadow, as they also join in secret purpose. Yet within the gloom we can make out their serious and haggard faces, hands clenched in fists and gnarled by labor.
Conspiracy depicts a moment in an historic drama (the 1842 Weaver's Revolt), but also reflects the anguish of economic disparities that repeat from generation to generation. With this image Kollwitz provides a vision of the courage and solidarity required to attempt profound social change in any age or place.
I apologize for the mediocre reproduction. I hope you will take the chance to find this etching in excellent company at MMAC, or perhaps in the context of the entire Revolt of the Weavers series elsewhere.