Since 1934, the Harvard University Art Museums have been collecting works by Paul Klee. The Bush-Reisinger's current exhibition offers a valuable opportunity to see this comprehensive collection, which the University only displays about every ten years.
Harvard's Klee collection--spans many years of the artist's life; the work in this show dates from 1903 to 1939. The show's breadth conveys a sense of his changing style while highlighting certain constant themes and interest
Some of Klee's earlier work is more representational, though highly stylized, while his later pieces are colorful non-objective works. In "Menacing Head" (1905) a man stares from the frame with an intense gare, a small weasel-like animal perched on top of his head (although the fact is similar to Klee's this work is not considered a self-portrait). This early work foreshadows his later exploration of abstract visual symbolism. As the gallery notes state, Klee uses the two components to "expose human malvolence."
A later piece, "Light, Dry Poem" (1938), exemplifies Klee's experiments with color and texture. On burlap, black lines surround pastel shapes. The place seems to be Klee's expression of his belief that "art does not render the visible; rather it makes visible."
What Klee chose to "make visible" was often the natural world and its relation to humans. In "Botanical High Culture" (1938) bold, colorful shapes suggest human forms. The drawing "Perception of an Animal" (1925) shows highly stylized parts of an animal, drawn with tiny sharp black lines. In the white space of the background floats an exlamation point, as if Klee is commenting on the wonder of nature.
Many of the drawings explore the difference, or lack thereof, between humans ans animals. In the drawings, "Hardly Walking Any More, Not Flying YEt" (1927), Klee depicts a creature that is half man, half bird. The loose, sweeping lines surrounding the figure suggest wings and feathers.
These pieces highlight the childlike drawing style for which Klee is known. He drew his figures with spontaneous, thin black lines and did not rework them. The fragmented figues show the influence of Cubism on hiswork but this playful style set him apart.
The Busch- Reisinger's exhibition, with 31 works is small enough to be manageable, yet large enough to present the different stages and themes of his work. These well-chosen pices make for a suitably vibrant introduction to a daring artist.