Ernst Wilhelm Nay


His powerful, intensely coloured paintings are deemed as creating a bridge across art before and after the Second World War, across Expressionism, abstraction and free gestural painting after 1945, across German and international Modernism: Ernst Wilhelm Nay (1902–1968). As a young artist, around 1930, Nay had already gained recognition among collectors, art historians and critics; he had been represented in important exhibitions and received first prizes. With his participation in the documenta in Kassel in 1955, 1959 and 1964 as well as the Biennales in São Paulo and Venice, he succeeded in firmly establishing himself as a major artist of Modern Art.

Despite Nay’s historical significance and his considerable presence in public and private collections, the study of his work has been mostly limited to individual creative phases, to aspects of material or form. A critical, contemporary Nay retrospective is a desideratum – all the more so as current research has shed new light on the artist and recent acquisitions by European museums such as Tate Modern, London, or the Musée national d'art moderne, Paris, have confirmed his relevance.

With around 120 paintings, watercolours and drawings, this first comprehensive retrospective in thirty years offers insight into a multifaceted oeuvre, spanning all its phases. Beyond this, it sheds a light on the central themes and motifs that have shaped Nay’s work over the decades and, by shifting perspectives, looking backwards and forwards in time, enables us to see his work as an organic whole. Seen against the background of its era, it comprises the various political and scientific issues that found expression in his work.

Nay was closely connected to the city of Hamburg, not least through his long-standing relationships with Carl Georg Heise and Alfred Hentzen. As directors of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, they acquired numerous of his oil paintings and works on paper for the museum collection; as directors of the Kunstverein in Hamburg, they presented works by Nay in the Hanseatic city in 1947, 1955, 1964 and 1969. Nay’s only teaching activity also took place in Hamburg: in the autumn of 1953, he held a guest lectureship at the Landeskunstschule for three months. In 1955, he published his art-theoretical work Vom Gestaltwert der Farbe and received the renowned Lichtwark Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

Programme of Events
As part of the retrospective, students from the Hamburg University of Fine Arts (class of Jutta Koether, Professor of Painting/Drawing) are exploring the art and individual works of Ernst Wilhelm Nay. Under the motto »Nay, can you hear me?«, their questions and results can be experienced in two public performances.

Dates: Thursday, 28 April 2022 and Thursday, 5 May 2022, both at 7 pm.

Audio Tour (App)
Visitors can be accompanied by an audio tour (app) while exploring the exhibition (guided tour for adults in German and English; guided tour for children in German). At thirty stations, it provides information on individual works, on the life and work of Ernst Wilhelm Nay, and on the historical and political background of his art.

The Catalogue
A richly illustrated scholarly catalogue featuring contributions by renowned authors will be published by Wienand Verlag, Cologne. The publication (256 pages) is available in the museum shop at the price of 29 euros or online from at the book trade price of 34 euros.

An exhibition of the Hamburger Kunsthalle in cooperation with the Ernst Wilhelm Nay Foundation, the Museum Wiesbaden (16 September 2022 to 5 February 2023) and the MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg (24 March to 6 August 2023).

Hamburger Sparkasse has been committed to the Hamburger Kunsthalle for many years. As a sign of gratitude for this generous support, the 2nd upper floor of the Gallery for Contemporary Art, where the exhibition is shown, has been called »Haspa Gallery« since the end of 2019.

Sponsored by: Freunde der Kunsthalle e. V., Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, Hamburg Ministry of Culture and Media

Cultural Partner: NDR Kultur, Media Partner: Hamburger Abendblatt

Ernst Wilhelm Nay. Retrospective

Exhibition tour: The chapters of the exhibition

Ernst Wilhelm Nay. Retrospektice

Exhibition catalogue, German edition

29 € on site and in the online shop
Ernst Wilhelm Nay. Retrospective

Audio tour of the exhibition

For adults and the curious aged 8 and over
Listen now
Ernst Wilhelm Nay. Retrospektive

Biography of Ernst Wilhelm Nay

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