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Robert and Ella Bergmann Michel
50 Year Retrospective - 1917-1967

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"It is a pleasure and a privilege to introduce, amid New York's welter of exhibitions, two artists who - although pioneers of collage for more than fifty years - are all but unknown to most connoisseurs of modern art."

"ROBERT JOHAN GUSTAV MICHEL and his wife ELLA BERGMANN-MICHEL first exhibited in the United States as far back as March, 1928 - 40 years ago this month. The occasion was the exhibition sponsored by the Société Anonyme, that extraordinary, indeed unique collection founded in 1920 by Katherine S. Dreier, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, built up over a generation as a virtual cooperative by the greatest names in modern art, and finally given in perpetuity to Yale University. When the collection was catalogued, its curator at Yale wrote '. .. Here is not merely a sequence of familiar figures carefully arranged to provide an historical survey of modern art; this is modern art in the sense that here are the issues and the personalities who made it... No group of scholars or curators, however learned, could have or would have formed a collection as have Katherine Dreier, Marcel Duchamp and their associates.'"

"The Michels were two of the 169 artists from 23 countries in this glittering assembly. Both were born in Germany, Michel in Vockenhausen in 1897, and his wife in Paderborn in 1896. They met, and married, while working at the Weimar Art School, which was soon to become the famous Bauhaus and which was to shape the framework of their art. Yet the remarkable blend of discipline and imagination which characterized the Bauhaus seemed to Michel a rigid dogmatism, and at the end of the decade he left. (Unable to resist a wry commentary on his departure, he did what proved to be one of his best works, "Abfahrt: Michel 1920 von Weimar"- Michel's 1920 Exit from Weimar. The great Michel draftsmanship was here turned to a ludicrously surrealistic scene with steamboats, locomotives, biplanes, even birds and insects hurtling away from a swirling vortex which presumably was Weimar.) "

"Settling in the little town of Schmelz near Frankfurt (where they have remained ever since), Robert and Ella Bergmann-Michel developed a style which, though highly personal, was closely linked to that heroic phase of anti-romantic abstract art which evolved immediately after World War I. Collage became their forte (some of it reminiscent of their friend and associate Kurt Schwitters), and their best work was a highly sophisticated collage painting, delicate and precise, enhanced by inventive images, a complex use of mixed media, and imaginative concepts in typography and graphic design. The dynamism of the machine was particularly evident-wheels, dials, cogs, propellers and other airplane parts. Michel had, in fact, turned to aviation design after a flying mishap grounded him during the first World War."

"But Robert Michel never took himself one hundred per cent seriously. He lived after all, during the heyday of Dada, and the sardonic humor of the movement colored much of his work. His meticulously lettered captions are droll mixtures of German and English, and he even took to rubber stamping the back of each picture with an imitation postmark that proclaimed "Héimatmuseum of Modern Art" (roughly, The Local Modern Museum)."

"Robert and Ella Bergmann-Michel began showing in the twenties. (They have, incidentally, always worked and exhibited together.) The decades before the second War were happy and productive, a period in which their talents greatly widened. Michel experimented for a time with new graphic designs, often of billboard size, and his wife collaborated on documentary films. But it was still the collage painting that was their consistent interest, and the dark years of Hitler and World War II halted only temporarily their untiring determination to experiment and to produce."

"In recent years the Michels have enjoyed a slowly growing recognition. A one-man exhibition "Pioneers of Collage" at the City Museum in Leverkusen in 1963 was the first major recognition of their careers. Yet, to most of America, they remain unknown. Katherine Dreier, in her Introduction to the Société Anonyme catalogue, characterized that whole period of art as one "ignored by the generation in which it was created, but hailed by a later one." She could as well have been speaking of Robert and Ella Bergmann-Michel-masters in the Bauhaus, masters in the long intervening years, and masters still at work today."


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