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Bauhaus artist exhibit at Jewish Museum of NJ
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Bauhaus artist exhibit at Jewish Museum of NJ

The Jewish Museum of New Jersey — located in Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Newark — presents “Claire Wagner Kosterlitz: A Bauhaus Artist in America,” an exhibition of paintings from the artist’s diverse lifework. Kosterlitz’s art has been exhibited in museums and galleries in America and Europe and is in the collections of a number of museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Bauhaus-Archiv Museum in Berlin.

It begins with a reception on Sunday, Jan. 15, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and closes on Sunday, March 25, with a panel discussion at 1 p.m. about the ongoing influence of the Bauhaus movement. The discussion will be followed by a tour of the Colonnade Apartments designed by the architect Mies Van Der Rohe, a former Bauhaus director.

Kosterlitz was born in 1903 in Oppein, Germany, now known as Opole in Poland. She began her art studies in 1921 at the Kunstgewerbe Academie in Breslau, a venerable art school that traces roots back to the 17th century. During 1925, she became fascinated by the Staatliches Bauhaus in Dessau. The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 with the idea of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would be brought together. It had a profound influence that is still felt today on developments in art, architecture, and design.

Kosterlitz studied under Bauhaus “masters” Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. She left the Bauhaus in 1926 to marry a young physician, Henry Kosterlitz. They fled Germany to escape the Nazis in 1938 eventually settling in Irvington, NJ, where they remained until 1964 when they moved to Basking Ridge. Upon their arrival here, Kosterlitz served as her husband’s office manager and receptionist and trained as a nurse to assist him in his practice. All the while, Kosterlitz continued painting. Many of the watercolors in the current exhibition are from her time in Irvington. Kosterlitz’s work from this period shows Paul Klee’s influence in its mix of geometric and curving lines, simplification of shapes, and whimsical details. Yet it is also clear that she was developing her own unique individual style. Her work started to appear in galleries and other venues. The move to Basking Ridge broadened her subject matter to include more balance between the man-made and natural.

After her husband’s retirement in 1974, the couple moved to Baden, Switzerland. Kosterlitz continued to paint and her reputation grew. Her art was exhibited in both one-woman and group shows in Switzerland. Because of her husband’s declining health, they returned to the States in 1981, settling in Morristown, where he died in 1987. Her own health began to decline and after long illness, Claire Wagner Kosterlitz passed away in 1997.

Although the Bauhaus always influenced her work, Kosterlitz followed her own vision. Late in her life she wrote, “True art is only possible through the emotional expression of the artist. No heart, no art.”

“Claire Wagner Kosterlitz: A Bauhaus Artist in America,” will run Jan. 15-March 25. The museum is open Sundays, 1-5 p.m. and by appointment. Free off-street parking is provided and a donation of $10 is suggested. For more information, visit www.jewishmuseumnj.org. To RSVP for the opening reception, contact Max Herman at 973-698-8489 or Phil Yourish at 973-303-5294.

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