When I saw "Bunte Mahlzeit" by Paul Klee in the Neue Galerie’s current exhibition, Degenerate Art, I thought it was beautiful, although it is a work the Nazis wanted to mock and denigrate. Klee has an idea of freedom opposed to the fascist notion, that in fact is offensive to it. But to the rest of us, this painting is an object of delight. The title means “colorful meal” and the painting is also known as “The Gay Repast.” Klee, Bunte MahlzeitKlee has done some striking work on black backgrounds. Here, it could be the middle of the night. But in the blue cup at the bottom, the sun is shining.
     Klee has put the “meal” at the base of the composition, close to the viewer. It is easy to read the composition as a table with all sorts of strange things going on. There are companions. The guest at the left – who shows surprise and wonder at the lively atmosphere – could have been constructed out of objects seen during the daytime. There is conversation, with two telephone handsets sending out warm and cool audio streams.  And balancing between them is the mysterious figure of a cat – her ears like cathedral towers, her face a tribal mask, her whiskers delicate, her body diminutive and fleshy, up on the table for all of us to see.
     In “Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?” Eli Siegel writes about the opposites of freedom and order:  
DOES every instance of beauty in nature and beauty as the artist presents it have something unrestricted, unexpected, uncontrolled? — and does this beautiful thing in nature or beautiful thing coming from the artist's mind have, too, something accurate, sensible, logically justifiable, which can be called order?
     Paul Klee is a master of line, and in this work, done in the combined media of oil and watercolor, outline and interior line give a sense of precision and careful thought ordering this wild and merry scene. The black background is sensible and logically justifiable, yielding to the brightly hued objects while anchoring them. At the same time the black is bold and in motion.
     There is a feeling of uplift through the ordering of the details. Objects with the greatest weight, owing to their warm color, are in the top part of the painting, helped by the diagonals in the lower part of the painting. Ordinary things are transformed by the artist’s imagination. There is an egg with the Easter coloring on the inside, surrounding the yolk. The blue cup at the bottom is monumentally sized and flattened. The handsets are decorated with charming graphic lines. The object in red and pale pink at the upper right might be a salt cellar in the form of a little house.  It appears to be going on a journey.  And there is something like a dance going on throughout the painting. The green objects are at opposite corners but they don’t seem stuck there. The variation in the greens gives them an impulsion, while at the top and bottom, left and right sides, small warm-colored shapes seem to recognize each other. Red wine spills from the glass onto the table in a joyful gesture.
     Every object finds its echo in another, through theme or shape or color. Every object in its distinctiveness is free to be more itself through relation. This is so different from the order that the Nazis wanted to impose, making artists and citizens into what it wanted them to be. And it is different from the freedom I wanted to have, where I saw needing other people as a blow to my ego and where I hid my thoughts and feelings. This has changed. I am grateful to Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism for teaching me that my life can have the purpose that art has.
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