Just returned from New York where we saw the sensational special exhibition Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s at the Metropolitan Museum. Anyone interested in 20th century German art should go to New York before February 19, 2007 when the exhibition closes.
The curators who created this exhibition classify these artists as Verists - Verism being a "branch" of the Neue Sachlichkeit (The New Objectivism, referring to the 1925 exhibition in Mannheim). I'm not convinced that Verism was an actual school, or that the artists themselves considered themselves Verists, but they were certainly committed to painting the Truth and Reality of postwar German society as they saw it. The excellent Catalogue of the exihibit can be purchased through Amazon.com at a decent discount.
The exhibition should renew interest in Otto Dix, since it brings together 50 of his drawings and paintings and displays the full range of his great talent. Dix is merciless in his drawings of prostitutes, jazz musicians, physicians and ...himself (interesting sketch of himself as a soldier in World War I). Also included are 16 pieces of Max Beckmann - better known to American audiences. (Beckmann actually died of a heart attack in Central Park in 1950, just blocks away from the Met).
But for me, the paintings of George Grosz steal the show. One can sense Grosz's anger at social injustice he saw - as well has his cynicism - in paintings such as Grey Day, where a brick wall functions as a physical class barrier between a prosperous businessman and a destitute war veteran.
Even more powerful is Grosz's Eclipse of the Sun, a dark study of political corruption featuring von Hindenburg and a wealthy industrialist dictating to a group of headless politicians, while the sun is literally obscured by a US-dollar sign. Grosz was under no illusions that the same politcal and economic forces that profited from the disasterous Great War would soon promote a new war.
The exhibition recalls a period when artists were more interested in holding up a mirror to reality than making decorative pieces for profit. And the parallels to our current situation can't be overlooked. Where are the Dixes and Groszes of today? In his review of the show in New York Magazine, Mark Stevens imagines what could be:
"Imagine what Dix or Grosz would have made of the simian Bush, the feral Rumsfeld, the gloating bullfrog Cheney. Imagine how these Germans would have treated the Clintons, or Ted Haggard. How uncharmed they would be by the toothpaste smile of Tom Cruise. They would not have turned a blind eye on the Wall Street trough, where all our little piggies now feed."