Tuesday, May 11, 2010

History lesson

The works from the German painter Otto Dix (1891-1969) are at the Neue Galerie in NYC, a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon entering the building, I felt like attending a private party. The Staff was courteous and directed me to the tea room on the first floor, I was hungry and cold. The music was soft in the background and to reach the exhibition on the third floor, I chose the steep wooden stairs lined up with beautiful ironwork, bathing in the soft light from the glass ceiling, instead of the elevator.

This cozy feeling was short-lived when going through the entrance of a dark room lined up by 50 etchings. "Der Krieg" was published in 1924. The painter volunteered during WWI and was assigned to a field artillery regiment in the Army. He took part in the Battle of the Somme and was wounded several times. He was sent to the Eastern front and back to the Western front at the end of the war. The works are graphic accounts of these years, depicting soldiers, maimed, brains dripping from skulls, a soldier dead with bones pocking out of the uniform. The white and black prints are telling the story.
Some compared these works to Goya, known for his paintings, also a printmaker.

Several watercolors were also in the same room, paintings of decayed intestines. This is not the imagination of the artist, this is not a caricature. This was reality during the "Great War".
During my childhood in the East of France, I visited Verdun and the battlefields several times for "school trips". There it was, horrific.

Next were paintings depicting the society from the Weimar Republic, well to do personages, pathetic and grotesque, several self-portraits with models even the painter's family, also watercolors depicting sexual murders.

The last room was filled with portraits of well known citizens, a lawyer, a physician, a poet, the dancer Anita Berber. My preferred is the portrait of the journalist Sylvia Von Harden which was not included in this exhibition ( seen at the Centre Pompidou in Paris). The painter captures his subjects with the same technique using the pose, the color of the clothes, the background. He has become the painter of a society, a sick society, and Hitler did not appreciate this.

It is a time in history we would all like to forget... on both sides.

top photograph by the author

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