(1891-1969), the German artist, was fascinated with war and death
and said he enlisted during the First World War because he wanted
all the ghastly bottomless depths of life for myself; it's for that
reason that I went to war....”
The war was the defining and formative event of his life and
would give form to his work. After the war, he moved back to
Dresden where he had previously studied art, and founded the
Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) movement in 1923.
His 1924 series of 50 etchings, Der Krieg (The War),
includes some of the most harrowing images of the ravages of war
in the history of art. This is not prettified military
fashion, no mere posturing--this is gruesomeness, and a certain
unseemly glorying in the carnage, both of which come across
equally in his work which becomes a carnival of the grotesque.
Mutilated bodies, all the caricatures of horror. The idea
that within the grotesqueries of his work is a more profound
anti-war statement is, as The New Yorker says,
“...debatable, given the that its rage is blended with relish.”
In 1939 he
was arrested by the Nazis who used him as a poster boy for the
decadence of Modern Art (they particularly disliked what they
saw as an anti-war message). Carnival of the grotesque
in the Trench, from Der Krieg (1924)
in art and literature is the moving away from idealized forms and
conventions, to create instead the misshapen, ugly, and deformed.
The irregular, and ludicrous. The word comes from the
Italian grottesco, lit. "of a cave," and was
originally used to describe paintings in this style found on the
walls of Roman ruins (It. pittura grottesca).
used the grotesque as counterpoint to the sublime and these pairs
occur often in literature (Quasimodo and Esmeralda, Beauty and the
Beast, Caliban and Miranda), and Hugo said, in his Preface to
everything in creation is not humanly beautiful, that the ugly
exists beside the beautiful, the unshapely beside the graceful,
the grotesque on the reverse of the sublime, evil with good,
darkness with light.”
In Dix’s work there seems to be little sense of the sublime, and
therein, we think, lies the difference. Hugo continued in
grotesque seems to be a halting-place, a mean term, a
starting-point whence one rises toward the beautiful with a
fresher and keener perception. The salamander gives relief
to the water-sprite; the gnome heightens the charm of the sylph."
Dix retrospective can serve merely to whet the appetite for the
divine, and one can then wander off after the show in search of a
sylph at the Metropolitan nearby!
The Dix show,
which is the first retrospective of the artist's work in
the United States, also has work from his other periods--his
portraits, and allegorical paintings.
Retrospective, Neue Galerie
in search of a sylph: