Dutifully German

The Nun (1914). Otto Dix, 1891-1969. Oil on cardboard. The Museum of Modern Art, NY, NY.

In case you did not read the header, MoMA artfully imprints the exhibition’s title German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse with wood grain semblance in black with solid red words higher up.  The prized 6th Floor Gallery space promises a treasure chest of artifacts before another hell [WWII] befell Germany.  On view until July 11th, this style of lustmord (sexual murder) aptly feeds into the news stream about Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, targeted US hits, and natural disasters.  The perversion of violent images and stories elicit similar arousals associated with intensity most intimately with sex.  This work horrifies and attracts at the same time as described by one friend in attendance.

Associate Curator Starr Figura begins with commune artist group Die Brücke.  Brücke’s reliance on printmaking and proliferation of magazines keeps elements of its media in proximity to the newspapers itself.  The crimes and war depicted in column form are flat and adhere to the codes of language uniformity in shape.  German Expressionists bend and twist letters and forms into the visual despairing content of the sentences.  With portfolios names Hell (Max Beckmann) and The War (Otto Dix), the imagery serves justifiable horror that Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos communicated [Sidenote: There are exhibition wall label errors.  They cite “Edition” as total made not the set displayed.  Artists denote set # in numerator and total # made in denominator – #/#.  Mistakenly, denominator is used in labels.].  Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s neon sickly, angular streetwalkers greet audiences.  Disease, death, and ghouls vibe from these works.  Design bleeds into the signage with the wall labels matching the wall colors.  The varying shifts of hues play into the sense of edges with the space.  Meaning that, the slabs and pieces of color reverberate the German artworks.  World War I (1914-18) demolished mental balance for enlisted artists.  Several had nervous breakdowns.  They mediated the insanity and brutality by burrowing into stone and wood for printed images.  Half inspiration and half post-traumatic stress, this style gave voices to the nightmares.  Surrealism became synonymous with dreams purposefully not dark hallucinations.  Germans have Grimm’s Fairy Tales lest anyone forget.  Garden safe variety Disney would not dare adapt these bleak, realistic stories.  Germany even has a particular overcast in Europe that dampens moods.  It is hard to envision this artwork belonging to another culture with such honesty.  Fiscally interesting in the early 1920s, the bourgeoisie mocked in many works bought countless pieces.  They invested funds into commodities to ward off instability from the German economy.  Supported artists recognized the demand and happily supplied.  Allied blockades reduced availability of canvas and linen thus spurring another advantage to printmaking and reproduction.

MoMA even allows access to over 3,200 catalogued of works-on-paper thanks to the funding of The Annenberg Foundation. [For film fanatics, the poster for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a darling find.]  Registering this ensemble of artworks is a bittersweet reminder that we have not evolved as much as progressed with time.

Check it out.

The Museum of Modern Art
The Joan and Preston Robert Tisch Exhibition Gallery, sixth floor
11 West 53rd Street
NY, NY 10019

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