Wednesday, 14 August 2013

George Grosz The Big No

I just made it in the nick of time to the (now finished) exhibition The Big No by George Grosz at Linden Mill in Hebden Bridge- what a fantastic show (from Hayward Touring Exhibitions) of the work of George Grosz.
Grosz was one of the greatest satirical artists of the 20th century. A founder of the Berlin Dadaist "movement" and a revolutionary left wing artist in the Berlin arts scene of the 1920s, "he depicted the vices and injustices of a deeply divided society." Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Even some of his drawings are composed like photomontages.

Grosz was deeply political and fierce in his depiction of what he saw as a decadent upper class ignorant of the hardships endured by the majority in post WW1 Germany.

'In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…'

The Big No features two portfolios of his drawings Ecce Homo, published in 1923 and Hintergrund in 1928. Ecce Homo was subject of a four year legal case for Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted.

The exhibition showed the full range of drawings from these portfolios and it was great to see such powerful, political and graphic works. He is fantastic at the depiction of the pompous self important and ignorant class that ultimately led to the rise of Nazism in the thirties. Bankers, businessmen and politicians...

Indeed Grosz himself was fortunate to escape Germany he left for the US in 1933 the day before the Nazis came to take him. They denounced his work as anti German; seized and destroyed it. As a communist party member he would certainly have ended up in a Concentration Camp had he stayed.

He lived and worked and taught in the States for the remainder of his career and only finally returned to Germany in 1959, he died that same year.

No comments: