This Dadaist journal, published on February 15th 1919 and selling a remarkable 7,600 copies before being banned and confiscated by the police that very day, shows Berlin Dada and its most aggressively politicized and satirical. This is hardly surprising considering the atmosphere in Berlin; just weeks before the Spartacist uprising was brutally crushed by the majority socialist SPD government who sponsored the use of extreme right-wing para-military Freikorps to suppress the revolt, leading to the subsequent murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht whose bodies were unceremoniously dumped in the Landwehr canal.
The title is an exhortation to not allow yourself to be kicked around by others but to do it yourself (excellent advise as pertinent today as it was then). The cover shows the heads of leading SPD figures, including Minister of Defense Gustav Noske who had sanctioned the deployment of the Freikorps, arrayed around an open fan with the caption ‘Prize Competition: Who is the Prettiest?’
Everyman His Own Football is a rare example of the card carrying German Communist Party (KPD) faction Herzfelde-Heartfield-Grosz and the anarchist contingent of Johnnes Baader and Raoul Hausmann collaborating. The later strained relationship between the KPD and the Herzfelde-Heartfield-Grosz faction, marked by mutual misunderstanding and occasional contempt foreshadows the difficulties experienced between the Surrealists and the French Communist Party (PFC) in Paris in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.
In Paris, the former members of Dada mainly gravitated to the Surrealist movement under the leadership of Andre Breton, including the German artist Max Ernst who had been active in Cologne Dada. For the Dadaists in Germany, however, the reality on the ground was much starker. Faced with the political and economic chaos of the Weimar Republic, notably the hyper-inflation that had resulted in the erosion of the middle class; rapid and unprecedented social changes and the unbridled excess and decadence of the cities, as well as a purely artistic reaction against the prevailing style of Expressionism in German art circles led to the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). Different interpretations of the New Objectivity can be found in the various regions of Germany, however it was the verists tendency predominant in Berlin who have shaped the popular conception of the Weimar Republic, notably Rudolf Schlichter, Christian Schad, Otto Dix and especially George Grosz (see also Eclipse of the Sun), all of whom were involved in the highly politicised Berlin Dada (see “Everyman His Own Football”).
Grosz’s early paintings, although painted in the manner of German Expressionism, possess a ferocity that is all together new, notably in 1916’s fevered and over-saturated Suicide and the hellish city-scape of The Funeral (Dedicated to Oscar Panizza) from 1917. After the war Grosz was one of the leading figures of Berlin Dada which was by far the angriest of all the various Dadas. A photograph from 1918 shows Grosz as Dada Death and with his friend John Heartfield he invented the technique of photo-montage. His engagement with Dada lent a sharpened satiric edge in his work of this period, including Panorama (Down with Liebknecht) from 1918 and the collage influenced Daum marries her pedantic automaton George in May 1920, John Heartfield is very glad of it and Republican Automatons both from 1920.
The Verists emphasis on a new kind of clinical, detached portraiture suited Grosz’s style of savage caricature and enabled him to memorably lay bare the ugly and sordid metropolis of prostitutes, politicians and profiteers. Along with Eclipse of the Sun the 1926 painting Pillars of Society is one of Grosz’s most stinging critiques of the corruption inherent in the upper, ruling strata of society.
Grosz was also a brilliant draughtsman and his street scene drawings retain a compelling immediacy. His erotic work ranks amongst the finest of the century (I will post separately on this topic).
Grosz, a vehement critic of Hitler emigrated to America in 1933 when the National Socialists came to power. The New Objectivity was unsurprisingly declared ‘degenerate art’ by the Nazi regime. Grosz abandoned his previous subject matter after his move to America and his style softened considerably (with a few occasional exceptions) and in the process lost most of its brutal energy. He returned to Berlin in 1954 where he died in 1959.
The technique of photo-montage was pioneered by Berlin Dada, namely Hannah Hoch, Georg Grosz and John Heartfield. Heartfield is especially notable for his politicised satires of Hitler and National Socialism that appeared on the cover of AIZ, a leading and best-selling socialist newspaper of the early 1930’s.
Hurrah, the butter is all gone parodies the aesthetics of Nazi propaganda. Showing a typical German family gnawing on various iron implements, including a bicycle and an axe while the dog licks a gigantic nut and bolt. A portrait of Hitler is in pride of place and the walls are emblazoned with swastikas. The accompanying text refers to a speech delivered by Hermann Goring during a food shortage: “Hurrah, the butter is all gone!” Goring said in one Hamburg address: “Iron ore has made the Reich strong. Butter and dripping have, at most, made the people fat.”
It’s all starting to feel a bit Weimar. The recent economic crisis, the unscrupulous charismatic populist demagogues that exploit the disconnect between the political elites and the populace that have caused a surge towards the various strands of extremism. Most disturbing of all is the resurgence of that particularly insidious form of reactionary nationalism that believes the future lies in a return to a mythical golden age, before the appearance of the loathed ‘other’ ruined the mother/fatherland. As with the Weimar Republic there is a feeling that the old order is soon to come crumbling down; to be replaced by who knows exactly what. All we need now to complete the comparison is a bit more decadence, a lot of street-fighting, a spot of hyper-inflation and some cabaret.
The art of the Weimar Republic is exceptional in its savagery. Berlin Dada was the most aggressively politicised of them all (see my “Everyman His Own Football”). Above is a particularly brutal satire of the contemporary society of the Weimar Republic by Hannah Hoch, whose ground-breaking photo-montages were deemed ‘degenerate art’ by the Nazis when they began their purge of modern art in the late 1930’s.