Several odd features immediately strike the viewer of this 1929 map first published in a special issue of the Belgian magazine Variétés. As this is a Surrealist Map of the World perhaps this is to be expected.
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.
Hurrah, the butter is all gone
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.”
Eclipse of the Sun
A leading Berlin Dadaist (and therefore a card-carrying member of the Communist Psrty) and one of the most notable of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) artists, Georg Grosz’s satirical caricatures remain unsurpassed for their chilling clarity of vision and unflinching brutality of execution.
Portraying the Weimar Republic as a society mired in decadence and corruption, Grosz’s paintings and drawings are populated by prostitutes, gamblers, perverted millionaires, bloated generals and fat-cat bankers. In 1926’s Eclipse of the Sun the dollar has obscured the sun, however the over-decorated general is receiving whispered advise from the top-hatted banker while the ‘suits’ complete the necessary paperwork so no need to worry. A blinkered donkey is advancing along a gangplank towards a shredder stuffed with money (a probable reference to the hyper-inflation that Germany was experiencing, where it was cheaper to burn money for fuel than to buy firewood). Down below people are trapped next to skeletons. Perhaps there is a need to worry after all.