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Friday, 3 February 2012

George Grosz: Post-Apocalyptic: A Hunger for Images / Wrong from the Start


Circe: George Grosz, c.1925 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

No period has ever been more hostile to art than the present one. And it is true to assert of the average person today that he could live without art. I do not want to explain what art is. The more or less clever interpretations of the most prominent authorities are familiar anyway. -- One thing is certain: the average person has a hunger for images. The need is satisfied as never before, but not by what we -- with our concepts from the empirical shopwindow -- tend to call art. Magazine photography and cinematography meet this need. -- The invention of photography was the dusk of art.

George Grosz (1893-1959): from G: Journal for Elemental Form-Creation, no. 3, June 1924

Promenade: George Grosz, 1923 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

The path of least resistance
is a straight line
but once you deviate

even slightly
the path of least
resistance becomes
that of greater

and greater

TC: Wrong from the Start

The Lovesick Man: George Grosz, 1916 ((Kunstsammlung Nordrhein)

Cafe: George Grosz, 1915 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

Grosz, George (1893-1959) 4DGeorge GroszPict.jpg
The Street Scene: George Grosz, c. 1920 (private collection)

The Best Years of Their Lives: George Grosz, c. 1923 (Kunstmuseum Hannover)

Ausschweifung, Berlin Night Club: George Grosz, c. 1922 (private collection)
Twilight: George Grosz, 1922 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

Stady for the Main Figure in

Study for the main figure in Twilight (verso): George Grosz, 1922 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)

The Eclipse of the Sun: George Grosz, 1926 (Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, New York)

The Pillars of Society
The Pillars of Society: George Grosz, 1926 (Nationalgalerie, Berlin)

The Grey Day: George Grosz, 1921 (Staatliche Kunsthalle, Mannheim)


The End of the Road (Out of Fear of Starvation) [Das Ende des Weges (Aus Nahrungssorgen)]: George Grosz, 1917 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

In Passing: George Grosz, 1921-1922 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

Liquidation: George Grosz, 1918-1919 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

For German Right and German Morals (Für Deutsches Recht und Deutsche Sitte): George Grosz, 1919 (Brooklyn Museum)

Kein Hahn kräht nach ihnen (Nobody Cares About Them): George Grosz, 1920 (Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis)

The Celebration (Die Feier): George Grosz, c. 1921 (private collection)

George Grosz: Peněžní ropuchy.

Toads of Property (Die Besitzkröten): George Grosz, 1920 (New York Public Library Digital Gallery)

Man With Wheelbarrow (Mann Mit Wheelbarrow): George Grosz, 1920 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.)

From the beginning, the models he looked to were not the plaster casts of antique sculptures he was forced to draw when he studied in Dresden and Berlin; they were, rather, taken from the realm of popular imagery. The figures he admired were not the heroes of antiquity and history but those of dime novels. Grosz studied and collected children’s drawings and toilet graffiti. He was fascinated by garish pictures of horrifying atrocities and catastrophes of the sort displayed at carnivals and riflemen’s gatherings, and he loved the lurid illustrations in western novels and detective stories. And of course he knew the great caricaturists of the past: William Hogarth, whom he explicitly names as a model, Honoré Daumier, Wilhelm Busch. Over the years he extracted from these widely divergent sources a unique and characteristic drawing style. With this style, he prowled the metropolis, studying its marginal districts, circling around such subjects as crime, nightclubs, bordellos. He was fascinated by the lower depths of society and of people.

-- Matthias Eberle


Nin Andrews said...

These pictures tell their stories in such a compelling way . . .

And although art is not respected, not seen as necessary to or for the average person, I still have to wonder.

I guess I am not sure if it's just art that is experiencing a dusk . . .

TC said...


Yes, there is an uncanny sense of twilight coming earlier now, isn't there? -- even as it should be coming later.

Really that contradiction built into the artist saying it's the twilight of art even as he makes his art has haunted me through several sleepless nights. (Well, okay, I probably wouldn't have slept anyway, it's that kind of time, but still...)

I believe Grosz's personal experience of WWI (he went nuts for a bit) made his work what it became thereafter.

In saying art is over, I think he means to be saying that the "old" art, as an institution of the old order, the order which produced the historical catalcysm of the war, and the social paroxysms which followed, was over -- for him, anyhow.

There's a short doc featuring his 1916/1917 painting Metropolis -- he called this painting "a protest against the humanity which became mad" -- in which it's suggested his work of this period prophetically prefigured the (dis)organized mayhem which is the Modern City.

Sounds about right.

Interestingly, some years after the war, further on in the manifesto I've quoted from here, Grosz said that it had been his sense of finding a new "audience" for his work among his companions in misery, his fellow soldiers, that had changed his ideas about art. Their appreciative response to his use of extremely edgy (anti)social caricature had a determining effect; he said it had led him to begin a kind of social analysis that eventually stopped him from hating people in general, and taught him that the real enemy was those who manipulated and exploited the working classes.

And at the same time he said that henceforward his work would be made for the latter, not for "the dealers and the speculators".

Of course in the long run, the dealers and the speculators are like death and taxes.

As his work spiraled upward in value, Grosz became, like it or not, a moment in the history of art.

ACravan said...

"our concepts from the empirical shopwindow"

Congratulations on mounting such an excellent ekphrastic post. The images, prose text, and particularly the poem tell and illustrate such an important story.

Driving home after dropping Jane at school this morning, listening to the radio (various places on the dial), the cruelty and ugliness of the moment really got to me. Earlier, while cleaning up in the kitchen, I watched one of the morning political shows (a liberal one called Morning Joe on MSNBC) and they showed a clip, as they often do, from one of the previous evening’s comedy shows. The routine featured two actual NFL players – one of them bearded and in drag, acting the woman’s role – playing out one of the romantic scenes from Jerry Maguire. In the end the characters fell into a romantic embrace. Essentially, it was that liberal comedy show mainstay, the fag joke (Saturday Night Live has always relied on them for easy laughs.) The Morning Joe assembled cast laughed appreciatively, with no self-consciousness (I wouldn’t have expected any), went back to bashing whomever (it was probably Romney and Donald Trump, the latter being one of their regular guests), and I thought…..another day of this (commercial) madness.

Seeing the beauty that is latent in Grosz’s life, art and words, despite the veneer of ugliness and the often unpleasant subject matter and sarcastic tone, has always been inspirational to me. I know Hogarth and Daumier well and I have enjoyed a great deal what I’ve learned so far about Busch.


TC said...

I see the prescience in Grosz. So did Steadman, Spiegelman, Crumb, and Gary Panter, among others. He was a visionary.

In this he stands beside Kirchner as a suffering prophet -- though of course unlike Kirchner Grosz "got out", and survived (though the work of his American period has little of the resonance of the earlier apocalyptic visions).

In many ways I see the genius of Grosz as the obverse of the mediocrity of The Failed Artist. (Who, by the way, after 1923 became a significant target in his work.)

TC said...

By the way, Curtis, thanks for the introduction to Morning Joe (something I'd never heard of nor would ever have heard of).

Old Blue Eyes, eat your heart out!!

ACravan said...

You're welcome (I guess). Morning Joe is, to me, one of the weirdest tv shows ever, a sort of semi-obscure "stealth" bit of programming on the MSNBC channel in that it purports to show balance (because it is hosted by a former Republican congressman), but it really just fits into their "Lean Forward" format. What occasionally makes it quite good is that they conduct long interviews, rather than soundbite segments. Although the show gets relatively poor ratings, like most of the MSNBC lineup, it's watched by "influential" people (the White House emails the show regularly while it's on the air). Morning Joe mostly makes me angry and drives me a little crazy. At the risk of boring you further (I mean this isn't George Grosz any longer), here is something I posted about it quite some time ago. To the extent it matters, what I wrote hasn't dated. Like Dr. Watson, Morning Joe is one fixed point in a changing universe:


Hazen said...

Tom, Reading your last several posts (Brecht, Muir, etc) put me in mind of Grosz. He seemed to fit the theme you're working out. And behold! So I wasn’t at all surprised to find Grosz’s pictures with their wonderful skewering of his age and, by reflection, our own. I especially like the Pillars of Society (#12), with the shit-for-brains plutocrat on the right. Grosz would have had a ball depicting the GOP Freak Show “candidates” contending for power here in the Amerikan Reich, lurching cross-eyed down that path “of greater and greater deviation.” Nicely done.

TC said...


I can't rid my mind of the phrase "the dusk of art". Dusk is such a comforting word. One remembers dusk as a time when things softened around the edges. Grosz on the other hand is about as soft around the edges as a cross-cut saw.

I was interested in the painting "Twilight" -- that and Grosz's phrase "the dusk of art" seemed to contain a key to the mystery of this artist's harsh, jagged vision of a deformed and deforming society.

The small sketch for "Twilight" which I've posted below the painting may have been done in daylight, but as the shades of evening came down, I imagine the painting as beginning.

TC said...


Terrific to hear from you. Yes, Grosz had an acute perception of the brains of plutocrats. In several senses perhaps.

Thanks for sussing "the theme you're working out..."

You have just given me the nerve to persevere with it, I think. Stay tuned.

ACravan said...

That painting and its sketch are the ones for me also (they've been in my mind all day), but this is an exceptional grouping. Both the painting and the sketch are exceptionally beautiful and I guess that draws me in as much or more than anything. I first became really aware of Grosz when I was taking my best course in college, a seminar called Master Print Makers. As part of our studies, we visited the Lessing Rosenwald Collection, which was close to the Swarthmore campus, once a week and were given the opportunity to study woodcuts, engravings, etchings, drypoints, monotypes and lithographs from Durer forward. Grosz's work was included, of course, and between seeing (and holding examples in my hand) and reading about him, things really came alive. There's a book I bought for the course and still look at all the time called The Indignant Eye by Ralph Shikes. Thank heavens someone's considering things post-Apocalyptically. Everyone else seems stuck on the event itself. We'll bring dessert. Curtis

TC said...


Yes, absolutely, our post-post-Apocalyptic situation is beginning to call for some light relief.

Perhaps along the lines of the great British "Carry On" cinematic comedy series.

Transform the elements in (for example) "Kein Hahn kräht nach ihnen (Nobody Cares About Them)" and one might have the makings of a pilot.

As, "Carry On, Impoverished, Insane, Mutilated, Hopeless Citizens of Our Shining Republic" -- ?

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Apropos these disturbing eye-opening paintings accompanied by your most appropriate poem—besides my admiration and thanks, my malaise would also like to give this small sickly offering in return.

TC said...

Thank you Vassilis. Let us then in blood-brotherly fashion, à la Chingachgook -- a great mythic hero-and-friend-from-a-distance to GG, by the way -- swap malaises. Your frostbitten appendages for my bandage-swathed ones. Even up.

We will still have our foreshortened stumps and virus-withered HTML codes to work with. (Nothing save an asteroid collision can stop a terminal blogger, it is said.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so for posting these. I've been a Grosz fan for a long time, used to use it when I taught world history to West Point Cadets. I even use 'Pillars' as an avatar from time to time.

While there are hundreds of things to appreciate about Grosz and his contemporaries, what I love is the irony and the sarcasm that pertains not just to his time, but also to the general condition of hierarchy and mythologizing history that you find all over the place.

Collecting these images was a good amount of work. Thanks for making the effort.

TC said...

And thanks to you, Perikles.

Couldn't agree more about the relevance of Grosz.

Collecting the images only took... approximately... forever.