Monday, August 20, 2007 08/17/07-Weimar Art

In today's excerpt--German art during the economically tumultuous period of the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933:

"Berlin was reeling from the shock of mass slaughter, defeat in war, failed revolution, economic catastrophe, and hyperinflation ... This provided fertile ground for sexual adventure and artistic experimentation but was also the source of social panic, from which the hedonism of the brothel and the dance hall--and, a few years later, massive rallies to worship the Fuhrer-- offered a temporary escape. ..."Weimar period artists tried to do two things at once. They wished to reclaim the individual from the impersonal brutality of the machine age while at the same time they played with roles and stereotypes. Masquerades, of one kind or another, were a feature of cultural life in the 1920s. The trick was to show the face behind the mask, to discover a new equilibrium between character, self-representation, and social roles in an age when everything seemed out of whack.

"You see these concerns in the portraits of others but also in the many self-portraits made at the time. Max Beckmann, for one, was forever posing in different costumes: the lounge lizard in dinner jacket; the pierrot at the circus; the tormented artist. [Otto] Dix portrayed himself as a sinister guest at a wild jazz dance, as a wounded prisoner of war, as a painter with his whorish muse. ... Like Dix, [Christian] Schad created iconic images of 1920s types. ... Then there was [George] Grosz, playacting with his wife, Eva, the nude victim of Jack the Ripper. ...

"Role-playing was the essence of the erotic life of Berlin. Men, boys, girls, and women catered to every fantasy. You had the so-called Boot Girls, prostitutes who hung around cheap hotels, wearing boots in black leather, or green, or blue, or gold patent leather, each color a sign of the wearer's particular sadomasochistic specialty. Then there were the Racehorses, who offered themselves up to be whipped, or the Telephone Girls, often mere children with the names of popular movie stars, or Nuttes, teenagers from good families, out for spare cash and kicks. ...

"The topsy-turvy world of sexual playacting came into being partly as a result of economic necessity. Respectable war widows were sometimes forced to sell themselves in the streets. But it was also a sign of the times, when people played roles, switching them around, perverting them, undermining them, not as an escape from too many social constraints ... but as a symptom of a society that had lost its moorings."

Sabine Rewald, Glitter and Doom, Yale University Press, Copyright 2006 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, pp. 7-19.


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