Two Giants of Modernism
With this exhibition, the Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation presented the first major juxtaposition of works by Max Beckmann (1884-1950) and Otto Dix (1891-1969), two of the most important German artists of the first half of the 20th century. Their works had a profound influence on the cultural life of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) before being declared “degenerate” by the National Socialists, endangering the very existence of the artists. Over 180 paintings, drawings and prints from important museums and private collections in Amsterdam, Berlin, London, New York and Washington, among many others, illustrated the artistic development and range of the two artists.
Explorations of reality
For Dix and Beckmann, World War I was an initial experience that had a major impact on their life and work. From then on, each developed his own distinctive style. Consciously rejecting expressionism and abstraction, they embraced their exploration of the harrowing experiences of reality – Otto Dix, by focusing on the bleaker side of contemporary society; Max Beckmann, by confronting the invisible layer behind the visible world. Despite their different approaches, they were both aiming at the same moment: when the familiar suddenly becomes strange and the world a myth.
Even at an early stage, both artists attracted a great deal of attention in Munich. In 1923, the Thannhauser Gallery presented an exhibition with works by Max Beckmann, followed by an exhibition of works by Otto Dix in 1926. It is not known whether the two artists ever came face to face during these cataclysmic years, and yet they moved in the same circles, exhibited their works with the same art dealers and even painted some of the same models. Although Dix and Beckmann have long been considered as the two greatest German artists of their generation, to date their works have never been juxtaposed in such a specific dialogue.
The exhibition offered a fascinating journey from the beginnings right through to the late works of these two outstanding, yet very different artists. In the process, it became clear just how profoundly both were affected by the extremes of their era. First and foremost, their graphic works reflect the artists’ first-hand experience of war, yet the witnessed horrors are still manifest in their pictures of post war Germany, peopled with war invalids and prostitutes. In a similarly forceful way, Dix and Beckmann show the people in their own private and professional circles, including well-known personages on the cultural scene like Dix’s portrait of the actor Heinrich George. Religious themes also recur consistently in their oeuvre. One early example is Beckmann’s famous “Descent from the Cross” (MoMA). Moreover, this work attests to his exploration of the art of bygone eras, likewise an important leitmotif in Dix’s oeuvre. In eleven rooms at the Kunsthalle, grouped by theme, the similarities and distinctions between the two artists were revealed to the visitor.
Based on a concept by Ulrike Lorenz and developed with Beatrice von Bormann, the exhibition was a cooperation with the Kunsthalle Mannheim.
Photo series above: Impressions taken at the exhibition “Dix/Beckmann: World as Myth” at the Kunsthalle in Munich. These photos show works by Otto Dix and Max Beckmann: © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014