Society degradation – from George Grosz to Leon Golub.
Society degradation it means lack of compassion, immorality, unethically, loss of self-respect and to others. Through the prism XX – XXI century of New Objectivity movement, historical - world wars, mass media, propaganda, bad education, lack of reading, consumption as well as hypocrisy.
“In the countries of Central and Southern Europe, the decline in reading is drastic, mainly Greece, Hungary and Italy. Is it a coincidence that in these countries extreme nationalist movements are growing inversely in proportion to the decline in readership ?! What does this mean? Who am I talking to? Where are my viewers? I do a complicated art that can be read by just a promil of society? And how is it to my responsibility? What has been neglected? I will never get a precise answer to these questions…” – Krzysztof Warlikowski
New objectivity as a ‘contemporary’ art in the Nazis Germany (between 1923-1933). Divided into five different thematic groups that deal with conflicting and competitive approaches, As opponents of abstractionism as well as advocates of ‘new realism’, artists applied their style in the violent and briskly changing times of German Weimar. Some works by artists (like George Grosz) draw the viewer's attention to political and national evil; Others depict it as melancholy or longing for the past, others focused on portraying people and objects, interpreted by them on unchanging surfaces and illusively stopped in time. The severity of’ the New Objectivity’ express cruelty also savagery of the historical moment; The activity of artists to reveal the vehemence as well as criticality that enveloped them.
The alienated world of the 20th century ‘from the idealism and utopianism‘ that outlined in earliest ten years as well as discontent with the war, which made degradation of society, artists related with ’Neue Sachlichkeit’ introduced sober naturalism, devoted to ‘contemporary’ Weimar (in cities like Berlin, Dresden, Karlsruhe, Colony, Dusseldorf, Hannover, Munich) Art. However artists were amazed of depravity in the Republic of Weimar, but in spite of this fact stunned by some kind new 'liberation' and also freedom; This multifaceted organization of artists did not quite have their common approach, but kindly obliged to unveil the neutral truth fundamental for the ‘modern’ disorders. Using satirises, the society's ‘caricature’, grotesqueness and even surrealism (magical realism), artists such as Otto Dix, Max Beckmann, George Grosz or Christian Schad; Depicted officials, figureheads, clergy, superiors , workers and themselves, ruthlessly, with every co-responsible inhabitant of their societies. The artists underlined the social and political chaos of life, exaggerated by war veterans, paupers and prostitutes.
The movement ended in 1933. At the same time, the Nazis took power and the fall of the ‘Weimar Republic’. Taking over the position of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in January 1933.It contributed to the premature termination of the New Objectivity. Many artists and works of art became inconvenient for The Cultural Ministry of Hitler’s Third Reich, announced them as "degenerated", and a large part of the works of New Objectivity was devastated or lost (in the years' 33 -'45).Today's view of the New Objectivity is unfortunately only partial, nonetheless it gives two extraordinary possibilities; snapshot of German nation as well as artistic avant-garde between the two world wars.
Grosz is the outstanding artist connected with the movement of Neue Sachlichkeit like Max Beckmann, Herbert Bottger and Otto Dix; The artists were earlier expressionists, cubists, futurists and Dadaists. As a warrior after seeing the nightmares of war , George Grosz presented and engaged his disgust towards the Weimar post-war community. Deeply involved in the activities of the leftists, actively participating in demonstrations and collective fusses, posting graphics in demanding and ironical journals. His work from the post-war time dashingly interprets what Grosz perceived as the degeneration of public. Immediately before the Third Reich claimed power, George Grosz moved to the United States to educate Fine Arts, accordingly avoiding harassment as well as discrimination from the part of Nazi Germany when his work was considered "degenerated". He gave up the hope in the human race also his latest manner dramatically transformed , the transition from political art through the horrors of war, to the parodies of the residents of New York and its ‘sweet’ sceneries.
Despite the traumatic background that led him to fight in opposition of conflict, degeneration and what he considered unethical, he began to co-create a especially influential and irremovable aesthetic heritage. In Republic , his creativeness - as a motif of revolution; It played a provocative overall role in the community , in fact local authorities brutality.
“The day will come when the artist will not be a Bohemian, an inflated anarchist, but a healthy man working consciously in a collectivist society.” - G. Grosz ( page 164 )
The hopeless state of the post-war world depicted by the Grosz; He proved so good in this unpleasant fact that he presented the average German citizen as businessmen, leaders, clergymen, with stiff shoulders, faces; The so-called "Grosz types”, his creativity and personality became the target of attacks on his own life ;Even if he painted, he was primarily a draftsman, depicting various aspects of urban hell, resulting not only from undisclosed "creators" of public places, but from Dadaism and futurism.
Afterwards his debut, George Grosz developed the creation of significant oil performances, of which one of the most unique and anarchic was - Funeral: Trirbute To Oskar Panizza (above). The image represents a spectral procession that apparently falls down through a gorge of buildings that are disappearing, with the dynamism and simultaneity of chronological events; Which outlines the dense collage methodology that draws from cubism and futurism. Turbulent, distorted, chaotic column of the figure, painted in shades of red and black, which is an another artist's alternative of the hellish abyss, between uncertainly inclined buildings; It add the feeling of claustrophobia to the viewer; The multilayered presentation of the stage is compact in one space. The only object that is a glaring opposition to this chaos of faces and masks, limbs and objects; There is a very bright white (small) cross in the hands of a caricature priest. Crucifix, which carries a man, judging by the gesture of helplessness of the priest, does not give consolation. The artist should be credited with historical achievements and struggles with the historical events of the twenties and the reality of the Weimar Republic, at the time so unstable and uncertain.
"In a strange street by night, a hellish procession of dehumanized figures mills, their faces reflecting alcohol, syphilis, plague ... I painted this protest against a humanity that had gone insane.” - ( George Grosz, sources Wikipedia)
The painting titled The Pillars of Society (above); This is a representation of the German elites (which protégé fascism) in a deeply satirical and grotesque manner. Like many of his paintings from that period, he was sarcastic and mocked, as he claimed to be a dishonest and dishonourable society of the then Weimar. Grosz as a great draftsman and parodist, he uses his proficiency to recreate the image of these people - 'controlling society' and their grotesqueness and monstrosity. The elite, that is, entrepreneurs, clerics, generals are not presented as dignified, moral, aside from as false, egoistic and also unjust people.
George Grosz a decisive figure of the New Objectivity, which demonstrated the apathy and hypocrisy of the interwar period; a draconian parody used by the artist to show the real faces of demoralization. The Pillars of Society, the title of the picture, comes from a game called Henrik Ibsen. The painting we see (above) portray four major individualities. The first plan shows us an old rich man, with a swastika in his tie along a head full of turmoil and a visible scar on his (rosy) cheek. He holds a beer in his left hand and something like a sabre in his right hand. We can hardly see his eyes, brain is open and everything seems to "rise up from it” (black horse rider). In the background we can see two sit men’s (probably some leaders) ; On the Right man has opened brain, filled with faeces, his holding a flag and leaflet with text which define ‘Socialism must work’; However on the left; man holding a newspapers under his arm and palm branch (possibly bloody)",on his head we see gigantic ‘cup’.
Behind we see a fourth personality, a priest, vain figure. Supporting the Nazis and blessing the inhuman actions of the army. The image is generally chaotic, the figures are cool and stiff. Fire and smog come out of the windows of buildings. The artist believed that all the guidelines and manner of acting of politicians, resulted from the media, army and church.
“Grosz's penetrating, darkly humorous style of drawing and his use of satire as a weapon left a deep impression on the work of his contemporaries and the artists of the next generation. His photomontage work set a standard for social critique in the new medium and inspired the later collages of Romare Bearden. The critical content of his paintings influenced painter Francis Bacon, while his elaborately detailed and unflinchingly honest portraits influenced Lucien Freud's portrait work.” (Johnathan5458 ",sources MyDailyArtDisplay)
Furthermore, there is clear evidence to suggest that Grosz has giant impact for evolution of portraits and political art. Perhaps it did not have a direct impact for the work of the Leon Golub, besides they had many common features such as portraying political criminals, leaders, clerics and others
Leon Albert Golub was one of the major American artists in the late XX century. His large-format, figurative paintings (inspired by Hellenistic figures and contemporary sources material alike; news stories from popular media, as well as ancient Greek art); with a powerful political and social message. Artist paintings disclose concerns of conflicts and struggle particularly in times of Vietnam War. ’Neue Sachlichkeit’ artists had big impact for Leon Golub creations. Moreover, revealed similar social and political dramas; had same reactions for brutality, immorality, degeneration around people. As son of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Golub was extremely inspired by European figurative painting .
His approached in painting was connected with layering technique, scratching as well as leaving blank and as Jon Bird said (about portraits of artist ):
“an absence of background so the figure exists in ambiguous non-space; scraped pigment embedding the image in the surface ",reducing depth and convening the impression of temporal weathering (besides media references, Golub was fascinated by the worn look of Roman portrait heads);” (source Jon Bird, page 78)
Portraits in the Western tradition always played major role; From Ancient times , the artists tried to capture the characteristic features person, they tried to; embellished, simplified, modified. From the beginning, portrait served to present exceptional human qualities based on their achievements; Task was to keep in mind the contemporary and descendants of what was a particular result of the actions of the person portrayed. However, it is not easy to capture the character of a man in one work. Golub’s portraits, evoke specific emotions and can be a reflection of interpersonal relationships and character traits.
How to reach the ‘real’ inner of the portrayed person? Should it be stripped of masks taken for the needs of multiple roles played in particular situations of life? Was is in the end possible for the artist ?
The Political Portraits, series of produced between 1976 and 1978. It is large number representations of individualities (religious leaders, dictators, militaries or leaders from Asia and Central America); Can be understood as criticisms of political brutality and violence. Leon Golub idealizes, glorifies a man, captures him as a 'hero', but at the same time it show his fragility sensitivity, mortality.
General Francisco Franco was born 1892. Becoming the youngest European general at the age 34. He was one of the leaders of the military coup against the Republican authorities of Spain, which led to a three-year, victorious civil war (1936-1939). Leader of the Spanish Phalanx, which from 1937 was the official ruling party. From 1938, the head of government. He introduced a dictatorship implementing fascinating postulates and cooperating with the Reich ruled by Adolf Hitler. Like the Nazis, he created concentration camps.
‘Golub said of this work and others from the same series, ‘ "I think of the political portraits as skins or masks". ‘ He wants to reveal that to take hold of power is little more than an illusion.’ (source website: Artstory)
The artist used mass media material - like newspapers, magazines (Time, Newsweek) as an important point to confront the political reality. Images of people who once were 'run the world' were not painted from nature but rendered .
Franco's face, his characteristics and skin tone, give us a realistic reflection of the dictator. In both cases, his profile; (As a younger one he seems to be surprised, unconscious); As an old man, he expresses a certain surprise, as if he were not present anymore. As Jon Bird said:
”Golub selects moments from the dictators 36 year period in power, recording the historical breadth of his regin, from smug self - confidence to deathly countenance, a play upon the vanitas theme:” ( source Jon Bird, page 56) That series of Political Portraits, it is about the degeneration of the hierarchy of the world, about the ‘powerful’ people who rule us, who direct our morality, our consciences, who serve us propaganda.
Watching Golub, his work is just as valid in "Trump America" as in America's difficult 1960s and 1970s. America is as much racist, gender and religious divided, but it is also still involved in all global conflicts.