George Grosz was an anti-Modernist artist working in Berlin after the First World War within the period of the Weimar government. Grosz pre-1933 work is firmly rooted within the specific interpretation of the social and political situation within the Weimar period in Berlin. “It was in this environment that he established himself as a graphic artist, first become actively involved in left-wing politics and then formulated and published many of his ideas on the role of art in society” (Parry 1983:13).
The German avant-garde art produced during the time known today as ‘Expressionist’ was highly criticised. Grosz view point on his work was an alternative to “Expressionism’, rather it was in a sense ‘anti-Modernist’. However, to create something that is anti-Modernist assumes that there is a view or theory of Modernism to be opposed. “Modernism has evolved as a theory of modern art, and although Grosz’s writings seem to focus on many of these issues and oppositions, his view of the art world and its divisions reflect his own historical situation in Germany in the 1920s” (Parry 1983:8). The German art within the Weimar period is widely speaking characterised by a confusion and fragmentation of artistic styles of which had previously “constituted the ‘Expressionist’ avant-garde” (Parry 1983:8).
Grosz’s work like many other contemporary ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ (New realism) painters from the Weimar period is frequently categorised as anti-Modernist due to what it looked like. “The figurative styles employed by George Grosz, Otto Dix or Max Beckmann for example, are often opposed to the more abstract art of painters such as Kandinsky or Delaunay who were both being exhibited in Germany at the time” (Parry 1983:8). For example, Grosz painting from 1917, Burial: Dedicated to Oscar Panizza (Leichenbegängnis) compared to Kandinsky 1912 painting, Picture with a White Border. These two paintings clearly show a representation of opposing interests. Within the painting Dedicated to Oscar Panizza the “social and historical references are signposted in the more clearly readable figurative style” (Parry 1983:8). Although there is some distortion within the painting, it is easy to identify different figures such as a skeleton, a priest, middle-class men in bowler hats etc. However, on the other hand, Kandinsky combination of colours, lines and shapes makes the piece less easy to read. “It is much more difficult to identify recognizable objects in the Kandinsky, and therefore easier to locate it in terms of aesthetic issues rather than social or historical ones” (Parry 1983:8).
By Rebecca Holland
Parry, G. (1983) Modern art & Modernism George Grosz and Weimar Germany
Milton Keynes: The open university