George Grosz - ensom kamp mot historien

Hans Rustad

George Grosz og mange andre kunst­nere og intel­lek­tu­elle tapte kam­pen mot nazis­men. De mis­tet lan­det sitt. De satt ikke og ven­tet på Nor­man­die. Mange begikk selvmord.

En kunst­ner er avhen­gig av sitt miljø. Grosz kunne male med brodd mens han lever i Tysk­land. Når han kom­mer til USA blir bare tra­ge­dien igjen. Imens strøm­mer de dår­lige nyhe­tene på. Avstan­den - og den frie luf­ten i Man­hat­ten - gjør at han ser hva som skjer. Han for­sø­ker å male det, det blir over­dyn­get: det er for enormt å skulle presse det som skjer inn i et bilde.

Kain, eller, Hit­ler i hel­vete. (1944) (pri­vat eie)

George Grosz. Cain, or, Hit­ler in Hell. 1944. Oil on can­vas. 99 x 124.5 cm. Pri­vate collection

Til­fel­let Grosz illust­rer Tysk­lands tra­ge­die. Den for­tel­ler også noe om tap av iden­ti­tet. Det skjedde som resul­tat av poli­tisk kamp: det hadde ikke behøvd å gå sliik, men mot­kref­tene var for svake og for­sto for sent.

Bil­dene Grosz malte i USA har fått liten opp­merk­som­het. Nå åpner en utstil­ling i New York ute­luk­kende viet denne perio­den som tross alt var 27 år. Grosz var begeist­ret for New York, slik mange tyske kunst­nere var. Like­vel var de stran­det som fisk. Noe av ner­ven mang­let. Han rakk å vende til­bake til Tysk­land, i 1959, rett før han døde og kunne med for­bau­selse regist­rere at Ber­lin var påvir­ket av det amerikanske.

First Major George Grosz Exhi­bition in the U.S. Dedi­cated Exclu­sively to His Years in Exile

NEW YORK, NY.- David Nolan Gallery will pre­sent the first major George Grosz exhi­bition in the Uni­ted Sta­tes dedi­cated exclu­sively to his years in Exile. Over 50 works on view – pain­tings, water­co­lors, dra­wings and col­lage allow for a reassess­ment of this pivo­tal figure of 20th Cen­tury art.

For 27 years, more than half of his arti­s­ti­cally pro­duc­tive life, George Grosz lived and wor­ked in the Uni­ted Sta­tes. The fact that it is only now, 50 years after his death, that a first com­pre­hen­sive exhi­bition is being dedi­cated to this impor­tant period speaks volu­mes of the hel­plessness that has hit­herto cha­rac­te­rized the art world!s reac­tion to the com­plex and con­tra­dic­tory cha­rac­ter of Grosz!s work. One widely held opi­nion sta­tes that Grosz lost his much-admired audacity upon immi­gra­ting to New York; that he mira­cu­lously tur­ned apo­li­ti­cal during the crossing abo­ard the “Stutt­gart” in January 1933, while Nazi hench­men were ran­sack­ing his stu­dio in Ber­lin. Whate­ver Grosz would paint, draw, or say over the course of following quar­ter of a cen­tury – it was always over­s­ha­dowed by his socially cri­ti­cal, sati­ri­cal work of his Wei­mar Years. Few artists have visu­ally shaped an era as George Grosz did with the inter­war years, through his dra­wings and port­fo­lios. For this he was loved and hated, tried in court, and decla­red a “dege­ne­rate” artist.

On first sight, it indeed appears as though after Grosz’s immi­gra­tion there is little left of his fear­lessness, his fiery agi­ta­tion. By accepting a teaching position at The Art Stu­dents League, he exe­cuted a radi­cal break with his old life. He had not only esca­ped from a regime that saw him as an enemy – he also left Ger­many in bit­ter­ness about the country’s wor­kers’ move­ment and intel­lec­tual left, which yiel­ded to the Nazis almost wit­hout a fight. His state­ments (“The air in Man­hat­tan had somet­hing inex­pli­cably exci­ting about it, somet­hing that spur­red my work onwards… - I was fil­led with light and colors and joy”) hint at how libe­rated Grosz felt by having left behind not only Ger­many, but also the obvious def­eat of his own arti­s­tic mis­sion. Released from the cor­ro­sive bit­ter­ness of the issues to which he kept retur­ning in Ger­many, he tur­ned towards the New World full of opti­mism and amaze­ment. He arrived in New York as a lover: alre­ady in 1916 he had played with the idea of emi­gra­ting to the US, and had pre­emp­tively ang­li­cized his last name, from Groß to Grosz. He also arrived as an admi­rer of the open society – he could not, nor did he want to, com­ment on the situa­tion in the Ame­rica with the same acer­bic wit that he had used to chas­tise Prus­sian mili­ta­rism. But it was precisely this witty, extremely cri­ti­cal poli­ti­cal artist who was admi­red by the Ame­ri­can pub­lic, who was fami­liar mostly with Grosz’s portfolios.

The first two years saw the pro­duc­tion mostly of street sce­nes and citys­ca­pes that styli­s­ti­cally followed in the vein of the Ber­lin years. Soon, how­e­ver, cracks began to appear in the hope­ful dreams, pes­si­mism and depres­sion caught up with Grosz. The com­mer­cial success he had hoped for never mate­ria­lized, he increas­ingly saw his teaching job as a bur­den, and news from Europe – not only from Ger­many, also from the Spa­nish civil war – con­fir­med his worst fears. When in late 1935 Grosz once again began to paint in oil, he pro­du­ced extremely gloomy lands­ca­pes along­side family por­traits and still lifes. More and more he felt a kinship with old mas­ters like Hie­ro­ny­mus Bosch and Pie­ter Brue­gel, whose pre­mo­nitions of the Thirty Years! War inspi­red him, on the eve of World War II, to depict the apo­ca­lypse in a style remi­ni­scent of the old masters.

At the same time, Grosz was wor­king as an illust­ra­tor for pub­li­ca­tions such as “Esquire” and “Vanity Fair,” and con­tri­buted dra­wings to short sto­ries by Ben Hecht and O. Henry. But these acti­vities, too, bore with them dis­ap­point­ments: his large, care­fully exe­cuted works were often redu­ced to mere stamp-size. “Oddly enough, I was never able to approach the very sim­pli­city and nor­ma­lity of Ame­ri­can illust­ra­tion that I admi­red so much,” Grosz admit­ted. In 1936 he tried to repli­cate his major succes­ses of the 1920s, Ecce Homo and Der Spießer-Spiegel, with the port­fo­lio Inter­reg­num. Simi­lar success, how­e­ver, was not forthcoming.

Grosz found moments of hap­pi­ness with his wife Eva and his sons Peter and Mar­tin on the beaches of Cape Cod. A num­ber of dra­wings, water­co­lors and oil pain­tings of the dune lands­cape attest to Grosz’s fasci­na­tion with nature as an arti­s­tic topic: the dunes are popu­lated by naked women in more or less expli­cit poses – and even those lands­ca­pes devoid of people remain char­ged with an obvious ero­ti­cism. The quiet lands­ca­pes and nudes were cause for cri­ti­cism and dis­ap­point­ment among old fri­ends and admi­rers. Grosz con­fessed to being a roman­tic, and paraph­rased a pas­sage by Walt Whit­man: “Do I con­tra­dict myself? / Very well then, I con­tra­dict myself, / I am large, I con­tain multi­tu­des.” Grosz’s con­nec­tion to this stanza is key to under­stan­ding his arti­s­tic per­so­na­lity – par­ti­cu­larly of the Ame­ri­can years. For here he created not only lands­ca­pes and acts, but at the same time highly poli­ti­cal works he cal­led “ima­ges of hell.” In these works, where he gives up on beauty for the sake of a dra­s­tic ima­gery, he con­ju­res up the end of civi­liza­tion and sees hell on earth come to pass. He reacted with arti­s­tic rage to the tor­ture and mur­der of his old fri­end Erich Müh­sam by the Nazis and to the sto­ries told by the wri­ter Hans Bor­chardt after his release from a con­cen­tra­tion camp. The longed-for end of the war brought with it the rec­og­nition that huma­nity was now threate­ned with a nuclear apo­ca­lypse. The Stick­men, post-nuclear crea­tu­res wit­hout bodies, are Grosz’s last major group of works, cul­mi­na­ting in the haun­ting Pain­ter of the Hole. He bade farewell to Ame­rica with a group of col­la­ges – a joy­ful return to a tech­ni­que of the Ber­lin years: “You stay Dada all your life.” Grosz died in July 1959, only a few mon­ths after retur­ning to Berlin.

When he finally retur­ned from New York to Ber­lin in 1959 he remar­ked in sur­prise how Ame­ri­can the city had become. With this com­ment, Grosz had retur­ned home in a num­ber of ways. George Grosz, his art and his bio­graphy exemp­lify the life of artists and intel­lec­tuals in the 20th cen­tury, as well as Germany’s glory and misery in this cen­tury. In this sense, too, Grosz is an epochal figure.” (Peter-Klaus Schuster)

Om du ikke følger Document på sosiale media kan du følge oss på e-post.

Donere engangsbeløp?Kan du forplikte deg til fast betaling?

Penger kan også doneres til kontonummer 15030249981. Du kan også støtte oss ved å kjøpe bøker eller varer.

Leserkommentarer på Document er gjenstand for moderering, som ikke skjer kontinuerlig og under enhver omstendighet ikke om natten. Vi ønsker en respektfull tone uten personangrep, sleivete språk eller flammende retorikk. Vis særlig nøkternhet når temaet er følsomt. Begrenset redigering av skjemmende detaljer kan finne sted. Skriv til dersom du ikke forstår hvorfor en kommentar uteblir. Se her for nybegynnerhjelp.