The Mad Square

I am writing this from Paris – a city, due to a few more fortunate events – was spared being bombed in the World Wars.

Before I left Melbourne I visited the NGV’s The Mad Square Exhibition.

The exhibition explores “German modernism from 1910 to 1937, when amidst an era of chaos came an explosion of creativity.”

This phrase, I think, is a little too positive to what I experienced. The “explosion of creativity,” to me, seemed more of a desperation, a struggle to come to terms with what was happening at the time.

Some of the work was, undoubtedly, beautiful.

The Woman in a Hat by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner done in 1911. (Very beautiful, but also pre war. The further you stood from her the more beautiful she got. I think it was as her face began to become more shadowed and had more depth)

But the tone changed suddenly to focus on the true nature of war. I had never been to an exhibition that showed such a non-abstracted vision of the effects of war.

The mutilated soldiers roughly sewn back together. The crippled soldiers left to beg on the streets, the prostitutes with their syphilis spots. It was all shown in a completely frank and brutally open manner.

There were no artistic flares to cover the truth of what was happening.

Even the speeches at the time denied art as it was:

No, gentlemen, art is not in danger—art no longer exists! It is dead.  It was a beautiful appearance, departing from a sunny cheerful feeling for life—and now nothing elevates us any longer, nothing!

Otto Dix himself said:

All art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time.

Maybe the act of creating all these works were the only way to deal with the pain. The murders, the poverty and the horrific reality of war.

My sister and I wandered through the space and came out with the question: Just how to you rebuild a society from this?

This woodcut byKathe Kollwitz I felt was one of the most affecting images there. It just encapsulates the feeling of loss so completely.


This exhibition is open only until the 4th of March 2011 at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.


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