|Weimar's New Woman: |
short-haired, smoking, thin, intellectual.
August Sander photograph of Sonia Schad, wife of
Neue Sachlichkeit painter Christian Schad
Yes, okay. Sure, I'll admit it. I have added to the graffiti on the wooden desk inside this closed carrel. I come back each evening and find there is more to the animated graffiti conversation I'm having with some sports-obsessed wanker. Anyway, I'm done studying for the night, or maybe I'm taking a break. I have left the carrel for a moment, gone to the stacks, and pulled out a book on Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity). This is the way I reward myself after I have to study something especially tedious, like biology.
On the cover of one of these books is a painting by Otto Dix of the German Journalist and Poet Sylvia "Sy" von Harden. I find the image vaguely revolting but also entirely fascinating. It is this regular visual communing with paintings, like the ones below, that marks the beginning of my obsession with what I consider (at the time) to be German Expressionism, although this was not Expressionism. It is the antedote to the emotion associated with Expressionism. It was a new kind of perspective, a perspective gained on the back side of the Treaty of Versailles, on the back side of starvation and horrible inflation. Gone are colorful representations of idyllic Primitivism. In their place is a representation of humanity's terrible imperfections, rendered with technical virtuosity and Duerer-like precision.
|Otto Dix, Portrait of Sylvia "Sy" von Harden|
This painting was recreated in an opening scene of
the film Cabaret.
I'll admit that I'm still entirely blown down by this period in history. And I'm blown down specifically by Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, not as much by America and its era of Prohibition and speakeasy culture. Our media outlets talk about the dire circumstances of contemporary society. But think was it must have been like for those who came home from inhuman (and inhumane) front experience, their feet likely rotting from weeks of immersion in water. Some were maimed, while many others were yet in a constant state of alert and fear that would never truly abate. And then they come home to what? Brown shirts, violent power struggles, a worthless currency. And almost complete chaos and degradation, thanks to the Versailles Treaty, a punitive tool that only made things much worse.
"When it became necessary for the frieze to come down in smaller segments, Elgin suffered a blinding headache that lasted three days. Hunt came to his temporary quarters, where Elgin had asked for thick fabric to be drawn over the windows to block out the light. Hunt related the details in solemn whispers. “I suppose,” said Elgin, his thin palm over his damp forehead, “if it must be done to get them out, then it must be done. Try not to disfigure them any more than is necessary. Save them as best you can.”
Athena did not appear in Elgin’s dreams again. As he lay still in the swelter of his small Athens apartment, waiting for the sun to set, the heat to abate, for his the headache to lift, he experienced ocular fireworks, the flashing of strange geometric shapes, and a disturbing delusion that there were snakes around the base of his bed. But there was no ivory-skinned goddess. He longed for her approval. At one point, in the cool clamminess of night, he woke to shouting, but realized, on fully waking, that it was his own voice he heard. The words still filtered through his consciousness: Have I done right by you? Have I done right?" -- from "The Metope Prophecy"