Archive for the ‘ Favorite Artists ’ Category

Otto Dix’s Art: Real Shock Value

On Otto Dix’s “New Objectivity”.

Most interesting Art movements are born in troubled times when society has been severely affected by significant events and changes. I wonder if my lack of enthusiasm for contemporary Art movements is due to the fact that there seems to have been no event violent enough to shake an artistic community to produce anything I find as interesting as post WWI modern artist’s works.

I’ve loved Otto Dix’s works from the moment I discovered him when studying Art History during my Lycée years. I was so happy when I was able to use him as a subject of study in one of my University essays, for a Modern Art and Theory class.

Perhaps contemporary artists lack the raw honesty that Dix possessed, too often hiding behind a mask of intellectual concepts that no one except people trained in intellectual snobbery will understand. Dix’s works possess pure shock value that transcends time. I took clippings of my university essay I hope will show why I think Otto Dix is such a great artist.

Even though Otto Dix’s works share many themes and aesthetic traits with his contemporaries, he was unique in his artistic productions. Otto Dix (1981-1969) enrolled in the German army and fought from 1915 to 1917. After fighting for Germany in War World I, many young men were left physically maimed and shell-shocked from the horrors they had witnessed. Otto Dix (1981-1969), rather than join in the Dada’s movement of chaotic expressions of post-war trauma, chose to create images that would impose on his viewer a direct confrontation with the horrors of war and modern society.


Center Panel from The War Tryptich


The Triptych The War 1921 (later destroyed by the Nazis) perfectly exemplifies Dix’s twisted style. The imagery is one of an allegory gone wrong, the central panel of 104x104cm, is a solemn image composed of elements of putrescence and decay as debris mix with wounded flesh. An ominous corpse is suspended over the scenes of horror, ceremoniously pointing down to the earth, mocking the traditional glorious war personifications that usually brandish flags in triumph in the midst of a battle. He uses one of the most traditionally revered art genres, the Historical Painting, as a grotesque and impartial representation of horror of ugliness.

What fascinates me most in Dix’s paintings is his treatment of the human body. He depicts it as disposable, as his subjects are often cripples with distorted, detached limbs or artificial ones. One of his most famous paintings, The Skat Players, 1920, oil on canvas and collage, is even more grotesque, as the limbs of the war veterans are artificial distorted, or subtracted so that they either reassemble wounds, machines or useless stumps. The war cripples are cruelly parodied as one holds his cards with his mouth, and the other with his artificial leg.

In Street of Prague, 101x81cm oil on canvas and collage he produced in 1920 (figure 1)A distorted female mannequin model in what appears to be braces and a crutch in an unsettling sexual pose. The dismembered mannequin in a store window denounces the fact that in the horrors of war the human body to a point where body parts are for sale.

Dix often depicted the women’s body as being a marketable object in modern society. In his triptych The Big City 1928, mixed technique on wood 181×402, the woman as object of desire and a product to be consumed is more obvious. (sorry, I wasn’t abble to find an image of this painting, and I no longer have home access to Art Stor through the MgGill Art Stor!) In the central panel, people dance to a Charleston band while enjoying luxuries that are shown off by the central female character. The right panel shows high end prostitutes, cheaply imitating high-class looks and disdainfully passing by a war-cripple while the left panel shows the most available prostitutes and two war veterans, one crippled and the other one possibly homeless as he is lying down underneath a bridge. This work shows the body as reduced to a display of flesh, the war veterans bearing signs of physical decay and the women as being objects of luxuries or cheap pleasure, unavailable in even its cheapest forms to the invalids.

Otto Dix observed and painted society with an indifference that suggested that such horrific scenes were mundane and part of everyday scenery. I believe that Dix’s works still have a strong impact today because he represents horrors with a nihilistic humor and paints with a cold, cruel savagery. His raw honesty gives his works real shock-value that transcends time and place and provokes the same human emotion in any viewer. This kind of raw objectivity is a universally understood language, that doesn’t require any pretence to some higher knowledge of Art to be understood. 

Eva Karcher, Otto Dix, 1891-1969, Sa vie, son oeuvre, ed. Benedikt Taschen, 1989.
Hal Foster, et al., Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernis,, Postmodernism vol.1, 1900-1944, 135-141.
Hartley, K., Otto Dix, exhib. cat. 1991 (London, Tate