Of course, George Grosz “still resonates today.”
These are jaundiced portrayals, betraying an immense sensitivity to base instinct and social subtext. Grosz’s savage lines and grotesque figuration seek to cut through pretence, exposing bottomless appetites flourishing among decaying morals. His satirical motive was primarily political. He served only briefly in the First World War, but long enough to form the bleak view of militarism seen in Godfather Death of 1916, the year he affronted German nationalism by Americanising his name (previously Georg Groß). Continued displays of disgust towards the army earned Grosz an assassination attempt in 1920. Hitler too would come for him almost immediately after taking power in 1933. Grosz had left for America just a fortnight earlier.
Grosz’s other targets included the church, the political elite, the old bourgeoisie and the new class of speculative super-rich which sprang from its demise. Unsurprisingly, he was an active member of the German Communist movement. He produced masses of both art and literature for radical publisher Malik Verlag, including his most famous collection of works, Ecce Homo, some of which can be seen at the Nagy exhibition.
Grosz’s art is above all uncompromising, and he was content to keep producing it in the face of continuous prosecutions. Perhaps the absence of an idealised proletariat in his work–or anything idealised for that matter–can be explained by his artistic mode being an attacking rather than a sentimental one. Yet, it is difficult not to feel that there is more to Grosz’s portrayals of capitalist pigs at their various troughs than outright condemnation. His works bristle with colour, mischief and humour. Grosz’s fine reputation as a political satirist can invite the mistake of elevating him above his subject matter to a firm position of judgement. In reality, Grosz was intoxicated by this wreck of morals.
Where is George Grosz today when we need him? Again.