16 June – 3 September, 2023

Social Criticism 1920-1924 / “War” Etchings 1924

An exhibition by ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen

The direct confrontation with the war at the front lines was so grave for the machine- gunner Otto Dix, so horrific, that this experience in fact marked him for life, and it was a major influence as well on his entire life’s work. More than 600 drawings from the years 1914 to 1918 were done at various theatres of war in Belgium, France and Russia, in the course of his military service. These documentations of war, created on the spot and of high artistic value, together with his own memories of the horrors of World War I, also formed the basis of a later grandiose serial work entitled “The War”, published in 1924 in Berlin.
The cycle, consisting of fifty separate drawings and often compared to Goya’s Desastres de la Guerra, does not only give an authentic and horrifying portrayal of the terrible trench fighting that took place in the great battles of this first world war- it also unmasks the moloch of war for what it truly is. This series of etchings, which ranks particularly highly among the main works of Dix’s oeuvre, forms the center of attention of this exhibition.

Dix never imagined that he could change people, i.e. humanity as such, by means of his works. But for these works, paintings and prints against war, he drew the rage and the hate, up to and including defamation, of the Nazi regime, which, after coming to power in 1933, removed him from his chair, as one of the first Academy professors to suffer this, and forbade him to exhibit.

The truth was important for Dix, also in his focus upon marginalized social groups of the postwar era, such as war veterans who had lost limbs, etc. and prostitutes; the collection included in this exhibition shows characteristic examples of such unfortunates. This inexorable drive to show the truth was already a source of agitation and protest among his contemporaries before the Nazis were in power.

„I will either be famous or infamous”, he once said as a young man. He has become both. The appreciation and acclaim accorded to this artist, who was born on 2 December 1891 in the Thuringian town of Gera-Untermhaus and died in Singen- Hohentwiel, near Lake Constance, on 25 July 1969, is indeed worldwide today.

Curator: Eugen Keuerleber (1921 – 2002)