Artists Reflect the Hell of War

Prints by Otto Dix, Max Beckmann offer historical perspective on current madness

WAR/HELL

Prints by Otto Dix and Max Beckmann

Neue Galerie

1048 Fifth Ave. at 86th St.

Sat.-Mon. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.,

Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Through Sep. 26.

$10, $7 for students, seniors

212-628-6200

The two series, never shown together before, face each other across a narrow room on the third floor of the Neue Galerie. Putting them together was a curatorial inspiration. But it’s an unsettling place to stand, looking from one long wall to the other, between two visions of sheer lunacy.

Dix’s set of 50 etchings, published in 1924, draws upon his four years at war. As notable for formal power as for an aura of authority, the group is called “Der Krieg,” or “The War.” Repeatedly, Dix sets alarming brightness against deep darkness to illuminate chasms between life and death, drawing a ghastly beauty from glaring fragments and black holes, shell holes, blasted-out stomachs, smashed heads, ripped faces.

Beckmann also offers a downward journey from a highly moral perspective, in twelve lithographs published in 1919 and titled “Die Hölle,” or “Hell.” Each print can barely contain an explosion of home-front perspectives, in a style less classical than Dix, packing the dizzy punch of watching three Brecht plays at once. The cubistic jumble of this netherworld embraces prostitutes, amputees returning from the front, criminals and Rosa Luxemburg’s murder as a cruxifiction.

At one end of the gallery hangs a famous Beckmann painting, “Self-Portrait With Horn,” from 1938. It suggests what both men may have had in mind with their prints. In a lifetime of wars, the artist faces the viewer with an eerie calm. Beckmann holds on to his trumpet, his right to call out, to remind people, to wake them up.

Caption:

Otto Dix’s “Dead Sentry in Trench,” 1924 comes from the “War”portfolio; Max Beckmann’s “Hunger,”1919 is part of the “Hell” portfolio. Both are on exhibit at the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue

Private Collections/ New York/ Courtesy Neue Galerie

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