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The Terrifying and Beautiful World of Otto Dix Arrives in Montreal
Otto Dix, Group Portrait: Günther Franke, Paul Ferdinand Schmidt, and Karl Nierendorf, 1923. Oil on canvas. Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Nationalgalerie Berlin © Estate of Otto Dix / SODRAC (2010). Photo Jörg P. Anders/Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz / Art Resource, NY.

MONTREAL.- The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is presenting ROUGE CABARET: The Terrifying and Beautiful World of Otto Dix, the first North American exhibition devoted to Otto Dix (1891-1969), one of the twentieth century’s most important German painters. A keen observer of the world, which he viewed as “terrifying and beautiful,” Otto Dix leaves no one indifferent. Some 220 works, including about forty rare and fragile paintings, many of them painted in tempera on wood panels, large watercolours and powerful prints, illustrate his acerbic yet moving vision of the eventful era in which he lived, from World War I to World War II, from the Germany of the Weimar Republic to the rise of the Third Reich. Several complete series of prints will also be on display, including the outstanding “War” series (1924).

“This is the first North American exhibition of this scope devoted to Otto Dix,” said Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, “and the fact that it is being presented in Montreal is highly significant. One of Dix’s paintings, Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons, eloquently recounts the destinies of two men – the painter and his model – who lived through a twentieth-century tragedy. But it is also the story of a city’s battle to conserve this highly symbolic work. Rarely in this city has a work of art sparked such a concerted effort to preserve our collective heritage.”

Following World War I, Germany experienced a burgeoning of artistic creativity unequalled in Europe. The Roaring Twenties, a time of joyful and unbridled revelry, was also marked by violence, poverty and decadence generated by a disastrous political and economic situation, which Otto Dix observed with an unflinching eye. His depictions of battlefield scenes illustrating the horrors of war, dejected veterans reduced to begging, the moral misery of prostitutes, the myriad victims of a social order that had lost its bearings, and compelling portraits of anonymous figures, bohemians and intellectuals were all conveyed in a brutal realism that is as disturbing as it is fascinating.

Born in 1891 in Untermhaus, near Gera, Germany, to a family of modest means, Otto Dix studied painting at the Royal School of Arts and Crafts in Dresden. Enlisting in the army as a volunteer, he was profoundly affected by the World War I. He quickly acquired a scandalous reputation, disassociated himself from Expressionism and briefly joined the nihilist Dada movement. Along with George Grosz, he became a central figure in the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit), a major art movement that took a realistic and often scathing look at a society in the grip of a deep malaise and pessimism between the two World Wars: “We wanted to see things naked, to see them clearly – almost without art,” Dix explained. In both his technique and his style, he draws on the tradition of the German Renaissance, and his work depicts the most mundane and the crudest aspects of urban life in minute detail. Sought after as a portrait painter between the two World Wars, he captured the leading intellectuals and bohemians of the time. In 1933, with Hitler’s rise to power, Dix was immediately deemed a “degenerate” artist by the Nazi regime. His works were ridiculed, held up as negative examples, removed from German museums, confiscated, sold off and in many cases destroyed, which explains why they are so rare today.

Forced to quit his teaching position at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, Dix embarked on his “interior emigration.” He moved his family to the countryside close to the Swiss border, near Lake Constance, where he devoted himself to landscape painting. Conscripted in 1944 and taken prisoner in France, he was rehabilitated in his final years and is considered today as a major painter of the twentieth century. He died in 1969.

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