Art and politics

Sofia exhibition presents works by some of the biggest names of 20th-century German art

Otto Dix

Art as a form of expression, its potential to generate ideas and its connection to politics, both in a modern and historical context, are the themes explored by the exhibition Art and Politics - Confrontations and Coexistence, which opened its doors to visitors on 27 October at the Structura Gallery in Sofia.

The show presents works by some of the biggest names of 20th-century German art, on loan from ifa (German Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations), including Otto Dix, Hannah Hoech, Guenther Uecker, Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter.

Unlike other ifa shows over the past few years, Art and Politics is not a travelling exhibition, but a curator project by Maria Vassileva. She has selected works by five German artists from different generations under the slogan of seeking correlation between art and politics and exploring how artists experienced the most cataclysmic events of the past 100 years in Europe.

For a more contemporary flavour, the show will also feature Antoni Rayzhekov's piece Pandemic Sound Card, 2020, inspired by the coronavirus situation and the possible manipulations threatening our civil freedoms.

As the main partner of the exhibition, Goethe-Institut Bulgaria is offering a diverse programme of accompanying events, starting on 31 October with a lecture by arts expert Wiebke Trunk. She will speak on the work of Otto Dix and the items on display through the prism of the following topic - Art and Politics and the Historical Context of Germany during the Weimar Republic. Wiebke Trunk studied set and costume design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, after which she focused on art history. Since 2014, she has been working as a research associate at the Karl von Osicki University in Oldenburg. The focus of her research is the study of the relationship between art and politics during National Socialism.

Otto Dix (2 December 1891 - 25 July 1969) is one of the most famous German artists, a painter and printmaker, noted for his ruthless and harshly realistic depictions of German society during the Weimar Republic and the brutality of war. When the First World War erupted, Dix volunteered for the German Army. He was assigned to a field artillery regiment in Dresden. In the autumn of 1915 he was assigned as a non-commissioned officer of a machine-gun unit on the Western front and took part in the Battle of the Somme. In November 1917, his unit was transferred to the Eastern front until the end of hostilities with Russia, and in February 1918 he was stationed in Flanders. Back on the western front, he fought in the German Spring Offensive. He earned the Iron Cross (second class) and reached the rank of Vizefeldwebel. In August of that year he was wounded in the neck, and shortly after he took pilot training lessons. He took part in a Fliegerabwehr-Kurs (Defense Pilot Course) in Tongern, was promoted to Vizefeldwebel and after passing the medical tests, transferred to Aviation Replacement Unit Schneidemuehl in Posen. He was discharged from service on 22 December 1918 and was home for Christmas.

Dix was profoundly affected by the sights of the war. He represented his traumatic experiences in many subsequent works, including a portfolio of fifty etchings called Der Krieg, published in 1924, presented in the exhibition. Subsequently, he referred again to the war in The War Triptych, painted from 1929-1932.

Why would a contemporary art gallery take an interest in displaying military-themed etchings from the second decade of the 20th century? The answer seems more and more obvious in the current times of social tension, political unrest and pandemics. The brutal truthfulness in the works of Otto Dix, the artistic approach that leaves no one indifferent, the grotesque images making us experience the horrors of war without being exposed to it, turn these works into a permanent alarm call. A reminder not only of the fierce clashes on the frontline, but also of all aberrations of the modern world, which keep on happening despite our cumulative historical experience.

The exhibition will be open until 9 December.

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