George Grosz – The Big NO
11 October – 9 November
Highgate Gallery is delighted to celebrate its 20th year by hosting the Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition of works by George Grosz. An exploration of the fractured society of Weimar Germany through the sharp eye and even sharper pen of one of the leading German satirical draughtsmen of the 20th century.
George Grosz (1893-1959) was one of the greatest satirical artists of the 20th century. A co-founder of the Berlin Dada group and revolutionary in the 1920s, he made hundreds of drawings depicting the vices and injustices of capitalist society on the brink of economic and moral collapse.
Many of Grosz’s drawings were published in portfolios by the left wing publisher Malik Verlag. This exhibition presents two of the most powerful: ‘Ecce Homo’ (’Behold the Man’), 1923, and ‘Hintergrund’ (’Background’), 1928.
The exhibition takes its title from the artist’s autobiography, ‘Ein Kleines Ja und Ein Grosses Nein’ – ‘A small yes and a big no’, itself a pun on his own name (he was born Georg Groß).
‘Ecce Homo’ was Grosz’s largest portfolio, consisting of 84 photo-lithographic reproductions of 84 black and white drawings and 16 watercolours (a small number of watercolours will be shown in the exhibition). The drawings present a monstrous menagerie of Berlin characters, capturing a society living in the shadow of hyper-inflation and social disorientation, divided between fascism and communism. The drawings range from the primitive and graffiti-like to complex Futuristic street scenes, and depict city streets, workers’ hovels, seedy night bars and brothels and caricatures of black marketeers, pimps, prostitutes, de-mobbed soldiers and the nouveau-riche.
Shortly after publication in 1923 Grosz and his publisher were prosecuted for obscenity and the printing plates for ‘Ecce Homo’ were destroyed. Later, when the Nazis came to power, the remaining books and portfolios were publicly burned in May 1933. Only a few copies survive and in 1964 the artist’s family licensed the publication of a facsimile edition.
The ‘Hintergrund’ prints, equally controversial at the time and subject to legal prosecution, are taken from the original portfolio.
A Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London.
Open Tuesday-Friday 13:00-17:00; Saturday 11:00-16:00; Sunday 11:00-17:00. Closed Monday. Admission free.
Tube: Archway or Highgate; Buses 143, 210, 271 from Archway tube to Highgate Village.
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Related Events – George Grosz at the HLSI:
HLSI Lecture – Tuesday 14 October 8pm: ‘Expression and Objectivity: George Grosz and the politics of art in 1920s Germany’. Dr Nickolas Lambrianou of Birkbeck College, University of London, compares the approaches taken by German Expressionist and Dada artists with those of British artists during this period.
Free to HLSI members; non-members £5, admitted from 7.45pm (space permitting).
Highgate Film Society – Thursday 16 October 8pm: ‘The Blue Angel’. This 1930 melodrama was Germany’s first sound film. Directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich, it is based on Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel, ‘Professor Unrat’. Banned in Nazi Germany, it tells the tale of one man’s obsession and subsequent descent into madness.
Associate Membership required for non-HFS members, available in advance or on the door. For details see www.hlsi.net or tel 020 8340 3343.
Highgate Gallery Talk – Friday 24 October 7pm: ‘The Graphic Experience of War – George Grosz in Context’. Dr Dorothy Rowe, author and lecturer at the University of Bristol, explores Grosz’s increasingly ambivalent politics between the two world wars.
Doors open 6.30pm – admission free.