The monstrous menagerie of George Grosz heads out on a Hayward Gallery tour

By Richard Moss | 14 March 2012
a caricature drawing of two figures in 1920s dress
Charakterkopf (Character study) (1921). From Ecco Homo (published 1923)© The Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Photo courtesy: Stephen White
Exhibition: George Grosz: The Big No - a Hayward Touring Exhibition, Sheffield Institute of Arts, Sheffield, March 17 - April 15 2012

George Grosz’s caricatures and drawings are today regarded as some of the greatest satirical works of the 20th century - a reputation helped and hindered in equal measure by the dark and tumultuous times he lived through.

A founder of the Berlin Dada group in the 1920s, Grosz was a revolutionary communist in the period of Hitler’s rise to power and captured all of the colour, decadence, vices and injustices of Weimer Berlin as it veered between communist revolution and fascist dictatorship.

Now his monstrous menagerie of Berlin characters is heading out on the road as part of a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition.

Many of the drawings were published in portfolios by left wing publisher Malik-Verlag and this exhibition focuses on two of the most powerful.

Ecce Homo, 1923 features work ranging from primitive and graffiti-like sketches to complex Futuristic street scenes that depict city thoroughfares, workers' hovels, seedy nightclubs, bars and brothels together with a cavalcade of black marketeers, pimps, prostitutes, demobbed soldiers and the nouveau-riche. 

The works from Hintergrund (Background) 1928 were developed for Erwin Piscator’s play adaption of the Jaroslav Hašek anti-war novel The Good Soldier Schwejk. 

Grosz’s anti-militarist imagery, which included a crucified Christ wearing a gas mask and military boots, caused an outcry and resulted in criminal charges against both artist and publisher for "blasphemy and defamation of the German military".

The longest trail in pre-Nazi German history eventually ended in acquittal. But, in common with most of Germany’s best avant garde artists, Grosz’s card was now marked and he was regarded as an enemy of the state. He fled to the US before Hitler snatched power in 1933.

The Nazi regime went on to strip Grosz of his German citizenship and include his work in their degenerate art exhibition of 1937, which was part of a typically fanatical plan to rid all German collections of modernist art.

Open 10am–5pm (8pm Wednesday). Admission free.

More pictures:

a drawing of a group of Weimar period generals and clerics holding hands
Seid untertan der Obrigkeit (Bow to the authorities). From Hinterland (Background) (published 1928).
© The Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Photo courtesy: Stephen White
a pen and ink drawing of a man in glasses emoting and speaking
Ledebour, 1919. From Ecco Homo (published 1923)© The Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Photo courtesy: Stephen White
a drawing of a partially dressed woman on a chair
An der Grenze (On the Threshold), 1920 From Ecco Homo (published 1923 / facsimile published 1964)© The Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA. Photo courtesy: Stephen White
Tour dates:
17 March - 15 April: Sheffield Institute of the Arts Gallery
26 May – 24 June: Cultural Centre, Bellshill
30 June – 29 July: Galway Arts Festival, Galway
4 August – 2 September: Oriel Gallery, Castle Gardens and Clotworthy House, Antrim
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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