The German artist Georg Grosz (1893-1959) published a series of water colors and lithographs in 1923, entitled Ecce Homo. His world, the metropolis Berlin, is populated with ugly, mean and greedy people. Like many artists of his generation, Grosz had been traumatized by the atrocities of World War I and was highly critical of the hypocritical society he lived in. Poverty and hunger existed next to extreme richness. In the 1920s the inflation led to spending and a booming night life as if any day could be the last.
Grosz, a dandy who wanted to be an illustrator and a caricaturist, joined the communist party and the Dadaist movement and produced anti-establishment papers and pamphlets. He signed a manifesto calling for ‘immediate regulation of all sexual relations in an international dadaist spirit by the establishment of a Dadaist sex head quarters’ and protested against the anti-obscenity and anti-pornography law in 1926. He was involved in several trials and accused of abusing public morals, not so much because of the sexual explicitness of his work but rather for insulting the army and blasphemy.
His water colors show frank and honest sexuality, meaty voluptuous women and men full of lust. One may think of them as ugly people as the German judge did at that time. He was no doubt used to esthetical idealizations. Others read these works as social criticism. Certainly exaggeration and satire are part of them. But that makes them real as well. As Grosz said: ‘I see things as I see them, that’s all.’
Grosz emigrated to the United States in 1933. In Germany his work was declared degenerated art and the Nazis deprived him of his nationality. In may 1959 he returned. A few weeks later a girl delivering the news papers discovered him dead at the entrance of an apartment building.
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