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Love, Death, the Terrifying and Beautiful World of Otto Dix 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.- From September 24, 2010, to January 2, 2011, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will be 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.

The Montreal presentation of this exhibition, organized in partnership with the Neue Galerie New York, includes extensive educational content presented alongside the exceptional selection of works by Dix from private and public collections in Europe and North America. Photographs, excerpts from documents and films by G. W. Pabst, Fritz Lang, Robert Wiene, Paul Leni, Walter Ruttmann, Phil Jutzi and F. W. Murnau, along with archival materials, form a moving testimonial to the tumultuous interwar period, relating the excesses and anguish of this society exposed and captured in Dix’s work. It also pays tribute to the extraordinary collective effort to keep the compelling Portrait of the Lawyer Hugo Simons in Montreal, at the Museum of Fine Arts. The acquisition of this painting in 1993 attracted attention well beyond our borders.

An excerpt shot in Germany from Quebec filmmaker Jennifer Alleyn’s new film, Dix fois Dix, will also be previewed as part of the exhibition.

The exhibition is divided into six themes, arranged chronologically and thematically, from World War I to World War II.

1 – The Trenches
“I studied war closely. It must be represented realistically, so that it is understood. The artist works so that others can see that such a thing existed.”

2 – The City
“There is so much that is strange in what surrounds us that there is no reason to use or seek out new subjects.”

3 – The Brothel
“We wanted to see things naked, to see them clearly – almost without art.”

4 – The Gallery
“When I tell people I would like to paint them, I already have their portrait in my mind.”

5 – The Salon
“…stop bothering me with your pathetic politics – I’d rather go to the whorehouse.” Karcher, Otto Dix, 1992, p. 17.

6 – The Lake
“I painted landscapes – That was emigration.”

The exhibition in Montreal will feature works on loan from major international museums, including the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium, the Otto Dix Foundation (Vaduz), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMaster University Museum of Art. Works from numerous private collections, including those belonging to Ronald S. Lauder, president and co-founder of the Neue Galerie New York, and the estate of Serge Sabarsky, its co-founder, have also been generously lent for the exhibition.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts | ROUGE CABARET | Otto Dix | Nathalie Bondil |

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