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Tel Aviv Museum of Art Shows Max Beckmann's Porfolios "Annual Fair" and "Berlin Journey"
The Tight Rope Walkers, 1921. From Annual Fair (Jahrmarkt), A portfolio of 10 drypoints, Marées-Gesellschaft, Reinhard Piper and Co., Munich 1922. Gift of Dr. Abraham Horodish, Amsterdam , 1986.

TEL AVIV. In both of Max Beckmann's (Germany 1884 – USA 1950) 1922 portfolios, Annual Fair (Jahrmarkt) and Berlin Journey (Berliner Reise), the artist's world outlook is exposed through various aspects of "reality," departing from the stable and familiar towards realms of the eerie and uncanny. Urban figures and phenomena are introduced as analogies, replacing the artists' inner-personal and outer-social reality, presenting scenes replete with suffering and despair resulting from Europe's disillusionment in the wake of World War I.

The bizarre, tormented, and illogical world of occurrences emerging in the portfolios attests to Beckmann's fascination with somber, highly-charged themes—apocalyptic events and social protest—and his yearning for higher spheres. Beckmann's interpretation of human existence is manifested in his expressive, intricate compositions, in the angularity of the lines, and the mannerist, deliberate distortions typifying his style. This expressionist aesthetics gives rise to a turbulent drama, introducing a disrupted, fragmented reality, conveying a sense of solitude and alienation alongside denseness and claustrophobia. A similar dialectic results from the emergence of enhanced close-ups in the prints juxtaposed with more panoramic vistas. The framing of the scenes in each page creates a voyeuristic effect as if one were observing an on-stage occurrence or looking through a window.

The allegorical events in the portfolio Annual Fair are based partly on Beckmann's visit to the large Viennese amusement park—the Prater, which the artist regarded as a microcosm of the degenerate German society at the time. The circus-like occurrences are based on ostensibly realistic contents derived from the leisure time of the period. They introduce a wide range of figures and images recurrent in Beckmann's work, and characteristic of his rich iconographic language. Concurrent with the critique of German society, the typical figures, featured in a non-realistic space, acquire a symbolical context, representing life: the blurred line between mystery-laden illusion and reality raises existential and psychological questions, whereby Beckmann represents universal themes such as sexuality, the tension between the sexes, the loss of individuality, and human brutality.

In the portfolio Berlin Journey the viewer is invited to join the artist on an allegorical walk through postwar Berlin. The portfolio, which Beckmann perceived as the "moral sequel" of another portfolio from 1919, Hell (Die Hölle), contains urban scenes—a parodic ridiculing of the urban mass, from the bourgeoisie to the working class. Like the latter, Berlin Journey is associated with the events of World War I and the ensuing turmoil.

The myriad of events represented in the portfolio include readings and discussions involving artists and intellectuals, held in small groups, a central element in Berlin's artistic life. Among others, it depicts Beckmann's close circle of acquaintances and his artistic and literary milieu—pacifists who opposed belligerence and held socialist views as well as other radical idealists who were discontented with what appeared at the time as a failure of the Weimar Republic in implementing the democratic and socialist ideals during and after the war. These "disillusioned" individuals were cultural figures who underwent a transformation and wandered to the left, while continually criticizing the Majority Socialist government of the Weimar Republic. Among the figures portrayed in the portfolio are Leo Kestenberg, the musician and consultant to the Prussian Ministry of Culture; artist Max Slevogt; Paul Cassirer and his wife, the actress Tilla Durieux, who is depicted with pamphlets in her lap inscribed Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and Karl Marx, misspelled as Marks, possibly in order to indicate the caricaturist, reckless, underground nature of the publication. The portfolio further portrays the gathering of another "disillusioned" group comprising monarchists and conservatives from the circle of the Kreuz-Zeitung, probably members of the new German National People's Party.

While one portfolio addresses mostly urban life, and the other—the amusement park, both portfolios blend the banal and mundane with the spectacular and artificial. Their juxtaposition reinforces this combination, alluding to the transience and ephemerality of existence and its illusory nature.

Text by: Calò Emanuela

Tel Aviv Museum of Art | Max Beckmann | German | World War I | scenes | degenerate |

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