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Wunderkammer VII
Part of the exhibition “Artists as Graphic Designers and Illustrators”

George Grosz ECCE HOMO

All sixteen colour plates from the uncensored BII edition, Malik-Verlag, Berlin 1922/23


Opening: 18 June, 7pm
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Ecce Homo, perhaps the most famous graphic series by Georg Gross, who in 1916 in a fit of disgust for his German contemporaries changed his name to the more American George Grosz, is a compendium of uncommented biting visual satire, a stylistic mixture combining the furious exuberance of a Hieronymus Bosch, a Futuristic love of speed and the geometric stringency of Cubism. Like all great satire, it also has a serious subtext and, as the title suggests, is full of references to the universal themes of humanity. The works offer an almost encyclopaedic view of life in Berlin between the wars, with its “babbitts”, con men, war invalids and war profiteers, and the legions of modern slaves or, as we would call them today, “service providers”, at their beck and call. In that regard, Berlin stands as a symbol of the “normal” urban insanity of the Modernist period, which makes the series highly relevant to today’s world as well. No one gets off scot-free with Grosz (not even the artist himself, shown with a black eye), and even gentlemen thieves and white collar criminals get caught in the end. The pictures evoke Döblin’s novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, which was published a couple of years later and may be regarded as the literary equivalent of Ecce Homo. In both cases, the insignificant yes-men and moral cowards are out to gain whatever small advantage they can, at any time and at any price, and the “bosses” are arrogant, cynical and brutal. If Grosz shows any sympathy, it is towards those at the bottom of the social pecking order, such as prostitutes, who sometimes radiate a majestic dignity. In that regard, Grosz is following in the footsteps of artists with a social conscience like Daumier or Van Gogh. In spite of the extensive use of soft chalk, Daumier sharply illustrated the shortcomings of his contemporaries, while Van Gogh, at least in his early period, communicated his allegiance to the underprivileged with gentleness and pathos. Grosz’s Ecce Homo has a little of both of these, not least on account of the technique used, which was intended to enable the drawings to be reproduced as offset lithographs: pen and ink for the black and white pictures and a soft watercolour brush for the colour drawings.  

It is not surprising that the complete set of Ecce Homo was only on sale for just over a year, and that Grosz very soon felt the full weight of the judiciary system. Although the works were not banned in their entirety, many subjects had to be removed from the published books and portfolios. Galerie Hochdruck is showing all sixteen colour sheets from the uncensored BII portfolio edition.
Art for Every Day
Artists as graphic designers and illustrators

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Commercial art and graphic design were not invented by the booming advertising sector in the early twentieth century, even if this period produced a large number of high-quality artists’ designs for all types of printed matter, known as ‘ephemera’ on account of their alleged throwaway nature. Many of these designs for posters, newspaper advertisements, book art, invitation cards, artistic postcards, etc., have become classics reproduced thousands of times over. Vienna, home of the Secession and artists like Gustav Klimt, Kolo Moser, Josef Hoffmann and Max Kurzweil and its own magazine Ver Sacrum, was a centre around 1900 of the arts and crafts movement, which also embraced graphic arts, at least in the eyes of the artists involved, as a branch of applied arts. In France, the unique tradition of newspaper caricatures initiated by Honoré Daumier was continued by artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Félix Vallotton and František Kupka. Book illustration, with or without text, was a special case, bridging the gap between art “for eternity” and art for “daily use”. Although there were art books designed as pure art objects, most illustrated books at the turn of the century and above all during the Expressionist period soon afterwards were books with texts by contemporary authors, augmented by illustrations by well-known artists, in which readers came into contact subliminally with art. Book covers, endpapers and title pages have remained an ideal area for creative and sophisticated design by artists. The Czech book production of the 1920s with cover designs by Vlastislav Hofman, Josef Čapek, Václav Spala or Karel Teige is particularly noteworthy in this regard. But a distinction must also be made here. Only those who can separate the inherent value of an artistic idea from its purely pecuniary value can appreciate the value of successful commercial art.

Prints have a long history as utilitarian objects, and their particular charm is often to be found in the ambivalence between the soaring heights of artistic imagination and experimentation and the banal context in which the graphic art is located. It should be borne in mind that from its beginnings in the late Middle Ages, print has been used mainly for non-artistic purposes. When it first appeared in Europe, it was used for playing cards or illustrated bibles for those who could not read. Even today, the message inherent in a printed picture is used to replace language. Even if some examples were of the highest artistic quality – the young Dürer’s Ship of Fools illustrations, or Holbein the Younger’s Basel book illustrations, for example – graphic art remained subordinate for a long time to the written word and only gradually and surreptitiously became an art form in its own right, particularly when the illustration spoke a different language than the text or the illustrated commentary supplemented the information contained in the text, as was the case with the Petrarch Master in the early sixteenth century.

Before the invention of photography, the dissemination of artistic ideas would not have been conceivable without another form of art, often unspecifically referred to as “reproductive art”. Armies of minor artists busied themselves transforming the designs by their famous colleagues into graphic media such as woodcuts, copper engravings or etchings. The models ranged from large-scale frescos to drawings made specially for transfer into print media and many of these minor artists, who in some cases had close business connections with the originators of the pictorial ideas, themselves became famous through their sometimes highly individual interpretations. For example, Italian Mannerist chiaroscuro woodcuts based on pictures by Raphael, Titian or Tintoretto, used at the time to promote the original artists, are regarded today as works of art in their own right. In fact, the disparaging word “reproductive” was never used. In Italy these works were referred to rather as “contrafatto”, which means “imitating” or, even better, “deceptively similar”, often used in connection with portraits.

“Art for Every Day” also refers finally to all forms of graphic art used to support or oppose political ideas. This art first came to the fore with the illustrations by the two Cranachs of the ideas of the Reformation. Throughout the nineteenth century, Daumier, mentioned earlier, used his artistic talents to comment on contemporary political and social issues at a time when a major part of print production was devoted to mere illustration.

For the Secessionist movements in the early twentieth century, high-quality graphic art was central to their conception of applied arts, as stated in the first issue of Ver Sacrum: “We make no distinction between ‘high art’ and ‘minor arts’, between art for the rich and art for the poor. Art is common property.”

One aspect of the development of commercial art in the second half of the twentieth century that should not be ignored is the exodus of artists from Europe to America during the Nazi era. In particular, former Bauhaus artists like Josef Albers developed their ideas after emigrating to the USA, and others, like Herbert Bayer, were assimilated completely by the advertising industry, with fascinating results that were to influence artists like Andy Warhol. In the context of the “economic miracle” after the Second World War, astute artists like Picasso rediscovered and exploited the difference – and the blurred distinction – between “high art” and “minor arts” for commercial ends. While the wealthy paid large sums for paintings, the less well-off could still content themselves with “original lithographic” posters or books with original prints. Today these prints, which were quite affordable when they were first produced, have become sought-after and often expensive works of art.

Artists: Josef Achmann, Pierre Alechinsky, Gerd Arntz, Hans Arp, Ernst Barlach, Rudolf Bauer, Herbert Bayer, Aubrey Beardsley, František Bílek, Frank Brangwyn, Georges Braque, Erich Buchholz, Josef Čapek, Oskar Dalvit, Gunter Damisch, Honoré Daumier, André Derain, Gustave Doré, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Maurits Cornelis Escher, Maurice Estève, Lyonel Feininger, Karl Anton Fleck, Alberto Giacometti, Martina Geist, Franz Gertsch, Hap Grieshaber, George Grosz, Wolfgang Hamer, Hans Hartung, Carry Hauser, Erich Heckel, Utagawa Hiroshige, Bernhard Hoetger, Josef Hoffmann, Vlastislav Hofman, Katsushika Hokusai, Ambrosius Holbein, Hans Holbein d.J., Daniel Hopfer, Hieronymus Hopfer, Arthur Illies, Oscar Jespers, Asger Jorn, Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel, Rudolf Junk, Max Kaus, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gustav Klimt, František Kobliha, Käthe Kollwitz, Jan Konůpek, Alfred Kubin, Utagawa Kunisada, František Kupka, Maximilian Kurzweil, Fernand Léger, Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Marcks, Frans Masereel, Joan Miró, Kolo Moser, Adriaen Muntinck, Emil Orlik, Bernhard Pankok, Max Pechstein, A. R. Penck, Mihailo S. Petrov, Daniel Pfauth, Pablo Picasso, Ferdinand Piloty, José Guadalupe Posada, Marcantonio Raimondi, Rixdorfer Künstler, Karl Rössing, Herbert Rosner, Carl Rotky, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Christoffel van Sichem, John Skippe, Václav Spala, Klaus Staeck, Varvara Stepanova, Curt Stoermer, Vincent Le Sueur, Karel Teige, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Josef Váchal, Félix Vallotton, Lynd Ward, Andy Warhol

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