War, Bloodshed, and the German Grotesque, Natalie Haddad, δημοσίευση στο Hyperallergic [6/2/2023]
LOS ANGELES — “The ugly, the strange, and the gruesome.” The phrase introduces Reexamining the Grotesque: Selections from the Robert Gore Rifkind Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and serves as a kind of working definition of the grotesque, a concept that’s shape-shifted its way through art history for centuries.
The text on LACMA’s website goes on to describe the grotesque as “a persistent undercurrent in German art of the early 20th century.” The exhibition itself, tucked away in a small room within the museum’s modern art galleries, features prints, drawings, and illustrated publications by artists associated with German Expressionism and New Objectivity.
The Rifkind Center, LACMA’s expansive and often under-utilized collection of German modern prints and drawings, is a treasure trove of the ugly, strange, and gruesome, but the question this show raises is what distinguishes this “grotesque” from any number of artworks in the adjacent galleries — for instance, Cubism’s faceted women, who savagely reify what Mikhail Bakhtin called the “partitioned body” of the grotesque; Giacometti’s quivering, attenuated bodies; or the weathered, almost anthropomorphic chair and lamp of Edward Kienholz’s “The Illegal Operation” (1962).
The closest it comes to an answer is war. World War I and its aftermath in the Weimar Republic are recurring themes, central enough to be cited in the introductory text, but not quite enough to cohere the exhibition. It’s a shame because the works that best exemplify a uniquely German grotesque, and a raison d’etre for this show, are those that reflect the war and Weimar years.