The Street

7:00 AM

George Grosz, The Street, 1915

Undeniably unsettling, this painting seems eerily reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie (aside from the lack of Johnny Depp.) The crooked buildings, violent sky, and macabre figures tell a story of degeneration; you will not find a heart-warming skeleton love story here.

The painting style spurs from Dadaism, a movement that came out of World War I and protested cultural and intellectual conformity while embracing chaos and absurdity. George Grosz, a prominent Dada artist, adopted the style after returning from his service in the war. He had come to hate the war and detested the world and its inhabitants, especially Germans. He lived in Berlin for many years, despite seeing his fellow German city-dwellers as ugly, obese, and retrograde. Grosz especially hated cities, which to him exemplified the debauchery and corruption of the modern world. His art reflected his pessimism and antipathy with often appalling subject matter and depraved implications.

This painting depicts the nefarious happenings of a city block in the middle of the night. Ghastly figures, floating heads, and Peeping Toms exist under the bloody sky. There are just two women in the scene, one baring all and one concealed behind a larger man. Grosz often painted salaciously, however here he only hints at the indecorous conduct occurring. The people in the windows only add to the scandalous nature of the painting. Although the scene is in public, their featureless faces seem to intrude and scrutinize. There is no privacy in the city, only bad characters and worse intentions.

Besides the people, I can’t help but feel there are bigger monsters at hand. The skyline in the background looks peculiarly like teeth. Black, jagged teeth, in a gaping mouth, enclosing the whole city in the jaws of some bigger evil. If Grosz is trying to tell us that humanity is vile and vulgar, well, he’s done a pretty good job. I feel exposed looking at this painting, yet it captivates me. Like a Rothko, the deeper I look, the more I find. I don’t think I’ll ever figure out what is quite going on here, and I think I’m okay with that.

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