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- The exhibition Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York focuses on the social and cultural life in Europe in the period between World I and II. According to the director of the museum, Richard Armstrong, this exhibition "examines the artistic return to order after the destruction of World War I." Some of the sections that I would focus on are: In the Shadow of War: Chaos, Performance/Anxiety and Classicism, The Dark and Side of Classicism.
In the introductory section: In the Shadow of War: Chaos and Classicism, Chaos is represented by a veteran, Otto Dix in forms of a series of prints. These are 15 printed images that represent the horrifying images of people and soldiers' causalities during and after World War I. One of the prints is Skin Graft (Transplantation) from The War (Der Krieg) by Otto Dix. A soldier's face disfigured by skin grafts. This soldier's left side of his face was completely destroyed. He has bandages covering the damaged area of the face and also it seems like he was treated in order to restore his face to normal. These frames may cause disturbance but, Dix wanted to show the horrors of war as vivid as possible. Dix published his work around 1924; exactly ten years after WWI began. WWI was considered the first modern war in which millions of people were killed and many cities were destroyed. This devastating war destroyed the economic system and the government itself. Dix showed very vividly the terrifying images of how WWI was.
Next to Dix's frames, Classicism is represented by sculptures on pedestals. One of the sculptures, Ile-de-France by Aristide Maillol is a nude woman which represents the liveliness and strength of human life when it was not in danger. Classicism, on the other hand, portrayed things in a better way. Even though classicism brought many good things such as new point of view and a new perspective of art, it also had a dark side. The big destruction of World War I, the classical revival was haunted by the death, within two decades it had become instrumental to political campaign of death. Political parties run by people like Adolf Hitler who created the German National Socialists and the Italian fascist that recognized the symbolic power of the classical idea and the real power of violence. These types of government used the classical idea to their own benefits and to claim power over everything. A brief history is provided for better understanding of Chaos and Classicism. According to www.guggenheim.org
"Following the chaos of World War I, a move emerged toward figuration, clean lines, and modeled form and away from the two-dimensional abstracted spaces, fragmented compositions, and splintered bodies of Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, and other avant-garde styles of the opening of the 20th century. In response to the horrors initiated by the new machine-age warfare, artists sought to recuperate and represent the body, whole and intact. For the next decade and a half, classicism-a return to order, synthesis, organization, and enduring values, rather than the prewar emphasis on innovation at all costs-dominated the discourse of contemporary art. Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936 traces this interwar trend as it worked its way from a poetic, mythic idea in the Parisian avant-garde; to a political, historical idea of a revived Roman Empire, under Benito Mussolini; to a neo-Platonic High Modernism at the Bauhaus, and finally to the chilling aesthetic of nascent Nazi culture. The exhibition interweaves the key movements that proclaimed visual and thematic clarity, Purism, Novecento Italiano, and Neue Sachlichkeit, through several closely related but distinct themes. This vast transformation of interwar aesthetics in Western Europe encompasses painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, film, fashion, and the decorative arts."
Another interesting point of the WWI is that the chaos and destructiveness was so extreme that there was a powerful feeling that whatever brought Europe to the war brink of the war had to stop. Probably the way they were running politics was not working as well as it should have been. A new beginning and a fresh start was necessary in order to move on from all the bad things WWI left behind. Artists started fresh with the classicism idea, leaving behind Cubism, Futurism, and Expressionism. These classical artists started providing art that would portray the new era, the post-war era in which thing would be better and beautiful.
Many artists were being inspired from a fresh start after WWI. The authors of the paintings shown in the section Performance/Anxiety and Classicism did not want to refer as inspiration anything that was similar to the old ideals. They became interested in what was known as the "Italian comedy."
According to Kenneth E. Silver, guest curator The Dark Side of Classicism was "gradually appropriated by political right." Adolf Hitler liked classicism because he would use it to portray and show fear to people. If people would not help him get to power, then this would happen to them, but if he did get to power, he would change it all. On the other hand, Performance/Anxiety art was a different type of art which derived from the same time era. This type of art was trying to move away from the chaos type of art. It was showing a very different view and where people are looking happy and nothing bad has happened. Also this new type of art was based on paintings that were showing every day regular people in their daily activities. Also it was leaning into the comedy type of painting in which everything painted would have something that shows something funny. It could be a painting of a serious man, but it would also have the same man painted as a clown behind him. In the visit to the museum I encountered a few paintings with this form of painting. One of the paintings I saw was of a man who was dressed up very properly and formally. Next to him there was a self portray. It was the same guy, but it looks to me that one was showing his professional side and the other one his funny or comic side. It is very interesting that they started to paint this way after all the disaster that WWI caused. Also as shown in the museum, this art represented a new movement in the art society. This is because they started moving from cubism and the other ways of arts.
Classicism consisted of a transition of a way of making art into another. This transition made artist focus on many different things. According to the Guggenheim Museum Hitler "the German dictator who in his youth had aspired to be an artist, favored classicism and disdained experimental styles. He considered the ancient Greeks to be 'Nordics,' ancestors of the Germans. He favored classicism and he incorporated this art style into the politics. He said that Art's function, he said in 1935, was to be the model for racially pure humans to create images which represent God's creatures, not miscarriages between man and monkey." He took art seriously and only allowed art that he found convenient. He did not like art that show the truth or that went against what he was going forth.