gotta serve somebody

However different the society’s they pictured, both Otto Dix and Toulouse Lautrec represented a society in which the proletariat underclass or the under-underclass served the bourgeois upper echelons.  And, war and sex, in the sense of romantic realism were seen to be fundamental realities of human nature.Its hard to deny the importance of technology, it determines our modern life, both hi-life and low-life, but it has produced  an art that embodies the modern sense of urban estrangement. But is this satirizing of the modern condition merely a form of impotent revolution or is there something more profound beyond the background noise?…

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Expressionism at this time represented a reaction to the old, outdated bourgeois norms and the naive belief in progress. The catastrophes brought about by the First World War, the destruction of humanity, were only too evident and too recent. Expressionists such as  Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch and Otto Dix,  were attempting to create a new vision of the individual, one that would be identified by social responsibility and compassion for others. Creative art, in the age of Freud, was seen as evolving out of immediate inner experiencing and emotional dynamics. The basic themes of expressionism were feeling, intuition, subjectivity, fantasy. It is what Benjamin  called the  “optical unconscious”, in this context signifying the ability  to render visible the invisibilities structured into their work as read out of the context of their time, and then being crystallized into the realm of the political.

Dix. Three wenches. 1926.---Benjamin’s repeated imaginings of “prostitutes in doorways,” which figure the prostitutes at the thresholds of public sexuality and the domestic interior. Here, these women of the night figure as indexes of desire in late capitalism and thus support an avant-garde urban topography based in the erotics of countermemory; we can read Benjamin’s prostitutes as perhaps a “conceptual bridge back from ‘now time’ to a new narrativity,” as agents of “the creative intensity of the erotic and the political as a double awakening.” Of the possibilities of reading an agent at the threshold, Benjamin writes: “I am not concerned here with what is installed in the chamber at its enigmatic center… but all the more with the many entrances leading to the interior…. These entrances I call primal acquaintances… so many entrances to the maze.” Benjamin’s entrances, read through the figure of the prostitute, mark the “profane limit of bourgeois decency,” where embodied desire cuts across the modern city as a “nomadic assemblage” of radical sexual resignification. --- Read More:

Donald Kuspit:In Dix, the poor proletariat serves in the military — as he did as a machine-gunner in World War I — that supports the wealthy bourgeois, among them the fat cats pictured in the central panel of his masterpiece Grossstadt (1927-28) . … Dix remained a devoted family man all his life, … For all his morbidity, he was in love with life, as ….In Toulouse-Lautrec, lively proletariat performers entertain the jaded wealthy bourgeois, giving them a revitalizing “kick”: it is as though the performers were vigorously acting out the life the passive bourgeois audience lacks — raising the emotionally dead with their own intense, daring aliveness, uncoiling like a spring during the performance. Dix’s 1922 “Circus” series shows the same fascination with daredevil, life-intensifying — and life-risking — performers. Read More:

Otto Dix. Lady with mink and veil. 1920.---Revisionist Modernism insists, as I do, on reading Benjamin’s texts as “deployed” in the Foucauldian sense, wherein, according to Eva Geulen: “Emphasizing the kind of intimacy and clearly erotically overdetermined relationship that binds sexuality to image and image to sexuality in Benjamin’s writing surely catapults the discussion out of the confines of Benjamin scholarship and into the highly contested arena of debates over the relationship of discourses and gender, images and bodies.” To read Benjamin’s texts as eroticized illuminates the entry-ways and passages as moments of what Geulen considers “the site of Benjamin’s challenge to feminism, which has for the most part avoided the true scope of the gender problematic in Benjamin by restricting its investigations to safely identifiable motifs of (presumably) determinate gender, such as the lesbian and the prostitute”... Read More:


By Dix’s time, the phenomena of self-alienation and self-realization were being discussed. The individual  was no longer seen as an abstract being but within his or her concrete societal environment was viewed  above all as a working being, and a  part of the work environment or workforce,at least from a leftist perspective.The figure of the prostitute can serve as a good example. The prostitute was arguably  a most pervasive signifier of Weimar urban modernity, one which was taken up by Walter Benjamin, embodying for him the particular contradictions of consumer capitalism at the time alienation was being linked to technology. We have only to think of the work of Grosz and Dix’s representations of prostitutes to get a sense of the significance of the figure of the prostitute in the culture of the period, in particular in
relation to the urban setting.

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Kuspit:For both Dix and Toulouse-Lautrec, the underclass — exemplified by the black jazz musicians performing for the white fat cats and their bejeweled and gowned white ladies in Dix’s triptych and the black dancer Toulouse-Lautrec depicted — is more vital than the upper class, which borrows, exploits, and finally cannibalizes its life. Even the prostitutes both artists depicted are more vital than their customers — vitalize the sexuality of their male customers with their female sexuality, as though recharging a failed battery — however more grotesquely vital Dix’s prostitutes are than Toulouse-Lautrec’s. His are famously at rest between customers, while Dix’s strut their stuff on the wings of the triptych, along with crippled veterans — men who have been castrated by World War I, who have lost their legs and are no longer able to line up and parade as Dix’s prostitutes do. They are also an ugly horrifying waste product of the war. Read More:

Ultimately, this was a materialist metropolis; colonialist, patriarchal. As seen with Walter Benjamin,and even earlier with Baudelaire, the prostitute here is the most significant figure, embodying the alienated circulation of bodies, commodities, and money in modern society. But there is also a powerful fear that can be discerned here that underlies the misogyny.There is a  linking of conceptions of gendered modernity
directly to questions of race. Women are, according to Benjamin, primarily sexual, which makes prostitution such a danger to women. Because the relationship is determined by money and not by heterosexual marriage, Be

in asserted , it,”has absolutely nothing to do with racial appropriateness.”

Dix. Grosstadt. Read More:

Fears of women’s sexuality and the subversion of gender boundaries and hierarchies flow together here with fears of racial degeneration.In a world in which everyone does his own thing — a world in which no one seriously relates to anyone else — a world of casual, “experimental” relationships, sexual and otherwise — human beings cannot help becoming emotional monsters. Dix, like almost all the German New Objectivists, underscores the theme that women  are innately grotesque , and by extension that  modern individuals are distorted, isolated and inherently absurd. Capitalism and the emerging technologies permeate all of Dix’s paintings, appropriating human presence  and dehumanizing the body at the same time.



Dix. Prague Street. 1920.---Prague Street and Die Skatspieler (Skat Players), both painted in 1920, resemble this work which is all the more emblematic as it was seized and probably destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. It depicts weakened men with artificial limbs, horrific scars and grafts, and the grotesque world of veterans some of whom have been reduced to begging and others exhibit their wounds as proof of their bravery during the war. In Prague Street, their infirmities are emphasised by their nearness to a woman in a tight pink dress with a dog. There are wigs, corsets and artificial limbs in the shop window. A wooden hand holds a stick. The painting is balanced between neutral precision and satirical distortion and is not without political allusions. Near the legless cripple on a skateboard, Dix has pasted a tract or leaflet marked 'Juden raus!' (Jews out!). War veterans' leagues were particularly sensitive to ultra-nationalist propaganda and anti-Semitism was an early component, even before it became Nazi dogma. At the same time, this painting gives us an analysis of German society after the defeat, and foreshadows what it was to become during the inter-war period.--- Read More:


A brief look at prostitution in Weimar Germany brings out these differences from the sociological vision, and returns us to some of the issues raised earlier. Officially illegal in Weimar Germany, prostitution was policed and regulated in a host of ways, configured primarily through discourses and practices of hygiene. Spatially, prostitution was contained in specific districts, generally located adjacent to working class areas (prostitutes being of course workers themselves). These material practices of containment were articulated with medicalized concerns with hygiene in which fears of syphilis, moral hygiene, and racial degeneration sustained and extended the marginalization of prostitutes, and also served to limit women’s access to and performance in public space more generally. The class politics here was also significant; it was only from segments of the working class that support for prostitutes as workers emerged, but in these contexts the proliferation of eugenic discourses also served to drive a wedge between these different groups of workers by physically and morally zoning them apart. Eugenics was thus also part of class warfare. These connections are, however, largely lost in Simmel’s or Benjamin’s accounts.Read More:

---In his essay on Paris as the capital of the nineteenth century, Benjanim, in addition to flaneurs, speaks of other psycho-anthropological characters such as dandy and prostitutes, and parses the new character of production and the flow of merchandise. A situation in which the civil classes are faced with retracting their previous contract with a relatively independent poet inevitably leads to a need for that poet's prostitution, i.e. the reification of art.--- Read More:

Kuspit:But there is a good deal of subliminal Sturm und Drang in New Objectivity portraits — a sort of expressionistic hang-over, conveyed by the hot-under-the-collar character of many of them — that suggests an unresolved and unhappy relationship with reality. More particularly, uncertainty about industrial reality, and perhaps hatred of modern reality per se. Read More:

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3 Responses to gotta serve somebody

  1. Jamie says:

    omg ….. great blog! Super nice choice of art work, mostly images many will remember? As a heterosexual male, I’m still completely amazed by the fact. For every successful prostitute there’s a willing customer …… that just floors me? Hey, I like a good roll in the hay too. I just could never understand the money part?

    When the fundamentals of living boil down to just procreation and survival of the fittest? It’s not much of a stretch to see how it can figure prominently in artwork and the depiction of life. ……. cheers!

  2. Jamie says:

    sorry, ….. besides all artists want to sell their work. It is an axiom that sex and titillation sells …. i guess we’re just hot-wired that way? Perhaps that’s why i chose this blog of yours, out of the dozen or so available? … cheers.

    • Dave says:

      thanks so much for your comment, and for reading. There is so much out there to write on, it seems daunting at times to be “current” yet go with an intuitive whim. I appreciate you choosing this blog and will keep trying to improve the quality. As for the art work , I think, in the case of Dix, that its based on the Old Masters and it will

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