22 August 2010

Life is a Cabaret

Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber” Otto Dix (1925)

An Otto Dix painting both repulses and fascinates at the same time. I learned this first hand Saturday afternoon while looking at works by the German Expressionist currently on display at the Neue Galerie New York.

With more than 100 works to view, I wandered from horrific scenes of World War I battlefields (Dix served in the German Army and was at the Battle of the Somme) to portraits from the Weimar Republic—performers, whores, lawyers, doctors—none of whom appear more “normal” than the other (according to the portrait, Dr. Heinrich Stadelmann would be right at home in a Tim Burton film).

One of my favourites was “Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber.” A notorious dancer and actress, Berber flaunted her bisexuality and drug abuse before dying of tuberculosis at the age of 29 (a real life Sally Bowles). The vivid reds of the painting along with her exaggerated makeup gives her a vampiric quality and symbolizes the harshness of her lifestyle and the time.

Another favourite was a portrait of a mother and child. At first, it looked innocent enough. That was until I noticed that the baby’s feet, wrapped in cloth, seemed curiously long and twisted.

The Neue Galerie, home to a beautiful collection of 20th century Austrian and German art, is one of the loveliest museums in the city. Built in 1914, the former home of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III includes many lovely details like a marble and wrought iron twisting staircase and domed skylight.  

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte with a Wiener Mélange. Photo by Michele.

On the first floor is the Café Sabarsky, modeled on the famed coffee houses of Vienna. So, of course, I had to order a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (chocolate cake with cherries) with a Wiener Mélange (espresso with steamed milk). Absolutely delicious.

The Otto Dix exhibit runs through August 30.

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