Everyone is working on the hoof. You can’t hold it against Galerie Haas for digging around in their inventory and mounting a motley show of works that could be grouped under the umbrella of ‘Abstand’. The safe distance we know and broadly disregard. Or the Abstand that makes a clear, quantitative difference. Or an interval in time, over which certain artists become established as significant markers in art, marking both artistic currents and the historic contemporaneity they lived. In Haas’ small Zürich gallery there’s a Max Ernst collage, a Picasso ink drawing and others less familiar, some still on a path to significance, mostly men.
An Otto Dix painting on wood entangles. Freuden des Sommers from 1941 is an evening pastoral scene aping old masters in caustic kitsch. Dix had divorced himself from his reality to paint a pond in which boys swim, a man fishes in the shadows and a couple get hot and heavy in deeper shadows. In the background a haycart is absurdly bountifully loaded. The more I look, the more my stomach churns. Today’s knowing perspective regards the older man watching the naked boys swimming with suspicion, maybe queries whether the woman in the bushes would have had access to birth control. But I think Dix perceived the imbalances too, and plenty besides. We can get down off our high horses.
1941 was a febrile moment, like today. Dix was undoubtedly disillusioned: his work had been declared abject some years previously; he had been briefly imprisoned in 1939. His bourgeois landscape is a bitter riposte. These sunny uplands, to borrow the brexiteer phrase, are poisoned by humanity itself.
Abstand, Galerie Haas Zürich
20 May 2020 onwards
Images: Abstand, Galerie Haas, Zürich, installation view; Otto Dix, Freuden des Sommers, 1941, courtesy Galerie Haas, Zürich
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