Thursday, July 5, 2012

Priestess of Debauchery

Otto Dix (German 1891-1969)
The Dancer Anita Berber
Loan of the
Landesbank Baden-Würtemberg
in the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart

She was Weimar Germany's version of Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Amy Winehouse all mixed together. Anita Berber was immensely famous in Berlin during the 1920s. She danced nude in nightclubs, seduced the rich and famous (both male and female), made no secret of her addictions to cocaine, opium, and alcohol, and married three times before she died at the age of 29.

She was a dancer whose performances broke the boundaries of androgyny and total nudity. She challenged the taboos of the day with her overt drug addictions, bisexuality, and seductive clothes and make-up. Her actions were closely followed in the tabloids, and her films often censored and confiscated by the authorities.

Today, Berber is best remembered as the subject of this famous painting by Otto Dix. Painted when Berber was only 26, Dix has given us an unflattering portrait of Berber, her once renowned beauty has all but disappeared as a consequence of her hedonistic lifestyle.

I saw this painting a few years ago in Berlin as part of a special exhibition of Weimar Republic paintings. I think this work captures the freedoms and excesses of the Goldene Zwanziger (the Golden 1920s). Berber's eyes, pose, and vacuous expression communicate the tragedies that marked her life, and foreshadow the events that would result in her early death. If you're interested, I would recommend Mel Gordon's, The Seven Addictions and Five Professions of Anita Berber: Weimar Berlin's Priestess of Debauchery.

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