Max Beckmann Captures the Anxiety of a Broken Culture

THE DAILY PIC: We could use a genius like him to channel our current anxiety in this age of dysfunction.

THE DAILY PIC (#1707): The show called “Max Beckmann in New York,” at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, confirms what a brilliant stylist Beckmann was. No one has captured the anxiety and disjointedness of a broken culture as well as he did, as in this 1931 image called Paris Society. We could use a genius like him to channel our current anxiety in this Trumpian age of dysfunction.

But what struck me most when I took in the Met show was how coherent and efficient his style was, across the many pictures on view. It just seems that for some reason expressionist angst is an especially easy mode to master. A common thread runs through the painting of anxiety, from Beckmann to Anselm Kiefer – or maybe from the Renaissance covens of Salvator Rosa, via Goya, to the 1990s liquor ads of Ralph Steadman – whereas it’s harder to find similar links between portrayals of pleasure or thought.

I don’t buy most biological explanations for cultural facts, but I do wonder if fear and worry aren’t governed by quite specific systems in our psyche that have their own very particular and sensitive triggers. Beckmann may have twigged to those, the way Masaccio figured out the triggers that let pictures portray space. (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn)

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