“The ducks had to go,” dealer and collector Juerg Judin told me, gesturing to the now duck-free little pond he had set up in the backyard of his former Berlin residence, a repurposed gas station years ago. 1950. His former private house, which has also become the habitat of a few geese, ducks and exotic birds, was recently handed over to a non-profit association which will run an institution there over the next five years, the new Kleine Museum Grosz.

This privately funded venue, which opens to the public on Saturday May 14, will be dedicated to Berlin-born political artist George Grosz, a fixture in the history of modern art in Germany.

The name, which translates to Little Grosz Museum, is a pun – Grosz sounds like the German word for big. It’s also a cheeky reference to the privacy of the space, which spans two small levels of the renovated Shell station.

Exterior view of the Kleine Grosz Museum © Annette Kisling.

Despite its size, the modernist venue has been expertly landscaped to provide climatic conditions that meet museum standards. “It’s a must if we ever want to exhibit loans from institutional collections,” said Pay curator Matthias Karstens. (This is also why exotic wildlife had to be moved.) Until the museum establishes a two-year climate control backlog with which to approach institutions for loans, the works on display will all come from private collections – including that of Judin – and holdings of the Grosz estate.

Through painting and drawing, Grosz, who was active in the early 1900s until his death in 1959, captured the social realities of Berlin without understatement. His caricatural figuration established him as one of the best-known artists in the German capital, but the Kleine Grosz Museum is the first institution devoted to his work. This private initiative would probably not have happened without Ralph Jentsch, general manager of the estate and editor of Grosz’s forthcoming catalog raisonné. The future of the museum beyond its initial five-year term will depend on its success in attracting visitors and obtaining financial support from additional donors.

Photo: Hanna Seibel

Interior view of the museum. Photo: Hanna Seibel

Georg before George; Gross before Grosz

The ground floor of the museum houses a permanent collection that provides a chronological overview of the artist’s career, highlighting the main periods of work during the Weimar years as well as his stay in the United States. It describes a narrative that not only follows the keen-eyed artist and draftsman sensibilities but also the horrors of the first half of the 20th century and the economic boom of the post-war years.

In 1928 Grosz created the set and costume design for Erwin Piscator’s staging of the dark comic story Private Schwejk, and the watercolors he created as part of his studies are a wonderful highlight of the exhibition in Berlin. Like much of the museum, it evokes a Berlin story: the German director’s famous Piscator-Bühne was just around the corner from where the museum is located, in the Schöneberg district.

The upper level of the museum is dedicated to temporary exhibitions; there will be two per year, ten in total for the already secure duration of the museum. The first, entitled “Gross before Grosz”, focuses on the very first years of the artist: already a teenager, the young peasant named Georg Ehrenfried Gross showed great talent as an illustrator. After the current exhibition closes in September, the second exhibition to open in November will explore Grosz’s 1922 travels to Soviet Russia where he met Lenin.

George Grosz <i>Nächtlicher Überfall</i> (1912).  © Estate of George Grosz, Princeton/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022″ width=”1024″ height=”679″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/05/Nächtlicher- Überfall-1912-Kopie-1024×679.jpg 1024w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/05/Nächtlicher-Überfall-1912-Kopie-300×199.jpg 300w, https://news. artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/05/Nächtlicher-Überfall-1912-Kopie-50×33.jpg 50w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/></p>
<p class=George Grosz Nächtlicher Überfall (1912). © Estate of George Grosz, Princeton/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

A selection of drawings from the current exhibition dating from 1904, when the artist was just 11 years old, are the first works visitors will encounter here. A drawing on a torn piece of paper depicts four anthropomorphized frogs. “You see very early on that someone is trying to master the technique, who has the ambition to become a real artist,” said Karstens, the curator of the exhibition. “Many of the patterns that we will see later are already present here.”

This first work is clearly signed G. Gross. The key to the artist’s ambition was to be recognizable, to be successful and to be a brand – for this his birth name was just too common in Germany at the time. In 1906, at only 13 years old, he was already experimenting with the signature of his creations under the name of Grosz. It was not until much later during the First World War that the artist became politicized and radicalized, developing anti-German sentiments that prompted him to also change his first name to its anglicized version, George.

George Grosz <i>Die Bedrohung (The Menace)</i>, (1934).  © Estate of George Grosz, Princeton/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022″ width=”726″ height=”1024″ srcset=”https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/05/The- Menace-Kopie-726×1024.jpg 726w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/05/The-Menace-Kopie-213×300.jpg 213w, https://news.artnet.com/ app/news-upload/2022/05/The-Menace-Kopie-35×50.jpg 35w, https://news.artnet.com/app/news-upload/2022/05/The-Menace-Kopie-1361×1920.jpg 1361w” sizes=”(max-width: 726px) 100vw, 726px”/></p>
<p class=George Grosz Die Bedrohung (The Menace), (1934). © Estate of George Grosz, Princeton/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022

Grosz, the great observer

Besides works created as a student in Dresden, the temporary exhibition also includes works from his early years in Berlin. Interestingly, these show a certain fear of the big city and its colorful characters. Human figures suddenly begin to appear in works such as Nächtlicher Überfall (translated: night flight) and Selbstmord (the German world for suicide), or a drawing of an abandoned bar (all from 1912), which show scenes of violence and despair. “Moving around the city day and night, he drew what he saw,” Jentsch said. “Grosz is not a caricaturist, he is an observer.”

The artful observations of the artist, for which Grosz is famous, continue in the permanent exhibition on the ground floor. The works in the chronological exhibition include production from the 1950s, after Grosz and his family returned to Germany. Having never achieved the financial success he hoped for across the Atlantic, a self-portrait shows the artist in his studio, bitter and dejected. Around him, the canvases are in disarray and pierced by a bean-shaped hollow which also appears on the artist’s forehead. In his later years, George Grosz, one of the artists most closely associated with Berlin’s history, considered himself a failure.

Despite his tumultuous career, what he portrays ends up being prophetic at times. A 1934 watercolor, made when Grosz was already living in the United States, titled the threat, shows Hitler as a murderous monster. “Created three years before Guernica“, Jentsch pointed out, “the work already anticipates what Hitler would soon become responsible for. “

The Das kleine Grosz museum opens to the public on May 14.

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