Critics’ Picks

David Nicholson, Ariel, 2015, pencil and charcoal on paper, 24 x 18".

David Nicholson, Ariel, 2015, pencil and charcoal on paper, 24 x 18".

Otto Dix and David Nicholson

Galerie Michael Haas
Niebuhrstraße 5
November 27–December 23, 2015

The drawings and prints by Otto Dix and David Nicholson displayed in this exhibition were produced almost a century apart. But in many ways, the worlds they portray have more similarities than differences. Paired together here are their depictions of the horrors of war and portraits of sex workers—streetwalkers from Dix and porn stars or fetish entertainers from Nicholson—though in arrestingly different styles. The coarse, cynical works on paper that Dix made in Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s have a close kinship with today’s street artists and gestural painters, whereas Nicholson’s drawings—all made in the past few years—deftly revitalize the language of traditional European figurative painters, particularly Jacques-Louis David. However, the most interesting aspect of the show is not what each artist represents concerning his contemporary context but rather his individual attitude about humanity at its roughest and rawest.

Dix draws reality but Nicholson creates ideals. Ariel, 2015, for example, is a drawing of a young woman dripping with fluid and wearing a dog collar pulled taut by chains but whose expression demonstrates a sexual submissive’s pride in her willful humiliation. When he isn’t otherwise drawing dogs devouring each other or savagely mangled people, Nicholson also presents outcasts and outlaws who appear bold and upright. Dix, on the other hand, is fluent in shame and debasement, in addition to dirty pleasures. His 1923 lithograph Sailor and Girl shows a middle-aged woman smugly beaming while a handsome but oafish macho man mounts her. Dix presents everyday imperfection—people whose bodies grow asymmetrical, deformed, and exhausted by daily life—while everybody, even if blown to bits, looks triumphant when rendered by Nicholson. Throughout the works here, Nicholson’s subjects are grand characters, whereas Dix’s demonstrate the complexities of character itself.