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PRINT January 2007

THE BODY POLITIC: “GLITTER AND DOOM” AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

With its unflinching portrayals of villainous politicians, maimed veterans, sex-trade casualities, and rapacious tycoons, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s” presents a riveting picture of a troubled time unnervingly resonant with our own. For art historian GRAHAM BADER, these images betray the signs of an intensifying subjugation of biology to politics, with implications for how the state—and artists—approach the human body today.

WHOEVER IS DESIGNING the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s signage must have a wry sense of humor. How else to explain the recent pairing of a gaudily made-up transvestite and a sternly elegant Greek god in the museum’s ancient art galleries, where a fortuitously placed sign directing visitors to “Glitter and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s” makes it appear as if the looming cross-dresser from a 1927 painting by Christian Schad is sneaking up to peck the marble Hermes at her side? Situated immediately outside “Glitter and Doom”’s entrance, and thus serving as a kind of quasi-preface to the show as a whole, this unlikely encounter sums up two millennia of Western art as a story of gender-swapping and the flirting of past and present, with the human countenance at its heart. More specifically, the meeting highlights the necessarily political dimension of any representation of the human

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