The satire of Goya and Grosz, among the greatest cartoonists, on display in Parma

The exhibition "Goya - Grosz. The Sleep of Reason." Two of the greatest draftsmen of all time, 150 years apart, present their works charged with social satire, political engagement and formal innovation.

At Palazzo Pigorini in Parma the exhibition Goya - Grosz. The Sleep of Reason, in which the Caprichos of Francisco Goya y Lucientes (Fuendetodos, 1746 - Bordeaux, 1828) and the drawings and paintings of George Grosz (Georg Ehrenfried Gross; Berlin, 1893 - 1953), among the greatest draughtsmen in history, dialogue on the two floors of the exhibition venue.

Although 150 years apart, their works share disruptive social satire,political engagement, moral relief and formal innovation. Two great artists who through a few strokes of ink or brushstrokes of color are able to reveal their highly topical poetics. Goya and Grosz both chose to investigate the reality of their time, innovating art: Goya’s Capricci can be considered a prodrome of modernity, in which the artist gives free rein to the representation of his own condition and at the same time his own nightmares. Grosz is one of the most obvious epigones of the Spanish master, long considered a caricaturist. Caricature, however, is the only way for these artists to describe the “monstrous verisimilitude,” a dissimilar and upside-down world, making interior what is exterior and displacing above what is below: a carnivalesque reversal of reality in which satire and drama coexist.

The idea for the exhibition project was born in 2019, and today, as the two curators Didi Bozzini and Ralph Jentsch state, it is very relevant: “Current events have cast a different light on each of the works on display and on the exhibition as a whole, because all the vices and perversions painted by Goya and Grosz have certainly not disappeared, but they still and always poison our days. In fact, everything changed so that little or nothing would change. Goya’s engravings and Grosz’s paintings do not tell us about an ancient history, but about the one we are living daily. The sleep of reason and the monsters it produces are still the same, in Madrid in 1799 as in Berlin in the 1920s or in the entire West today.”

On display at Palazzo Pigorini are all eighty engravings of Capricci dated 1799. The exhibition kicks off with two of Goya’s self-portraits included within the series: the one in plate No. 1, drawn in profile and with open eyes, in which the painter does not portray his face but his mask, and then Capriccio 43 - El sueño de la razon produce monstruos - the one with eyes closed in a sleep populated by monstrous creatures and nightmares. Added to them is the self-portrait painted in 1940 by George Grosz, in which a bird of prey flies menacingly over the artist’s figure. Named the first Court Painter in the same year that the Caprices came out, Goya expressed through his art, particularly through graphic art, his personal view of the world, not only with this series, but also with the cycle of The Disasters of War, some plates of which are on display in the exhibition. Similarly, Grosz, founder of the Berlin Dada movement, prophesied the coming of Nazism and World War II in his works, moving with great ease from satirical drawing to the drama of certain paintings in the exhibition, such as A Piece of My World II/The Last Battalion, in which in 1938 he depicts a desolate and destroyed land over which a desperate contingent of soldiers trudges in search of food.

Goya and Grosz are artists deeply involved in the reality of their time, with more or less explicit but extremely clear political positions, which are accompanied by innovative aesthetic practices. The exhibition aims to emphasize this connection, which Grosz had already declared in 1933, the year in which he was forced to move to the United States where he was a great success with the public and critics. In a letter to publisher Wieland Herzfelde of Malik - Verlag, in which he commented on the searches the Nazis made of his homes in Germany, he wrote: “Without a doubt, my sheets are among the strongest things that have been said against this particular German brutality. They are truer today than ever before, and in the future -- in times, pardon the word, more ”humane" -- they will be shown, just as Goya’s works are shown today.

“There is a deep sense of the contemporary that runs through the close relationship between the works of Goya and Grosz that Didi Bozzini and Ralph Jentsch have chosen for this splendid exhibition at Palazzo Pigorini,” says Parma Mayor Michele Guerra. “The different historical times, held in the distorted forms of these two artists, reveal the same propensity toward a dissimilarity of the real from which emerge fears and awarenesses that have continued to excavate modernity and that do not cease to interrogate the present. This is a unique opportunity we will have in Parma to encounter some masterpieces that are not so easy to see in our country.”

“I want to extend heartfelt thanks to all those who contributed to the realization of the exhibition. In particular, to the curators, lenders and sponsors who helped us bring the works of the two extraordinary artists to the city,” concludes Parma City Councilor for Culture Lorenzo Lavagetto. “The exhibition offers us keys to reading society characterized by social satire and political reflections, for a reflection involving our contemporary time, marked by pandemic and war. An exhibition that can today, running through the worst fears of our time, become topical and subversive by shaking our consciences.”

The exhibition is realized with the contribution of the Committee for Parma 2020 and Iren and thanks to technical sponsors Gruppo Spaggiari Parma S.p.A. and Agenzia CFC - Reale Mutua Assicurazioni.

For info you can access the dedicated website.

Hours: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Free admission.

Pictured, left: Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Los Caprichos, 43, El sueƱo de la razon produce monstruos, 1799, Photo credit Elizabeth Krief. Right: George Grosz, Self-Portrait with Bird of Prey and Rat, 1940, Photo credits George GroszEstate, courtesy of Ralph Jentsch Berlin.

The satire of Goya and Grosz, among the greatest cartoonists, on display in Parma
The satire of Goya and Grosz, among the greatest cartoonists, on display in Parma

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