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Society Painter: Otto Dix at the Neue Galerie New York
“When I tell people I would like to paint them, I already have their portrait in mind,” German artist Otto Dix once said. “I don’t paint people who don’t interest me.” Even more interesting than the people Dix painted is how he painted them. Dix’s 1925 Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber (pictured) gives a clue to how he saw the people of the Weimar era in Germany between the wars as the embodiment of the opulence and the decadence of the time. The garish red of the dress hugging the dancer’s form bleeds with the intensity of the period, which throbbed with the aftershocks of the Great War that scarred both Germany and Dix himself, who served on the front lines. An exhibition of Dix’s work currently at the Neue Galerie—the first exhibition ever of his work in North America—presents this complex and challenging artist of the past as someone who perhaps has something to say about our time.
Olaf Peters describes Dix’s “intransigent realism” in the catalogue to the show. In the 1920s, Dix’s work found a welcoming audience in America as the most representative artist of the Weimar. The difficulty of Dix’s brand of realism, however, hindered his ability to find a lasting place. Dix “decided to pursue a radical verism and a post-Expressionist Neue Sachlichkeit,” Peters argues, and “chose a form of modern painting that was decidedly focused on society” that “operated within the tension between art historical tradition, the avant-garde, new visual media, and aesthetic and philosophical discourses that transcended genres.” All of these forces coalesce in images such as Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber, which unsettles us on so many levels—aesthetically, morally, philosophically, sexually. While Picasso, Duchamp, and others kept the spotlight on themselves through their art, Dix never flinched from his primary goal of illuminating the world as he saw it, and felt others should see it.
Looking at Dix’s work can make even the hardest heart flinch. The honesty of the brutality of his wartime work sears your consciousness like the very best work of Goya. Dietrich Schubert analyzes Dix’s self-portraits of the war years as a response to the dehumanization, sometimes the literal erasure by destruction of the faces of others. These self-portraits reflect Dix’s psychological digestion of the events around him. They became the coping mechanism in which he preserved his own ego while also documenting the stages of grief faced by someone in the macabre theater of war. Dix’s images seem startling relevant today as touchstones for the understanding the violence of the War on Terror we face today. You look and wonder what Dix would make of Abu Ghraib and other tragedies we’ve yet to face entirely or honestly.
As the preeminent showplace of modern German art in America, the Neue Galerie continues through Otto Dix its mission of bringing the greatest German artists to America not as curiosities but as illuminating and relevant prisms through which we can view our present condition. The long gap between the early embrace of Dix in America and this present exhibition deprived us of an artist with much to say about the American love of waging war and its toll on our collective soul. Dix’s warning from history seems hopeless only to those who refuse to see the hopefulness of his honesty. Only someone who thinks things can get better is willing to show us the very worst. Dix allows us to look at the very worst in ourselves and our times and imagine a better world.
[Image: Otto Dix (1891-1969), Portrait of the Dancer Anita Berber, 1925. Oil and tempera on plywood. 120.4 x 64.9 cm (47 3/8 x 25 1/2 in.). Sammlung Landesbank Baden-Württemberg im Kunstmuseum, Stuttgart. © 2010 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG, Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy of the Neue Galerie New York.]
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Why do so many people encounter beings after smoking large doses of DMT?
- DMT is arguably the most powerful psychedelic drug on the planet, capable of producing intense hallucinations.
- Researchers recently surveyed more than 2,000 DMT users about their encounters with 'entities' while tripping, finding that respondents often considered these strange encounters to be positive and meaningful.
- The majority of respondents believed the beings they encountered were not hallucinations.
What are DMT beings?<p>Do DMT entities actually exist in some other dimension, or are they hallucinations that the brain generates when its visual processing system is overwhelmed by a powerful tryptamine?<br></p><p>The late American ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believed that DMT beings — which he called "machine elves" — were real. Here's how he once <a href="https://www.ranker.com/list/dmt-machine-elves-facts/inigo-gonzalez" target="_blank">described</a> one of his DMT experiences:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I sank to the floor. I [experienced] this hallucination of tumbling forward into these fractal geometric spaces made of light and then I found myself in the equivalent of the Pope's private chapel and there were insect elf machines proffering strange little tablets with strange writing on them, and I was aghast, completely appalled, because [in] a matter of seconds... my entire expectation of the nature of the world was just being shredded in front of me. I've never actually gotten over it.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">These self-transforming machine elf creatures were speaking in a colored language which condensed into rotating machines that were like Fabergé eggs but crafted out of luminescent superconducting ceramics and liquid crystal gels. All this stuff was just so weird and so alien and so un-English-able that it was a complete shock — I mean, the literal turning inside out of [my] intellectual universe!"</p><p>McKenna believed machine elves exist in alternate realities, which form a "<a href="https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/old-favourites-the-archaic-revival-1991-by-terence-mckenna-1.3924887" target="_blank">raging universe of active intelligence that is transhuman, hyperdimensional, and extremely alien.</a>" But he was far from the first to believe that DMT is a doorway to other realms.</p><p>Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin have used ayahuasca in religious ceremonies for centuries, though no one is quite sure when they first started experimenting with the psychedelic brew. The Jibaro people of the Ecuadorian rainforest believed ayahuasca allowed regular people, not just shamans, to <a href="https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10214/17902/RichardsonG_202004_HonThesis.pdf?sequence=3" target="_blank">speak directly to the gods</a>. The 19th-century Ecuadorian geographer Villavicencio wrote of other Amazonian shamans who used ahaysuca (known as the "vine of the dead") to contact spirits and foresee enemy battle plans.</p><p>In the West, research on DMT experiences has been sparse yet interesting. The psychiatrist Rick Strassman conducted some of the first human DMT trials at the University of New Mexico in the early 1990s. He found that <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">"at least half"</a> of his research subjects had encountered some form of entity after taking DMT.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was neither intellectually nor emotionally prepared for the frequency with which contact with beings occurred in our studies, nor the often utterly bizarre nature of these experiences," Strassman wrote in his book "DMT The Spirit Molecule".</p>
Manuel Medir / Getty<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Whenever I tried to pull any information out of the entities regarding themselves, the data that was given up was always relevant only to me. The elves could not give me any piece of data I did not already know, nor could their existence be sustained under any kind of prolonged scrutiny."</p><p>It's also worth noting that not all people who smoke DMT see beings, and that some see beings that look <a href="https://www.erowid.org/chemicals/dmt/dmt_article3.shtml" target="_blank">nothing like elves or aliens</a>. The diversity of these reports seems to count against the argument that DMT beings exist in some objective alternate reality.</p><p>In other words, if DMT beings exist in some other dimension, shouldn't they appear the same to anyone who visits that dimension? Or do the beings assume a different appearance based on who's looking? Or are there many types of beings in the DMT universe, but most look like elves? </p><p>You might start seeing elves just trying to sort this stuff out.</p><p>Ultimately, nobody knows exactly why DMT beings take the forms they do, or whether they're just figments of overstimulated imaginations. And the answers might be beside the point. </p><p>In the recent survey, 60 percent of participants said their encounter with DMT beings "produced a desirable alteration in their conception of reality whereas only 1% indicated an undesirable alteration in their conception of reality."</p><p>DMT beings may be nothing more than projections of the subconscious mind. But these bizarre encounters do help some people find real meaning, whether it's through personal revelation or the raw power of ontological shock.</p>
President Vladimir Putin announces approval of Russia's coronavirus vaccine but scientists warn it may be unsafe.
A new coronavirus vaccine on display at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/ Russian Direct Investment Fund via AP
Medical workers draw blood from volunteers participating in a trial of a coronavirus vaccine at the Budenko Main Military Hospital outside Moscow, Russia.
Credit: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
A report from the New York Times raises questions over how the teletherapy startup Talkspace handles user data.
- In the report, several former employees said that "individual users' anonymized conversations were routinely reviewed and mined for insights."
- Talkspace denied using user data for marketing purposes, though it acknowledged that it looks at client transcripts to improve its services.
- It's still unclear whether teletherapy is as effective as traditional therapy.
Talkspace.com<p>Former employees also questioned the legitimacy of certain interventions by the company into client-therapist interactions. For example, after one therapist sent a client a link to an online anxiety worksheet, a company representative instructed her to try to keep clients inside the app.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I was like, 'How do you know I did that?'" Karissa Brennan, a therapist who worked with Talkspace from 2015 to 2017, told the Times. "They said it was private, but it wasn't."</p><p>Other former employees said the company would pay special attention to its "enterprise partner" clients, who worked at companies like Google. One therapist said Talkspace contacted her for taking too long to respond to Google clients.</p><p>Talkspace responded to the Times with a Medium <a href="https://medium.com/@founders_22883/talkspace-founders-respond-to-a-new-york-times-article-78d6f5c45c59" target="_blank">post</a>, which claimed the Times report contained false and "uninformed assertions."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Talkspace is a HIPAA/HITECH and SOC2 approved platform, audited annually by external vendors, and has deployed additional technologies to keep its data safe, exceeding all existing regulatory requirements," the post states.</p>