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Snell, R. (1996). Otto Dix (Tate Gallery, 11 March-17 May 1992). Free Associations, 6(1):81-94.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(1):81-94

Otto Dix (Tate Gallery, 11 March-17 May 1992)

Robert Snell

I want to report an experience, to see what, if anything, can be metabolized in the process of trying to digest it. How might we begin to account for the extraordinary, and, in 1992, widely felt, impact of the Tate Gallery's major Otto Dix exhibition? I have two main aids in this exploration: elements from an analysis of Dix's work put forward at a Tate Gallery / British Psycho-Analytical Society public seminar held on April 29, 1992; and some thoughts deriving from the work of Melanie Klein. My aim is not to attempt a balanced, critical review either of exhibition or seminar (although I shall try not to misrepresent), and I am assuming readers will have seen the Tate exhibition, or have access to other kinds of account of it.

The Tate/BPS evening was my first serious encounter with Dix (although as an art historian I already had a passing knowledge of his work, and a few preconceptions as to its bitterness, honesty, eroticism, his courage in the face of despair, etc.). I had not yet had a chance to see the exhibition itself.

The seminar, ‘Appearance and the Unconscious: An Analysis of Otto Dix’, was structured around two presentations, supported by slides, by the art historian Frank Whitford, one of the exhibition's organizers and catalogue writers, and by the psycho-analyst and sculptor Ismond Rosen.

Whitford stressed that his task as an art historian, as he saw it, was biographical reconstruction, based on evidence supplied by the work and from elsewhere. He spoke, among other things, about Dix's efforts, as a young man in the years before, during, and after World War One, to construct himself, using the vehicle of the self-portrait. These efforts were partly in response to the artist's consciousness of his own lack of formal education.

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