November 20, 2018

Maxy’s Colorful Mosaics

Who ever said Weimar’s crazy, glamorous, and bombastic art styles were something that were solely reserved for Germany’s free and liberal swinging 20s? Very few people know that in fact it was by no means just a localized pocket of brilliant artistry, but rather a harbor of sort which served to educate many artists in the fashions of those wacky times, such as Max Hermann Maxy who would later take his skills back to Eastern Europe. 

How could you not simply stare in awe at Maxy’s “Nude with veil” and wonder the lengths one must go to put himself through the pain of actually painting something so ravishing. With all honesty, the mosaics, no seditious sophistry intended, are something that are the products of modernist and constructivist rhetoric. Maxy’s intent was to break down the conventional means of aesthetics by taking the standard nude that 19th century painting was so accustomed to, and transform it into a 20’s phenomenon, with all the puns of Cubism but really all the cynical-realism of constructivist thought as well. Despite all these pretentious art-history terms I am throwing at you, really, Max’s “Nude with veil” is not bad to stare at.

It is actually rather pleasing to they eye, regardless of the shapes and forms that deceive with sinister intent. But enough about aesthetics, what about the man?

Max, Maxy or Hermann, not sure what his friends called him, was born in Braila, Romania in 1895. However a few years later his parents moved to Bucharest (where the Jewish community was far more developed) in search for better opportunities, not only just for themselves but also for their little Maxy. As a young man he studied at the University of Arts in Bucharest under the most prestigious art professors at the time. His education was far more conventional than originally believed, which means that all the baroque and eccentric styles he developed later were most likely not sourced from his early years.

In 1916, at the age of 21 he was drafted into the Romanian army to fight against the Germans in the closing years of the war. There is very little record of what happened during those two years, as he never really wanted to talk about it. In 1918 he began his career with his first exhibition in Jassy, where a great deal of his works dealt with the morose and bitter tragedies of warfare. It is safe to assume therefore that like most soldiers of the Great War he probably did not have a good time on the front. Whatever the case may be, I am sure that the cynicism and pessimism that is indicative in his later works were without a doubt conceived while he was trying to dodge bullets and shells in trenches.

The swinging 20’s, especially after the long and somber years of the war, was a time of change and when the libertine and bohemian became pop icons. This, undoubtedly, can be best seen in the at work that came out of this period. Max himself who studied in Berlin, at the centre of the 20’s artistic craze, took all that he learned back to his home in Bucharest. There he began to become prolific in painting, but also in editing art magazines, such as the famous “Integral”. He actually became so respected by the art community that he worked with famous artists such as Arthur Segal, Victor Brauner and even Janco-the Israeli artist, only to be able to exhibit his works in 1924 along with the “Contemporanul” art group.

Interestingly, Maxy also became a scenographer at the Jewish Theater of Bucharest, and later the director of the National Museum of Romania. He was prolific in everything he did, to the point that it obsessed him- something which is most evident in his paintings. After he survived the Second World War and the fascist Antonescu regime, he became an art professor at the University of Bucharest- a position he filled the rest of his life until his death in the 70’s.

The never ending colors and mosaics of his paintings can almost be compared to the intricacy of one’s life. Despite this obviously shallow interpretation, the truth is that like most constructivists his art was not just about aesthetics but really a comment on society, history, and culture as a whole. Even his “Nude with veil” is ironically a deconstruction of the old, and a re-interpretation of the new forms of life, in parallel with the social and technological advances of the fast-moving 1920’s.

However, to only think of Maxy's work as an interpretation of the new, is to have a folly understanding of the man and the art itself. His time during the First World War did indeed have a psychological impact on his style and even content, which is perhaps a testament to the horrid effects of warfare, not only on the individual, but also on culture as well. In other words, a complete denunciation of 19th century romanticism.

Still, I find myself compelled to first try and reject Maxy’s work with the intent of not falling into the trap of simply expressing joy for an artist that I knew nothing about, only to show off my pretentious knowledge of obscure and quixotic art. Yet Maxy is not in any way obscure, nor was his own intent pretentious, but really only an expression of the times. What I am trying to say is that trying to enjoy such art should not be shameful. With that in mind, nor should it be used in an exploitative fashion to show off to your hip friends.