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About the portfolio
Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
Max Beckmann imagines the world as a carnival in this portfolio. On the title page, he casts himself as a barker for a traveling band of outsiders, the Circus Beckmann. Shown ringing a bell, and pointing to the edge of the page, he urges viewers to behold the spectacles unfolding within. In Beckmann's theater of life everyone plays many roles: actor, observer, director. The ten rich, velvety drypoints touch upon the major themes he explored throughout his long and productive career: existential crisis, the alienation of modern life, and the insurmountable conflict between the sexes. Beckmann's Expressionist manipulation of space and his pushing together of figures increase the emotional distance between the individuals, who appear to exist only in worlds unto themselves. Actors corralled together backstage wait patiently, not realizing that their true performance—life itself—has already begun. Beckmann conveys female sexuality as a dangerous lure in scenes set in the shooting gallery, on stage, and behind the scenes. In one print, he depicts himself and his wife, Minna, balancing on a tightrope—an allusion to Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which the philosopher describes man as a "rope" hung over an abyss between base animal and heroic Übermensch.