George Grosz’s Suicide satirises social and moral corruption in the artist’s native Germany. Created during the First World War, it expresses his disgust for mankind, a feeling intensified by his experience of being drafted into the army in 1914. The painting confronts us with a vivid phantasmagoria animated by criminality and prostitution, and the intense colour palette lends the work a macabre atmosphere.
Thomas Schütte’s sinister figures are bound together: adversaries forced into alliances through political convenience or for personal greed. Sarah Lucas’s limp, passively lolling figurative sculpture provides a representation of abject femininity while Phil Collins’s intimate portraits of Belgrade youth reflect how photography can transfigure the anguish of political turbulence – in this case the political revolutions in former Yugoslavia in 2000 – while suggesting that youth culture itself affects social change. Nan Goldin’s diaristic photographs provide an empathetic and inclusive account of those at the margins of society. Similarly Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon’s photographs reflect their shared fascination with London’s subcultural punk scene that emerged in the mid-1970s.
Painted against the backdrop of the Korean War, Pablo Picasso’s monochromatic painting establishes a sombre mood. Wartime trauma is further conveyed in Christopher Nevinson’s Bursting Shell; its strong lines and vortex composition evoking the dynamic energy of an explosion. A critical response to how mass media impacts on society, Jenny Holzer’s Truisms streams an electronic bombardment of often-contradictory opinions and aphorisms, questioning the potency of commonly held truths and prejudices. In counterpoint to this, Bob and Roberta Smith’s work (one of a series of painted slogans advocating art over violence) communicates using the DIY aesthetic of traditional sign-painting.