“Everything is beautiful.” —Otto Dix
“Contradictions give our lives shape.” –Carmen Winant
In 2016, when the Worcester Art Museum acquired The Pregnant Woman (1931) by Otto Dix, the painting provoked strong reactions from visitors. While some praised the acquisition of a work that presented an image of an unidealized pregnant body, others found the composition troubling.
As the curator of the exhibition, With Child at the Worcester Art Museum, I had the pleasure of doing research and exploring the context of The Pregnant Woman within Dix’s body of work. I examined the significance of the painting in its own time as well as what it meant for Dix—a notorious rebel—to create such an image. According to art critic Ulrike Lorenz, “Dix’s attitude was transfigured in the light of his experience of parenthood.”
Twentieth-century painter Otto Dix (German, 1891–1969) and contemporary visual artist Carmen Winant (American, b. 1983) share an unflinching engagement with the subjects of pregnancy and childbirth. Such realistic representations of these subjects are rare. In Western art, pregnant women are found in some images from classical mythology, depictions of the Virgin Mary, and an occasional portrait. Dix and Winant, however, face these universal human experiences directly and objectively.
Winant’s immersive multimedia installation Ha Hoo…Ha Ha Hoo (2019) responds viscerally to Dix’s work, revealing a contemporary artist’s view of the experience of pregnancy and birth. “Has there ever been so much unknown?” she wonders.
The art and the stories shared in the exhibition are central to our humanity. With Child invokes a spirit of inquiry and presents a variety of voices and sources to illuminate the questions posed: What are the aesthetics of the pregnant body and the process of giving birth? Do we turn away from images of life, or do we approach them? Why are visitor responses so varied? With Child does not provide easy answers but offers a place to consider why taboos around the subject of pregnancy—including topics of female experience and sexuality—persist.
In addition to the curator’s voice, the exhibition features Dix family members, literary and art critics, journalists, health professionals, and philosophers.
With Child: Otto Dix/Carmen Winant opens September 21 and runs through December 15. In addition to first-day tours with Carmen Winant and Leander Dix, the grandson of Otto Dix, the exhibition will include:
Master Series lectures on Thursday, October 17, focus on “Images of Women during the Weimar Republic” and “Images of Maternity in Otto Dix.”
“The Trouble with Pregnancy: A Forum on Art and Reproduction” will be held Friday, October 18, and will examine conditions for pregnancy and birth during Weimar/Nazi times and today. A full listing of exhibition-related programs can be found at worcesterart.org
Marcia Lagerwey, PhD, Women’s Studies, Clark University