Alfred Hrdlicka (1928-2009) experienced the terror of the Nazi era first-hand in his childhood and youth. The Nazi crimes are a major theme in the work of the Viennese artist. Like a Dance of Death – the Events of 20 July 1944 is one of his most powerful works. Made up of 53 etchings, the cycle revolves around the failed attempt by the conspirators led by Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg to assassinate Hitler. Besides this specific historical event, the series is also an uncompromising condemnation of Prussian militarism. Rich in historical references, Hrdlicka warns on the one hand against “false role models”, while on the other turning against the cult of masculinity, the megalomania and barbarism of militarism. The result is a series of dark and foreboding etchings with at times drastic portrayals of cruelty and violence, to which Hrdlicka then lends a further level of meaning by adding commentary texts. The series is thus at the same time a complex homage to masterworks of European art history with similar motifs (Goya or Dix for example), a programmatic contribution to art post-1968 and a critical comment on Germany’s politics of remembrance.
Hrdlicka, who vehemently advocated an expressive figurative art that carried a political message, was continuously a target of hostility for his convictions and commitment – and yet he remained critical and defiant all his life.