Back in 1937, the Nazi Party decided to throw a little fété, an art show to end all art shows; one to display their true love and unerring support for the avant-garde artists of the day. Chagall, Kandinsky, Kircher, Nolde, Beckmann, Paul Klee - the top works of these men and women were taken from German museums and displayed at one 650-work for-a-limited-time-only blockbuster show. This was the 'Entarte Kunst', the degenerate art that the Nazis planned to eradicate.

Included in that list was the Viennese painter, portraitist, and inventor of the Expressionist play, Oskar Kokoschka. Upon hearing the news of his membership in the great show, he celebrated, painting 'Self-Portrait of the Degenerate Artist'. And in the painting, Kokoschka's lookin' mightily pleased with hisself.

That's the guy's character in a nutshell - a smug talent who would and could use every opportunity to get ahead, to keep up with the Klimts and the Schieles. He would whip up great likenesses of the social set from his homes in first Vienna, and then Prague; he would tirelessly promote his newest play, written, produced, and directed by him, the artiste. He used sex to climb the social ladder, once gold-digging for two years with the late Gustav Mahler's widow, Alma. If he were alive today, he'd be all over the pages of Interview, explaining his latest avant art/con job to the worldwide masses.

Not that he didn't have the chops to back it up, mind you. He had a gift for painting intense, swirling land-and-mindscapes, shards of color littering the fields and flesh, yet keeping the ability to strongly express other emotions. The masterwork in this regard is undoubtebly 'Bride of the Wind (The Tempest)' - fractured, whirling blues, surrounding a peaceful post-coital couple. His portraits were luminous and beautiful, prized by their owners. And he wasn't shy about his putting his political leanings on display, most notably in 'Auschluss Wonderland', 1942 - the confused, burning Germany, trying to reach a blond, blue-eyed ideal that's set apart with barbed wire.

And then there was his plays. It feels like the Greek plays of old, like Medea, only moreso; Kokoschka cranked the overwrought emotion and body movement all the way to 11, baby. Yes, he wrote the first Expressionist play, and many probably won't forgive him for it. An excerpt from 'Murder, Hope of Womankind -

looks at the man fixedly
Who is the stranger who beheld me!

points him out, screams
Banished boy-child of the mother of sorrows
Fled with serpent-encircled head!
Do you know him again?

Bottomless depth wavers!
Shall she drive out the dear guest?

And it continues like that, on and on, overexcited actors madly screaming and gesticulating, confusing the adults and frightening the children, until you either break down crying, break down laughing, or break down the manager's door and demand a refund. Other playwrights would come and do this form justice, true, but Kokoschka? He wrote plays that were strictly meant for laying down and avoiding.

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