Major WW1 Art Exhibition Travels to St. Louis

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Originally opened at The Getty Research Institute of Los Angeles the art exhibition “World War I: War of Images, Images of War” will travel to the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis.  Opening at the Kemper Museum on September 11, the exhibition draws on the Getty Institute’s Special Collections, as well as significant loaned works, to present a unique examination of the visual culture of World War I through the eyes of contemporary artists.  The exhibit will run through January 4, 2016.

“World War I: War of Images, Images of War” seeks to demonstrate “the distinctive ways in which combatant nations utilized visual propaganda against their enemies and explores how individual artists developed their own visual language to convey and cope with the gruesome horrors they witnessed. Featuring the artists Umberto Boccioni, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fernand Léger, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Natalia Goncharova, Félix Vallotton, among many others, the exhibition contains 150 objects that represent a range of media, including satirical illustrated journals, print portfolios, postcards, photographs, and firsthand accounts such as a war diary, correspondence from the front, and ‘trench art’ made by soldiers. The work on view is primarily from Germany, France, Italy, Russia and the United States.”

Although the role of propaganda in World War I remained consistent with previous wars,” says the exhibition’s press release, “contrasting a self-image of cultural superiority with a vilified, barbaric enemy—a new dimension began to appear in this distinctively modern war of images. At the start of the 20th century, Europeans were navigating a course between the advancements of industrial modernity, on the one hand, and the loss of the traditional values and ways of life, on the other. Each of the countries in this exhibition represented their enemy as not just a military threat, but a threat to the very future of European civilization.”

American Helmet Painted in Imitation of a German Camouflage Helmet Ca. 1918 Robert McGiffin (American) Lent by Jane A. Kimball, Trench Art Collection

American Helmet Painted in Imitation of a German Camouflage Helmet Ca. 1918 Robert McGiffin (American) Lent by Jane A. Kimball, Trench Art Collection

A major focus  will be the contrast between the use of art as propaganda – the “War of Images” portion of the exhibition – and the reactions of individual artists and soldiers to the reality of war – the “Images of War” portion of the exhibit.   Also featured will be numerous visual objects which include “rare examples of handmade ‘trench art,’ such as helmets, canteens, and shell casings, by anonymous WWI soldiers, some of it made from the actual materials of war. During long stretches of extreme boredom—punctuated by intense violence—soldiers preserved memories of the units in which they served, the battles in which they fought, and images of soldiers and civilians whom they met by making souvenirs or personal messages to loved ones from discarded military detritus.”  The exhibition will conclude with a section titled “Aftermath” which examines “the trauma the war had caused in participants. Prints by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz, and books by Fernand Léger illustrate artists’ attempts to come to terms with their experience of war trauma in the conflict’s aftermath. At a listening station, visitors can hear Dix recounting his experiences in the war, recorded in 1963. Dix served during nearly the entire war and was wounded several times. He returned to his wartime experiences almost obsessively in work produced throughout his lifetime.

For full details on “World War I: War of Images, Images of War” at Washington University in St. Louis, click here.