The horrors of war in the eyes of the witnessing artists
This rather small exhibition at The Met, Fifth Avenue museum is guaranteed to leave a strong impression on the viewers. So powerful are the dark images that one hardly brings oneself to see the rest of art splendor at the museum. The sirens of bombardments, the smelly trenches, the victims in pain tell a sad story of war and devastation as it depicted by Kathe Kollwitz, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Gino Severini and many others.
The exhibition starts with the patriotic posters issued by each and every country that had participated in the military actions at the time. The mood of the posters is about the same no matter which country they belong. In loud and demanding voices they all were asking their respective compatriots to bravely participate in collective sacrifice to support the honor of the king, or emperor, or kaiser, or sultan. That heroic and brave mood changes to the cries of the wounded and the tears for the dead as the exhibition continues.
The World War I, which started with the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June of 1914, lasted till November, 1918 and had resulted in the death of one million combatants and seven million civilians making it one of the deadliest conflicts in history.
The exhibition opens with the cautious works from 1914-1915 such as lithographs by Natalia Goncharova, graphics by Christopher Nevinson and Gino Severini. While not exactly endorsing the war, in those initial years of the conflict many were looking at it as redemption. As more countries entered the war and more horrors started to fall on the civilians and the soldiers, the patriotic tunes turned to the screams for help.
The last gallery in the exhibition delivers probably the most powerful message begging to remember where the war leads. In that gallery you will find The War (Der Krieg) cycle of 50 etchings by Otto Dix released in 1924 to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the war start. Dix had volunteered for the German Army in 1914, served for 4 year and was badly wounded. Being profoundly affected by the conflict, his feelings about it changed as the nightmares of destruction continued to hound him for some time.
The same gallery also presents the drawings and prints by George Grosz. A contemporary and friend of Dix, Grosz was also serving in German army at the time of WWI but not with such clear patriotic overtones. His works satirize the high ranks of the military and depict the sorry state of the soldiers.
One of the most potent entries in the show are the lithographs by Kathe Kollwitz. Having experienced firsthand the grieve and pain of the loss of her son in WWI, Kollwitz’s depiction of women in deep mourning are a mighty plea to stop any posturing towards the war. This year as the world celebrates her 150th anniversary, Kollwitz humanistic works condemning the war and oppression can be seen at various exhibitions in London, Berlin and Cologne. An expose on Artnet.com points out that at each of these shows “there is good, hard art to be discovered”.
As for the show at The Met, its message is particularly relevant today amid the reckless threats and provocations.
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Time: July 31, 2017 – January 7, 2018