More than just a military conflict, World War I was a war of culture waged by European nations to determine who would lead Europe into the twentieth century and guide civilization in the face of modernity. It was also the first war to be fought and represented by modern artists. World War I: War of Images, Images of War presents a unique investigation of the art and visual culture of the First World War by examining both the distinctive ways in which combatant nations utilized visual propaganda against their enemies and how individual artists developed their own visual language to convey and cope with the horrors they witnessed. With works by Max Beckmann, Umberto Boccioni, Georges Braque, Otto Dix, Natalia Goncharova, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Käthe Kollwitz, Fernand Léger, and Kazimir Malevich, among many others, the exhibition includes over 150 objects in a range of media, including satirical illustrated journals, print portfolios, postcards, photographs, paintings, firsthand accounts such as a war diary, and "trench art" made by soldiers.
Divided into three sections, the exhibition charts a path chronologically through the war, from the exuberant beginnings, when artists often voluntarily enlisted and sometimes celebrated the violence of the war in their work, to its traumatic aftermath. The first section, "War of Images," looks at the role of visual propaganda—how combatant nations elevated their own cultural symbols and traits and denigrated those of their enemies by turning indigenous symbols into caricatures (German barbarism, British imperialism, French decadence, Russian cowardice). In the second section, "Images of War," the reality of war becomes palpable in the hands of soldiers and artists; their unique response, whether in the form of finished easel paintings created in the studio or small-scale watercolors created on cigarette packs or "trench art," offers insight into the personal encounter with the war. The last section, "Aftermath," explores the extent to which artists confronted their personal experiences of loss and suffering in visual form in the years after the war and even up to the beginning of World War II.
Organized by the Getty Research Institute (GRI) in Los Angeles with works drawn from the GRI's Special Collections and key loans from across the country, World War I: War of Images, Images of War features art from nine countries across mainland Europe, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The installation in St. Louis will be supplemented with paintings from several local private and public collections, including the Kemper Art Museum’s permanent collection.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book, Nothing but the Clouds Unchanged, published by Getty Publications, which examines how the physical and psychological devastation of the war altered the course of twentieth-century artistic modernism. Following the lives and works of fourteen artists before, during, and after the war, this book demonstrates how the conflict and the resulting trauma actively shaped artistic production. The featured artists are Georges Braque, Carlo Carrà, Otto Dix, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Käthe Kollwitz, Fernand Léger, Wyndham Lewis, André Masson, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Nash, and Oskar Schlemmer.
Support for the exhibition is provided by the William T. Kemper Foundation; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; Nancy and Ken Kranzberg; Elissa and Paul Cahn; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
This exhibition was organized by the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. It was curated by Nancy Perloff, curator of modern and contemporary collections at the GRI; Anja Foerschner, research specialist at the GRI; Gordon Hughes, Mellon Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History, Rice University; and Philipp Blom, independent scholar.
Its presentation at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is curated by Karen K. Butler, associate curator.
The exhibition is open to the public and parking is free on weekends. For more information, call 314.935.4523.
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Félix Vallotton, The Trench, 1915–16. Woodcut, 6 15/16 x 8 13/16" (image). C’est la guerre!, pl. 1. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Gift of Dr. & Mrs. Richard A. Simms.
Paul Iribe, “I Have You, My Captain. You Won’t Fall.”, 1917. Color lithograph, 12 1/2 x 14 15/16". À coups de baïonnette 9 (June 1917): pp. 424–25. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
World War I at Verdun, 1916. Gelatin silver print. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
Robert McGiffin, Painted American Helmet, c. 1918. Jane A. Kimball, Trench Art Collection.