World War I was both a war of unprecedented mechanized slaughter and a conflict over the cultural dominance and direction of
Drawn principally from the GRI's Special Collections, and including key loans, the exhibition demonstrates 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,
"World War I was as much a war of visual culture as it was a war of geo-politics," said
World War I: War of Images, Images of War is is curated by
"On the battlefield and in images, the role of modernity quickly took center stage in this conflict as nations waged war over who would lead
War of Images
Although the role of propaganda in World War I remained consistent with previous wars--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.
The "War of Images" section of the exhibition includes an exploration of satirical journals and visual propaganda. Especially notable are the journals produced by artists, such as Le Mot (
Le Mot, launched by artist Jean Cocteau and designer
The visual codes that countries established for each other afforded easy recognizability and a wealth of source material for propaganda. Some of these codes, for example animal symbols such as the Russian bear or personifications like the French Marianne, have been linked to the respective nation for centuries. Others, especially body types and iconographic attributes, are hyperbolic representations of physical and behavioral stereotypes associated with a certain nation--reducing the enemy to a caricature.
The "War of Images" section of the exhibition also includes little-known propaganda postcards and a poster by Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich and poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. In 1914 Malevich and Mayakovsky modeled their printed work on the lubok, or Russian popular print, which they considered the most distinctively Russian form of folk art. In the military prints on display, Malevich and Mayakovsky celebrate
Images of War
In contrast to the claims of cultural superiority touted by the warring nations, the reality of war made itself palpable in the hands of individual soldiers and artists. Their unique response, whether in the form of letters, diaries, or artwork, as shown in the "Images of War" section, offers an intriguing insight into the personal encounter with war. A highlight of this section is the never-before-displayed war diary of the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni, which contains a detailed account of the artist's experience at the
Boccioni documented the events of several October days in the diary on display, providing onomatopoeic syllables and details about the challenges his battalion faced on the front lines. A sound station in the exhibition offers readings in Italian and in English of a stirring excerpt from the diary. In 1916, while serving in the
Also on view will be 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 final section of the exhibition, entitled "Aftermath," opens with photographs from the
The exhibition will be accompanied by a slate of public programs. For more information, visitors may go to getty.edu/wwi.
TNS 18DejucosGrace-140830-30FurigayJane-4842606 30FurigayJane
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