Thursday, November 17, 2016

World War I and American Art

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) 
November 4, 2016 through April 9, 2017

New-York Historical Society
May 26-September 3, 2017

Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville
October 6, 2017-January 21, 2018

The first major museum exhibition to revisit this unprecedented global event through the eyes of American artists, World War I and American Art will show how American artists translated their wartime experience, opinions, and perceptions in works that chronicle this transformative moment in American culture. The war’s impact on art and culture was multifaceted, as American artists spoke out against it, participated as soldiers on the battlefield and workers on the home front, designed enlistment posters and camouflage, served as official artists documenting the war, and helped shape postwar society in its wake.

One of the most ambitious projects that PAFA has ever organized, the exhibition’s approximately 160 works by 80 artists encompass a broad variety of stylistic approaches, viewpoints, and experiences through paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, photographs, posters, and ephemera. A diverse array of both well-known and under-recognized artists is represented including Ivan Albright, George Bellows, Charles Burchfield, John Steuart Curry, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg, Henry Glintenkamp, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Carl Hoeckner, George Luks, John Marin, Violet Oakley, Georgia O’Keeffe, Joseph Pennell, Jane Peterson, Horace Pippin, Man Ray, Boardman Robinson, Norman Rockwell, John Singer Sargent, John Sloan, Edward Steichen, and Claggett Wilson.

World War I and American Art fully explores the deep and lasting impact of the war, following the chronological arc from prewar tensions to the reverberating after effects in the 1930s, and chronicling its devastating toll on haunted soldiers and ruined cities, relief and hospital workers, women and families.

“World War I and American Art examines a critical moment in history from both the home front and firsthand experience, allowing for images of intense patriotism and outraged dissent to recreate the charged atmosphere leading up to and during the war,” notes David R. Brigham, PAFA President and Acting Museum Director. “Artists both mirrored and participated in these debates, and the images they produced fueled discussions about the United States’ role in the world.”

The exhibition will also demonstrate how the conflict changed American art itself. World War I unfolded as the American art scene was rapidly changing and experiencing a growing range of aesthetic viewpoints, political agendas, exhibition and publication opportunities, and contact with European émigrés. Images made during the war reveal American artists in transition, using more experimental forms including abstraction to capture the apocalyptic tenor of the conflict but also drawing on a straightforward realist manner to make the human experience accessible to their audience.

The exhibition includes numerous high-profile loans, among them

John Singer Sargent’s monumental painting, Gassed, from the Imperial War Museums in London. Measuring approximately 20 feet wide by 7 feet tall, the composition depicts the aftermath of a mustard gas attack Sargent witnessed on the Western Front. The painting features a central group of wounded soldiers, depicted nearly life-size, walking toward a field hospital and past the bodies of their dead and injured comrades in arms.

Childe Hassam, Early Morning on the Avenue in May 1917, 1917, oil on canvas, 30 1/16 x 36 1/16 in. Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy.

The painting, widely regarded as Sargent’s late masterpiece, conveys the waste and tragedy of conflict and is one of the most disturbing humanistic commentaries on war. Gassed brings together many themes that are essential to the story of the war and this exhibition: differing perspectives on the war and its larger meanings; the camaraderie of soldiers at camp and in the field; the harrowing pain of combat, the dignity of those who sacrifice for their country, and the heartbreaking realities of war, regardless of its justification.

Hugh Henry Breckenridge, Pestilence (War), 1918, oil on canvas, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

This landmark exhibition is organized by PAFA and curated by Robert Cozzolino, former PAFA senior curator and currently the Patrick and Aimee Butler Curator of Paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Anne Knutson, an independent scholar and curator; and David Lubin, the Charlotte C. Weber Professor of Art at Wake Forest University.

It will be accompanied by an extensive schedule of public programs for all ages, as well as a fully illustrated scholarly catalog.

Although World War I has been characterized as “America’s forgotten war,” Cozzolino notes that “the war’s impact on American art and culture was enormous, for nearly every major American artist of the time produced work that addressed the conflict or contributed in some way to the war effort. It was prevalent in American culture before and after the nation entered the war in 1917.”

Kerr Eby, Where Do We Go?, c. 1919, lithograph, 18 x 23 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington.

“Among the most exciting discoveries made by the curatorial team is the degree to which modernists such as Marin, O’Keeffe, and others were immersed in news and the imagery of the war,” Cozzolino adds. “We are also thrilled to bring the work of little-known artists to light. Clagget Wilson and Carl Hoeckner, for instance, made some of the most haunting images of the war and have not had the chance to be seen in the context of other World War I artwork.”

George Benjamin Luks, Armistice Night, 1918, oil on canvas, 37 × 68 ¾ in. Whitney Museum of American Art.

World War I and American Art is organized around eight themes: Prelude: The Threat of War; Hartley and Hassam: Tenuous Neutrality; Debating the War; Mobilization; Modernists and the War; Battlefields; The Wounded and the Healers; and Celebration and Mourning. Arranged to follow the narrative of the war itself, the exhibition will show how artists chronicled their experiences of the unfolding war as it crept closer to home and then involved them directly as soldiers, relief workers, political dissenters, and official war artists.

Gifford Beal, On The Hudson at Newburgh, 1918, oil on canvas, 36 x 58 ½ in. The Philips Collection, Estate of Gifford Beal, courtesy of Kraushaar Galleries, New York

“Exhibits such as this contribute to a deeper understanding of our nation’s history in a way that words could never convey,” said Chris Crane, president and CEO of Exelon, and chairman of the Exelon Foundation. “We’re proud to partner with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to tell the story of the war’s impact on our society and culture through the eyes of artists who bore witness.”