World War I and the Visual Arts
Exhibition Dates: July 31, 2017-January 7, 2018
Exhibition Location: The Met Fifth Avenue, Galleries 691-693,
The Charles Z. Offin Gallery,
Karen B. Cohen Gallery,
Harriette and Noel Levine Gallery
Organized to commemorate the centennial of World War I, this exhibition will focus on the impact of the war on the visual arts. Moving chronologically from its outbreak to the decade after the armistice, World War I and the Visual Arts will highlight the diverse ways in which artists both reacted to and represented the horrors of modern warfare. The works on view will reflect a variety of responses, ranging from nationalist enthusiasm to more somber reflections on the carnage and mass devastation that resulted from the war.
The exhibition is made possible by The Schiff Foundation.
Drawn mainly from the collection of The Met and supplemented with select loans, the exhibition will include prints, drawings, photographs, illustrated books, posters, periodicals, trading cards from the Museum’s celebrated Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, and other materials such as medals, examples of trench art, and helmets designed in the Department of Arms and Armor.World War I and the Visual Arts will reveal how artists—including Otto Dix, Fernand Léger, George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz, C.R.W. Nevinson, Gino Severini, and Edward Steichen—reflected a myriad of styles, approaches, ideologies, and mediums in response to the war. Among the styles represented are Cubism, Dada, Futurism, Expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit (“New Objectivity”), and Vorticism.
Like their countrymen, many artists, writers, and intellectuals initially welcomed the war for a range of reasons—some because of nationalist sentiments, others due to a naïve desire to experience an adventure they assumed would be over in a few months, and still others because of a mistaken belief that, after this final conflict, a more peaceful, spiritual, and anti-materialist era would begin. Numerous artists experienced combat firsthand, either as soldiers, medics, or war artists documenting life at the front; many suffered severe injuries and some even death. As the reality of the war became apparent, several figures changed their positions to express fierce condemnation, mournful regret, or pacifist sentiments.
Artists had various responses to the inconceivable carnage and destruction that had occurred. While some proposed rebuilding, others reflected on the trauma that befell both individuals and societies. Artists who served in the war, such as Barlach, Beckmann, Dix, Grosz, and Marinetti, used a variety of methods and techniques to express their conflicting reactions. Barlach and Kollwitz, the latter of whom lost her youngest son, created elegiac works about the devastation experienced by families and communities. By contrast, the work of Beckmann, Dix, and Grosz expressed a profound rage at the societies, institutions, and individuals who promoted and profited from war.
Because they could be distributed more widely than unique works, prints were especially effective at influencing public opinion and could be made available to large audiences. These works could also be reproduced in publications and as posters, thus reaching even more people. Many artists developed portfolios that commemorated the war, several of which were released on the 10th anniversary of its beginning or end, thus reflecting the enduring trauma caused by the conflict.
An armistice was declared on November 11, 1918, and, after the Paris Peace Conference, World War I officially ended on June 28, 1919, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. By that time, over 9 million soldiers had died in combat, with over 21 million injured; civilian deaths from combat, illness, and starvation also numbered in the millions. Called “The War to End All Wars,” World War I had a devastating impact on all participants and forever changed the societies to which the soldiers returned.
World War I and the Visual Arts is organized by Jennifer Farrell, Associate Curator in The Met’s Department of Drawings and Prints, with contributions from Donald LaRocca, Curator, Department of Arms and Armor, and Allison Rudnick, Assistant Curator, also of the Department of Drawings and Prints.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a Bulletin to be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in November.
Education programs will include a Sunday at The Met event on December 10 and exhibition tours.
Education programs are made possible by the General Delegation of the Government of Flanders to the USA.
The exhibition is featured on the Museum’s website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.