Mercenaries II and Napalm Gates
19 September – 26 October 2013
If anyone supports his state by the arms of mercenaries, he will never stand firm or sure, as they are
disunited, ambitious, without discipline, faithless, bold amongst friends, cowardly among enemies, they
have no fear of God and keep no faith with men. (Machiavelli)
In 1975/76 Golub made several attempts at the subject of mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, instruments of
corrupt power. Of these, one survived whole and one massive painting was cut into segments. While this
violent attack on his own work may have been an expression of angry dissatisfaction, it reflected its
subject matter with even more power. These four monumental sections can now be seen as crucial
expressions of this phase in the artist’s work, a phase which saw the completion of the two epic Vietnam
paintings, the second of which now hangs in Tate Modern.
Bringing together the four sections of Merceneries II for the first time, this exhibition shows the work of
one of the greatest political artists of the last century at its most angry and uncompromising. Not
surprising that his works were shunned for so long by an American establishment immersed in Vietnam
and its aftermath. The power of the imagery and the violence of its making are shocking and undeniable. It
was equally problematic for an art world that was hostile to realist figuration.
And yet, immediately prior to these realist paintings, Golub had grappled with what he saw as the failure
of abstract expressionism, and succeeded in investing nonfigurative
form with the violent narrative of his
war commentary. The Napalm Gates are extraordinary statements. 'I remember seeing in Knossus on
Crete the 'Lion's Gate' which was a kind of gate of the city. Ancient and classical cities had gates, arches,
and other monumental entrances into urban life, so to speak. I wanted to make some association of the
gates of the city or the walls of the city…being disfigured or corrupted with napalm like a stain or a
disease.' Three of these ‘gates’ drenched in the record of indiscriminate cruelty, also feature in the present
exhibition. These images of the scarred pillars of a sullied international establishment and the selfinterested
instruments of its power are as starkly relevant today as then.
Anthony Reynolds Gallery is most grateful to Samm Kunce and the Estate of Leon Golub and particularly
to Philip, Steven and Paul Golub for the release of the works for this exhibition.