The Galerie St. Etienne’s first exhibition of 2014 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the so-called Great War, which in many respects shaped the modern world. On view from January 21 through April 12, MODERN FURIES: The Lessons and Legacy of World War I focuses on war-related imagery by the German artists Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz and Käthe Kollwitz. Also included are works by the Austrians Oskar Laske and Egon Schiele, and propaganda disseminated by both the Allied and the Central Powers. Comprising over 60 paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints, with loans from the US and the UK, MODERN FURIES: The Lessons and Legacy of World War I offers new insights into this seminal conflict.
When war broke out in August 1914, few expected it would last long. Beckmann, Dix and Grosz were among the many young men who, caught up in a groundswell of patriotic fervor, volunteered for military duty early on. Even Kollwitz, later a committed pacifist, at first felt compelled to support the war effort. But by December 1914, it was clear the war would not end quickly, and that it was consuming soldiers at an exorbitant rate. Relatively recent inventions like the airplane, the zeppelin, the submarine, long-range missiles, tanks, hand grenades, machine guns, landmines and poison gas resulted in mechanized destruction on a previously unimaginable scale. When the war did end, in 1918, it left 37.5 million people dead, wounded or missing.
Artist-soldiers lucky enough to return home alive brought memories of the war with them and, in many cases, into their work. The contrast between the ideals for which they had ostensibly fought and the realities they faced on the battlefield seemed to require a new mode of discourse. Given the patent dishonesty of wartime propaganda, artistry of any sort now seemed suspect, amateur efforts more authentic. The war imagery of both Max Beckmann and Otto Dix derives its power from a deliberate lack of refinement, the incorporation of anatomical inaccuracies and compositional disjunction. Irony, satire and caricature—as exemplified by the work of George Grosz—was another means to address horrors that defied rational comprehension.
The Great War was so brutal that afterward there was a widespread movement to abolish war entirely. But World War I was not, as it turned out, the “war to end all wars.” Our nation has been at war in one form or another for much of the past century. The intertwined interests of industry and the military, recalling Grosz’s caricatures, are a mainstay of our economy, and the attendant propaganda apparatus has swelled to Orwellian proportions. We live in the world foreshadowed and in part created by the Great War
MODERN FURIES: The Lessons and Legacy of World War I is accompanied by a detailed checklist and scholarly essay by Galerie St. Etienne Co-Director Jane Kallir. For further information and images, please contact Courtney Donner at 212-245-6734 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Galerie St. Etienne is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 AM to 5 PM, and other times by appointment.