Public Programs Explore Contemporary Cultural Connections and Role of Art in Healing Wounds of War, October 6, 2017–January 21, 2018
World War I and American Art was organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
World War I and American Art, the first major exhibition to examine how American artists reacted to the First World War, opens at Nashville’s Frist Center for the Visual Arts on October 6, 2017. Works by more than seventy artists, including George Bellows, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Georgia O’Keeffe, Horace Pippin, and John Singer Sargent, represent a pivotal chapter in the history of American art that has until now been overlooked and underestimated.
Timed to coincide with the centennial of the entry of the U.S. into the war, this ambitious exhibition organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Philadelphia, revisits a critical period in history through a wide variety of artistic responses, ranging from patriotic to dissenting. Garnering acclaim from outlets such as Forbes, The New York Times, and PBS NewsHour, the exhibition and its central themes of how artists respond to geopolitical turmoil is strikingly relevant today. American artists were vital to the culture of the war and the shaping of public opinion in several ways. Some developed propaganda posters promoting U.S. involvement, while others made daring anti-war drawings, paintings, and prints. Some worked as official war artists embedded with troops and others designed camouflage or took surveillance photographs.
The exhibition features many high-profile loans from both private and public collections, including most importantly Sargent’s monumental tableau Gassed (Imperial War Museums, London), which has been seen in the U.S. only once before (in 1999).
“Working as an official war artist for the British government, Sargent witnessed the aftermath of a German mustard gas attack on British soldiers. He represented the harrowing scene on an epic canvas measuring about 7½ x 20 feet,” says Frist Center curator Trinita Kennedy. “Our presentation of the painting and the exhibition as a whole will be enriched by a lecture on opening day entitled ‘Mr. Sargent Goes to War’ by Richard Ormond, the artist’s great-nephew and a renowned scholar based in London.”
The organization of the exhibition mirrors the historical unfolding of the war itself. It begins by showing how American artists interpreted the threat of war while the U.S. remained neutral between 1914 and 1917, the debate to enter it, and then how the conflict involved them directly as soldiers, relief workers, political dissenters, and official artists. The spectrum of political points of view and purpose can be seen through the juxtaposition of works. Hassam’s flag paintings are impressionist and patriotic, while Hartley’s tribute paintings to his slain friend and possible lover, a German military officer, are abstract and mournful. Bellows, at first an opponent of the war, later encouraged US involvement by vilifying German war crimes with macabre detail. O’Keeffe’s more personal work reflected her conflicted feelings about her younger brother’s enlistment.
A group of patriotic artists came together to form the government’s first art agency in the service of war: the Division of Pictorial Publicity. On display will be iconic recruitment posters created by Laura Brey, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg, and others that promoted enlistment with stirring imagery and language. There are also posters aimed at mobilizing women on the homefront, encouraging them to enter the workforce to support the war effort. As part of the Frist Center’s presentation, an education gallery with interactive electronic stations will allow visitors to explore such ideologically motivated works of art.
The US military employed Edward Steichen, already an accomplished artist and photographer by the start of the war, as an aerial reconnaissance photographer to document the impact of the first air war. Embedded artists, such as George Harding and Harvey Dunn, depicted the new warfare machinery—airplanes, tanks, machine guns, long-range artillery—that resulted in staggering casualties.
Claggett Wilson, a thirty-year-old artist who taught at Columbia University in New York, volunteered for the Marine Corps, fought, and was wounded at the Battle of Belleau Woods, one of the bloodiest engagements in US military history. In 1919 he painted a series of watercolors that recorded his and his fellow soldiers’ experiences.
“Wilson’s watercolors, which were exhibited in 1920 right after the war ended, donated to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and then largely forgotten until now, concentrate on the psychological and environmental destructiveness of modern warfare,” says Kennedy. “His visceral images transport us to the frontlines. Especially when the watercolors are seen together as a group, as they are in this exhibition, they are overwhelmingly powerful and virtually impossible to forget.”
American artists continue to respond to World War I, and the exhibition concludes with contemporary works—three videos by MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient Mary Reid Kelley and a large installation of 212 drawings by Debra Priestly that both explore personal connections to the war from the perspective of marginalized people, namely women and African Americans.
For exhibition-related programs intended for both the general public and military community, the Frist Center is partnering with CreatiVets, Fisk University, Vanderbilt University, Writers Corps, and other local organizations.
Friday, October 6
Lecture: “Mr. Sargent Goes to War” Presented by Richard Ormond, CBE
6:30 p.m. Frist Center Auditorium. Free; first come, first seated
John Singer Sargent’s engagement as an official war artist during the First World War is an involved and protracted story. It led to the creation of his masterpiece Gassed, a highlight of the Frist Center’s exhibition World War I and American Art, and to a sequence of remarkable watercolors painted near the front line. It was followed by General Officers of World War I, a group portrait of British and Commonwealth commanders. In this lecture, Richard Ormond places these works in the context of Sargent’s career by analyzing the artist’s response to the horrors of war, tracing the sources of his inspiration, and charting the stages of his artistic process.
Richard Ormond, Commander of the British Empire, is a former deputy director of London’s National Portrait Gallery and former director of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England. A great-nephew of John Singer Sargent, Ormond is currently director of the Sargent catalogue raisonné project, as well as co-author of the nine-volume Sargent survey published by Yale University Press. Ormond has curated many Sargent exhibitions, including the Met’s Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends (2015). His books on nineteenth-century British art include studies of Edwin Landseer, Frederic Leighton, George Frederic Watts, and Franz Xaver Winterhalter, among others.
This lecture is supported in part by the Department of History of Art at Vanderbilt University.
Monday, October 9
The Norman L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Lecture in Art History: “Behind the Mask: WWI, Plastic Surgery, and the Modern Beauty Revolution” Presented by David M. Lubin, Charlotte C. Weber Professor of Art, Wake Forest University
6:00 p.m. Vanderbilt University, Cohen Memorial Hall, Room 323 (1220 21st Avenue South). Free
During the Great War, trenches exposed combatants’ faces to sniper fire and flying shrapnel, which caused wounds that would have proven fatal in previous wars. With improved medical and transport services, the wounded could be saved—but not always their faces. Crudely patched together and sent back to the front or to their families, men with “broken faces” were routinely ostracized. In this lecture, David M. Lubin examines the humanitarian efforts of plastic surgeons to restore obliterated faces, and the prosthetic masks fashioned by sculptors, while also considering the modern beauty culture that arose simultaneously with and perhaps in reaction to wartime unsightliness.
David M. Lubin, Charlotte C. Weber Professor of Art at Wake Forest University, has written extensively on American art and popular culture. His most recent book, Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War (Oxford University Press, 2016), was praised by Alexander Nemerov as “the most thoughtful and imaginative book ever written about the art of the First World War.” In 2016–17, Lubin was the inaugural Terra Foundation for American Art Visiting Professor at Oxford University. With Robert Cozzolino and Anne Knutson, he was an organizing curator of World War I and American Art.
Tuesdays, October 10, November 14, and December 12
“Food for Thought: Changing the World”
11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m. Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m., with presentation at noon in the Frist Center Auditorium. Free with advance registration (lunch and gallery admission included)
In partnership with Vanderbilt University’s Office of Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations, the Frist Center presents “Food for Thought,” a three-part series of lunchtime conversations with Vanderbilt professors, Frist Center curators, and other members of the Nashville community. During the first two sessions, panelists will focus on the exhibition World War I and American Art and explore how the conflict shaped art as well as global affairs. The last session, inspired by the exhibition Nick Cave: Feat., will delve into how contemporary performance art can offer powerful and transformative opportunities for communities.
Call Vanderbilt University at 615.322.8585 to reserve your place:
• Registration for the October 10 program opens September 19.
• Registration for the November 14 program opens October 24.
• Registration for the December 12 program opens November 21.
Friday, October 13
In-Gallery Discussion: U.S. Military Veterans of Writers Corps Share their Stories
6:00 p.m. Ingram Gallery. Free with gallery admission
Join the Writers Corps, a group of U.S. Military Veterans, for this special one-night gallery reading event inspired by the exhibition World War I and American Art. For this program, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will reflect on the “Support the Troops” iconography from that time period and their feelings on being seduced by the energy of the moment a decade and a half later.
Using the creative writing workshop method, the Writers Corps encourages participating veterans to articulate thoughts, feelings, or experiences in writing; craft their stories through collaboration and revision; and to ultimately share their pieces with the larger on and off campus communities through publication in their annual literary journal, DMZ. Through public readings held throughout the academic year, Writers Corps spreads awareness to student and civilian populations so they might be more cognizant of the experiences of military and post-military individuals.
The primary goal of Writers Corps is to assist veterans with their scholarly, personal, emotional, and spiritual well-being. In addition to providing a place where veterans can feel comfortable on campus among their peers, members of Writers Corps have conveyed how the use of expressive writing alleviates some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Saturday, November 18
Lecture: “Warrior Brain to Artist Brain” presented by Richard Casper, USMC combat veteran and co-founder of CreatiVets
11:00 a.m. Frist Center Auditorium. Free
Richard Casper is a United States Marine Corps veteran and the co-founder and program director of CreatiVets, a nonprofit organization that creates a safe, communal environment for veterans to make art and music. In his acclaimed lecture “Warrior Brain to Artist Brain,” he explores his own journey to recovery. During a tour of duty in Iraq, Casper was hit in four separate IED (Improvised Explosive Device) explosions that resulted in traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Casper credits art with helping him reclaim his life and giving it purpose. Through CreatiVets, he talks and teaches across the country (including at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Virginia Commonwealth University) in his outreach to veterans, championing art and music as inspirational tools in the healing process.
Exhibition Tour Sponsors:
The exhibition tour of World War I and American Art at PAFA was made possible in part by major grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, and from the Henry Luce Foundation. The Presenting Sponsor for this exhibition is the Exelon Foundation and PECO.
This exhibition stop is supported in part by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding provided by grants from the David A. and Helen P. Horn Charitable Trust, Edwin L. Fountain, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, The McCausland Foundation, the General Representation of the Government of Flanders to the USA, Mrs. Helen Horn Bickell, Carolyn Horn Seidle, Ellen and Leonard Milberg, Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Bank of America, Mr. and Mrs. Beat Curti, Mr. and Mrs. Kevin F. Donohoe, Connie and Jules Kay, Dr. and Mrs. J. Brien Murphy, and Ken Woodcock. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Platinum Sponsor: HCA Foundation on behalf of HCA/TriStar Health
Silver Sponsor: Ameriprise Financial
Partner Sponsor: Cracker Barrel