KANSAS CITY, Mo. – World War I was the first total war of the modern period. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the long and bloody conflict that began during the summer of 1914, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art gathered paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs and decorative arts by many of the most esteemed European and American modernists. “World War I and the Rise of Modernism” opens on Dec. 17 and runs through July 19, walking visitors through the time period before, during and after the Great War.
“Both Europe and the larger Western culture it represented were dramatically altered during World War I,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO and director of the Nelson-Atkins. “This exhibition reveals the major shift in perspective brought on by the Great War, as well as the disillusionment of an entire society.”
Modernism, an international art movement, was well underway when World War I erupted, and it continued to evolve after the conclusion of the war. There are 59 works of art in “World War I and the Rise of Modernism.” Among the artists represented are Wassily (Vasily) Kandinsky (Russia), Mies van der Rohe and Emil Nolde (Germany), Egon Schiele (Austria), Georges Braque and Yves Tanguy (France), Giorgio de Chirico and Umberto Boccioni (Italy), Marsden Hartley and Alfred Stieglitz (United States).
“All great art has the power to move us intellectually, emotionally and spiritually,” said Jan Schall, curator of modern art at the museum. “The pure, vibrant colors of Vasily Kandinsky’s Sketch for ‘Composition II’, an extraordinary prewar painting on loan from New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, express the spiritual transformation he envisioned for the modern world. In contrast, the raw, angular bursts of red and green in André Masson’s postwar painting, The Little Tragedy, evoke the violence of conflict, while Kaethe Kollwitz’s Self-Portrait reveals the artist’s grief in response to the battlefield death of her son, Peter.”
German Expressionism, French Cubism and Italian Futurism were the three dominant Modernist styles of prewar art. As art movements, they continued to advance after the war ended. But all were impacted by the devastation. Expressionist artist Franz Marc and Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni fought for Germany and Italy, respectively. Both died in combat.
After the war, Mies van der Rohe and Margarete Heymann-Loebenstein, working at the now-famous German Bauhaus (House of Construction), devoted themselves to the idea and process of building a new world of art, design and architecture, governed by rational efficiency and economy. On the other hand, the French Surrealists, influenced by Freudian psychology, explored the realm of dreams and imagination, as they sought to understand the irrational forces that guide human thought and action.
“We are fortunate to be able to tell this dramatic story of pre-, during-, and postwar Modernism by uniting works from the museum’s own collection with generous loans from the Guggenheim Museum, the National World War I Museum and private collections,” said Schall.
A timeline on one of the exhibition walls depicts highlights of the era, detailing the socio-political and art events happening at certain points before, during and after World War I.
There are two History and Art Exchange Talks, one at the Nelson-Atkins and the other at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, also in Kansas City. The institutions partnered to explore the connections between war and creativity.
At the Nelson-Atkins:
“WWI in Perspective”
Thursday, Jan. 8, at 6 p.m. in Atkins Auditorium. Join noted historian Michael Neiberg, professor of history in the department of national security and strategy at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., as he discusses the historic impact of the world’s first global conflict.
At the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial:
“DADA: A World Turned Upside Down”
Thursday, Jan. 22, at 6 p.m. Join Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland Curator of Modern Art at the Nelson-Atkins, for a look at DADA, the art movement that mocked and mourned the insanity of a world at war.
This exhibition is supported by The Donald J. Hall Initiative.
Free admission provided courtesy of the WWIKC partnership.
ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE