Belligerent Encounters at the Art Institute of Chicago

Belligerent Encounters: Graphic Chronicles of War and Revolution may not have as many objects as Windows on the War, but it is a wider reaching show that forces us to consider some sobering images from war. The show’s title is hopefully a double-entendre, ambiguously playing with graphic (the formal issue) and graphic (the shocking image) as the exhibition is filled with powerful descriptions of war’s reality.

Albin Egger-Lienz 1915, 1915. Color lithograph on ivory laid paper 601 x 783 mm (image); 723 x 903 mm (sheet) All images courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.

It brings artists together from various times, places, and conflicts: Jacques Callot‘s 1633 The Miseries of War portfolio, Stefano Della Bella‘s 1644 Drawings of Several Movements by Soldiers portfolio, Goya‘s 1863 The Disasters of War portfolio, Edmond Guilliaume‘s 1870 Les Génies de la Mort portfolio, Max Beckmann‘s 1919 Die Hölle portfolio, Frank Brangwyn‘s 1919 Ruins of War Portfolio, Heinrich Hoerle‘s 1920 Krüppel portfolio, Otto Dix‘s 1924 War portfolio, and individual works from George Bellows, Karel Dujardin, Albrecht Dürer, Albin Egger-Lienz, Théodore Géricault, Hendrick Goltzius, Nathal’ia Goncharova, Édouard Manet, Egon Schiele, and more. It’s a who’s who of famous printmakers that all lived during times of war. It made me wonder if there were any printmakers who have escaped “living in interesting times.”

Jacques Callot (published by Israël Henriet). The Hanging, plate eleven from The Miseries of War, 1633 Etching on paper 82 x 185 mm (plate); 120 x 223 mm (sheet)

Belligerent Encounters is an emotional show filled with human shields, mutilation, corpses, and mourning for how war affects our communities and lives. The show compels you to consider our relationship to war; if we’ve somehow become smarter than we were in the past. Our scientific knowledge (drones, guided smart bombs, etc) may keep our modern war fighter from experiencing the most gruesome parts of war, but war will always produce death and devastation. Dix’s grisly details– everyone waiting indefinitely for something to happen followed by piles of corpses after something finally happened– are subjects Callot, Goya, or the modern war fighter would find familiar. 200 years separate Callot and Goya, and yet they both felt that executions were a current subject; as did Beckmann in 1919.

George Wesley Bellows. Barricade, 1918 Lithograph on cream Japanese paper, laid down on cream wove paper 434 x 742 mm (image); 479 x 787 mm (primary support); 611 x 814 mm (secondary support)

There are some prints in Belligerent Encounters that are propaganda (satirizing the enemy or nationalistic legends founded on high-minded hawkishness) but the most memorable works in the show expose the true cost of conquests. The artists have produced impassioned statement about war with all the brutality and violence that they could muster. The propaganda in this show reminds the visitor that while we all hate the devastation of war, we all feel connected to and want to defend our country; that the price paid during war is often justified. Today, in a decade of ever expanding war, at the anniversary of 9/11, with a massive number of newly injured veterans, Belligerent Encounters and Windows on the War are very timely shows.

Heinrich Hoerle. The Married Couple, from Krüppel, 1920. Lithograph in black on tan wove paper 517 x 414 mm (image); 591 x 460 mm (sheet)

Windows on the War and Belligerent Encounters is on view at Art Institute of Chicago July 31–October 23, 2011

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Categories: Exhibitions, Reviews

One Response to “Belligerent Encounters at the Art Institute of Chicago”

  1. love it! This reminds me of a print show I saw in DC. . . I forget the title, something along the lines of “Dark Visions in Print”