Not since the 1977 sensation, “Sacred Circles,” a tribute to the art of the American Plains Indians, has there been such a stand-out success that is entirely the Nelson’s doing.
Conceived and executed by Curator of Modern Art Jan Schall to mark the centennial of the First World War, the show pulls together five dozen works of art, with many important pieces on loan from museums and galleries around the world. Originally set to run through July 19th, it has been extended through October 17th.
When I first viewed the exhibition in January, I thought of an article from 1997 by author and presidential speech writer David Frum.
In his “1917 And All That,” published in The Weekly Standard, Frum vividly described how the carnage and suffering from World War I led to the discrediting of the very idea of respect for authority. In his words; “When it was all over, the war turned out to have killed not just millions of men. It killed, or left terminally wounded, the idea that deference to authority can have any legitimate role in modern society.”
The Nelson exhibition does a good job explaining the back drop to the conflict, with disruptive social and technological change undermining the culture consensus that had marked the Western World for the century that preceded the war. All it took was the war as a catalyst to sweep away the established order, and with it the faith in the institutions of which it was comprised.
The disillusionment took a variety of forms.
Originating in Zurich in neutral Switzerland in 1915(where the war’s victims found refuge), that movement’s founders sought expression for their anger and despair in absurdist art that mocked the Establishment which had sent so many to their doom.
Many, if not most, of its creators were veterans who had suffered terribly. As I sat in the darkened auditorium, hearing heart-rending tales of War’s terrible cost, I was struck by the fact that I’d attended the Kansas City premier of the Iraq War movie, “American Sniper,” that afternoon.
I was probably the only person who attended both events but the subject of each was exactly the same. “War is one of the most evil things to which we sacrificed ourselves.” –Artist Franz Mark, d. 1916, Battle of Verdun. See the Nelson’s show and think of its somber implications.
It’s not easy but it is necessary.