Thomas D. Trummer
Scars of the Great War in Contemporary Art. One hundred years after 1914, this exhibition brings together outstanding works of modern art which lay bare the scars of war: fear, trauma and precarious memory. A parallel show of photographs by Canadian rock musician and photographer Bryan Adams is also on view.
Les Gueules Cassées
Scars of the Great War in Contemporary Art
Curated by Markus Schinwald and Thomas D. Trummer
There were five French war veterans present at the treaty signing in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on June 28, 1919. Their faces were disfigured by horrid scars from gre-nade shrapnel. Those injured in battle were standing there as living war monuments, their images unmercifully multiplied in the Baroque mirrors. The sight of the men brought French Prime Minister Clemenceau to tears. The German delegates were also obliged to walk past this “memorial.” Not a single one of them would ever utter a word about this staging of the horrors of war.
During the First World War they were called “Les Gueules Cassées”: from then on the “mutilated faces” (actually “contorted mugs”) became a fixed part of the iconography of the “Great War.” One hundred years after 1914, the Kunsthalle Mainz is commemorating “Les Gueules Cassées” in a special centenary exhibition. The exhibition depicts war wounds, pain and loss from the perspective of contemporary art. Neither the political nor the military history of World War I is illustrated. Instead, this exhibition brings together outstanding works of modern art which lay bare the scars of war: fear, trauma and precarious memory.
The sight of facial injuries creates feelings of dread and shame. The local point of reference becomes readily apparent when Black Hawk helicopters fly over the Kunsthalle Mainz several times a day. The helicopters are stationed at the Wiesbaden-Erbenheim airport less than 10km away, where the US Army has its European headquarters. Severely injured servicemen and women from the Iraq and Afghanistan war theaters are given medical treatment at the local military hospitals. Our present-day “gueules cassées” are directly nearby, yet unlike the battle-injured from the First World War, their modern counterparts are shielded from public view and rendered invisible for propaganda reasons.
Doris Salcedo gained a wider audience through her installation at the Tate Modern in London. In the museum’s physical plant a fracture opens up and keeps getting wider along the room’s entire length of 160 meters. Marginalization and segregation are the focus here, but also lines in architecture and the scars on buildings and existence. The lost Otto Dix painting “War Cripples” served as the model for a short film by Israeli artist Yael Bartana in which the war invalids depicted by Dix in caricature and with a pacifist subtext are animated. “Degenerate Art Lives” is the title of the remarkable work. Markus Schinwald manipulates historical engravings and lithographs. The individuals originally from bourgeoisie portraits are shown with physical disabilities, bandages, prostheses and awkward medical devices. In a series of photo engravings, British artist Tacita Dean dwells on the grim aesthetics of depicting catastrophe. She makes reference to the silent-film era practice of shooting two different final scenes, a happy ending for American viewers and one full of melancholy for Russian audiences. Peter Piller also works with archival material. He reproduces historical postcards of dub bombs in the First World War and combines photographs of battlefields with ocean waves. In “Zeno Writing,” William Kentridge tells the story of a literary figure created by Italo Svevo. Kentridge uses animated images against the background of the vicissitudes of 1914. Wade Guyton exhibits an abstract painting in monochrome black. Between two monumental surfaces there remains a groove fraught with ambiguous meaning, a scar in a figureless space. Agnès Geoffray is concerned with gestures and dream-like apparitions. The historical “gueules cassées” form a part of her uncomfortable art. Anne Schneider employs used jute sacks as wall and floor coverings and as sculptural elements. Original moulage and plaster molds by the war-time doctor Julian Zilz, a leading oral and maxillofacial surgeon who was at the eastern front around 1914, present the anatomical realities of facial injuries. Karlheinz Stockhausencomposed his “Helicopter Quartet” for string quartet and four helicopters. The threatening whirring of rotors is combined with the squealing of highly tense strings. A video shows the work’s premiere from 1991. Mainz artist Thomas Hombach is showing repurposed objects from the World War I and World War II period in this exhibition.Due to shortages, ammunition casings, gasmasks and other equipment were put to new use in everyday life.
Wounded: The Legacy of War
A parallel exhibition of photographs by Canadian rock musician and photographer Bryan Adams is also on view on the upper floors of the Kunsthalle Mainz tower. Adams photographs British war wounded. The photographs of the veterans are in large format against a white borderless background. The images are austere in their precision, with a penetrating political message.
The exhibition is being realized with support from:
Image: Agnès Geoffray, Gueule cassée I and II, 2011 from the series Incidental Gestures, 2011–2012 34 × 30 cm (picture 14 × 10 cm). Photograph, inkjet print, museum archive paper
Opening: wednesday february 26, 7 pm
Am Zollhafen 3-5 55118 Mainz Germany
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 10am–6pm,
Wednesday 10am–9pm, Saturday–Sunday 11am–6pm
Adults 5 €
Discounted price for pupils, students, OAPs, severely disabled persons 2 €
Groups of 10 adults upwards (per person) 3.50 €
Groups of 10 upwards reduced (per person) 1.50 €
Children up to 6 years free admission
Annual season ticket 25 €