Of all the exhibitions about conflict timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the First World War, few were as compelling or as dark as this one. The show examined the effect of modern warfare on the human mind and body through nearly 200 artworks—mostly paintings, but also some telling films—from 1914 to the present.
Powerfully evoking the modern war machine was the column of robot-like soldiers in C. R. W. Nevinson’s Futurist painting Returning to the Trenches (1916), while William Orpen’s The Schwaben Redoubt (1917) depicts the ruined landscape of the Western Front so convincingly one can almost smell the gas and rotting corpses.
But it is the bodies that express the horror of war most profoundly. In Otto Dix’s series of prints “Der Krieg” (The War), 1924, eyes are either dead or deranged, while memory drawings of agonized figures made in the 1970s by Japanese survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, are almost too graphic to bear. From our own time was photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s portrait of West Point graduate Dawn Halfaker who lost an arm in Iraq. She stares back at the camera defiantly, her prosthetic limb held across her body, a study in resilience and a reminder of the costs of war.
A version of this story originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 95.