Several years in the making, the Spencer-organized Machine in a Void will present nearly 150 works of graphic art made during the years of the First World War (1914-1918), with a post-script on the art of the decade following the war. By invoking the perspective of primarily European artists, the exhibition will bring attention to the substantial roles played by the graphic arts during WWI (1914–1918) as a tool for official propaganda and as means of voicing individual responses to the war ranging from documentation to dissent.
Machine in a Void is made possible by the generous support of the Breidenthal-Snyder Foundation.
The genesis of the exhibition stems from the Spencer’s acquisition of a rare and extensive treatment of the war by Belgian artist Henry de Groux in the form of nearly 50 etchings. These proofs and trial prints were preparatory to a portfolio, Le Visage de la Victoire (The Face of Victory). In his introduction to the printed series, de Groux wrote of the war as an “undeniable and colossal absurdity, like a machine functioning in a void,” an “opulent excess of perfect horror.” The Spencer’s exhibition derives its title from de Groux’s evocative expression. The central goal of the exhibition is to identify and give voice to those artists who, through their work during and shortly after WWI, renounced specific national concerns to articulate a more transcendent vision. These uncommon voices will be exhibited along with mainstream nationalistic and propagandistic works.
The exhibition will be largely drawn from the permanent collection of the Spencer Museum of Art, and will include material that may provoke discussions of the rise of ironic and ambivalent attitudes toward war, the defenselessness of innocents in the face of modern war machines, the use of the graphic arts to promote official government attitudes, and the role of mechanized warfare within the dystopian idea of the Machine Age. The Spencer's collections are rich in works from France, Belgium and Germany and the exhibited artists include Otto Dix, Kerr Eby, George Grosz, Jules de Bruycker, Henry de Groux, André Devambez, Erich Heckel, Henri Ibels, Jean-Emile Laboureur, Karl Maes, Maxime Maufra, Ludwig Meidner, Robert Michel, Johannes Molzahn, Karl Schmidt-Rotluff, Georg Scholz, Max Slevogt, Edmond van Dooren, and, Jean Veber.
Stephen Goddard, senior curator of prints & drawings, is organizing the exhibition following a sabbatical spent primarily in Germany and a fellowship at the Wolfsonian-Florida International University—one of the world’s great repositories for WWI-era material culture. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Spencer will offer programming that involves the campus and the community, including curricular initiatives at KU, a film/book series, children’s art classes, and social networking. A catalogue is planned.