Suara Welitoff (American, born 1951), Airplanes, 2002, Film / video, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Maud Morgan Prize Purchase Fund, Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Responses to and Thoughts on War over the Decades, 1800-Present

Jake and Dinos Chapman (British, born in 1966 and 1962), The Disasters of War, 1999, 24.5 x 34.5 cm, Etching, Accession number: L-SE 1066.1.15, Johanna and Leslie Garfield, © Jake & Dinos Chapman and The Paragon Press.

Edouart Manet The Execution of Maximilian, above, Edouard Manet, Execution of Maximilian, early-mid May, 1867, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Andy Warhol, Statue of Liberty, 1986, Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, 80 x 76", Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Graham Gund.

Pablo Picasso. The Rape of the Sabine Women. 1962-63. Oil on canvas. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.


Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
War and Discontent
April 10-August 5, 2007

War and Discontent brings together three historical masterpieces inspired by political events from the MFA collection, along with more recent objects by contemporary artists whose art reflects the time in which we live. The 20 works included in this exhibition span a variety of media — by artists ranging from Edouard Manet and Pablo Picasso to Chris Burden, Andy Warhol and Phil Collins. In addition to objects from the MFA’s collection, examples from The Broad Art Foundation along with loans from private collections comprise this exhibition. As part of a new educational initiative, the wall text written by MFA curators will be accompanied by labels written by the MFA’s Teen Arts Council — a group of teenagers engaged in a year-long apprenticeship — that reflect their personal perspectives about each work. War and Discontent is organized by Cheryl Brutvan, the Robert L., Enid L. and Bruce A. Beal Curator of Contemporary Art.

War and Discontent provides a powerful opportunity to examine the influence of cataclysmic world events on artists over time,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “This exhibition emphasizes the critical role of art in articulating the many emotions we face in time of struggle.”

Among the masterpieces from the MFA’s collection included in the exhibition are three exceptional works created in response to specific events: Edouard Manet’s Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (1867), Francisco y Lucientes Goya’s series of etchings Disasters of War (published 1863) and Pablo Picasso’s Rape of the Sabine Women (1963). Manet depicts the 1867 execution by firing squad of Mexican emperor Maximilian, who was installed by Napoleon III, then quickly sentenced to death when French troops withdrew and he was left behind. Goya experienced firsthand the Peninsular War during Napoleon’s reign, and Picasso, even in the last decade of his life, responded to the potential of imminent destruction. Each is a powerful statement confronting disturbing events during the lifetime of these artists while maintaining relevance beyond the time of their creation.

Joining these pivotal works are more recent objects by artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman, Yinka Shonibare and Leon Golub. The Chapmans’ etchings Disasters of War (1999) focuses in part on man’s inhumanity toward man and today’s indifference to horror. The Chapmans were greatly inspired by Goya, and visitors are able to view their series in close proximity to Goya’s etchings. Also on view is the large-scale Black Gold II (2006) by Yinka Shonibare, which makes its museum debut. Leon Golub confronted ongoing atrocities, as seen in Interrogation I (1980-81) — on loan from Broad Art Foundation — which addresses human suffering and violence. Other works from Broad Art Foundation include Jack Goldstein’s Burning City (1981), ablaze with rays of white light, and Richard Bosman’s painting Approach (1989). Bosman’s depiction of an airplane preparing to land reflects the anxiety and tension of daily existence, while more recent world events suggest alternate and disturbing associations with the painting.

“Art is a powerful lens through which to view our time,” said Cheryl Brutvan, Robert L. Beal, Enid L. and Bruce A. Beal Curator of Contemporary Art at the MFA. “Many artists have confronted disturbing and uncontrollable world events, making timeless artworks that speak to viewers of all generations.”

In some of the most recent works, artists have chosen film and video to express their thoughts. Suara Welitoff’s haunting video Airplanes (2002) was created from appropriated imagery of World War II planes manipulated to appear endlessly in flight, and the song that makes you cry (2006) from a recent documentary of contemporary soldiers working together to launch missiles. In contrast is Anri Sala’s Natural Mystic (Tomahawk 2) (2002) that emphasizes the sound of an approaching missile. Phil Collins’ They shoot horses (2004) acknowledges the triumph of the human spirit, ignoring embattled surroundings. Collins organized and filmed a dance marathon in Ramallah, Palestine focusing on a small group of competitors who endure power blackouts and fatigue to reach their goal.

War and Discontent brings together some of the many artists who have confronted the disturbing time in which they live through their artwork. While some reference a specific event, others create art that is provocative but ambiguous in meaning such as Andy Warhol’s Statue of Liberty, (1986), in which a detail of the iconic monument is overlaid with camouflage. Each piece invites the viewer to bring their own knowledge, creating a meaning that will be affected by international — as well as personal — events as they shape our world.

As part of the exhibition, nine Massachusetts teenagers from the MFA’s Teen Arts Council (TAC) have been invited to provide wall texts for War and Discontent. Each teen will select one work and write a wall label that reflects their personal perspective about the piece, including their thoughts about what “war” or “discontent” means to them. The MFA’s Teen Arts Council, launched in the summer of 2006, serves as a creative laboratory for a diverse group of teenagers whose goal is to connect the MFA with Greater Boston’s teens, families and communities. TAC members gain valuable work experience through leadership and learning opportunities, by attending workshops and working on projects designed to develop their creative and critical thinking skills.

Richard Bosman, Approach, 1989, Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica.

Leon Golub, Napalm 11, 1969, Broad Art Foundation.

Francisco Goya y Lucientes, Spanish, 1746-1828, No se puede saber por qué. (There is no way of telling why); Fatales consequencias de la sangrienta guerra en España con Buonaparte. Y otros caprichos enfaticos [Disasters of War], plate 35. Drawn and etched about 1810-1814; whole series first published posthumously 1863, Platemark: 15.4 x 25.6 cm, Sheet: 22 x 31.3 cm, Etching, sulfur tint (?).