Thoughts and deviations on aspects of The Schiller Collection

4 Dec

In the conclusion of  The Schiller’s collection titled, IN THE EYE OF THE STORM: AN ART OF CONSCIENCE 1930-1970, it summarizes the collection:

“Their paintings and prints encourage us to expand, rather than limit, our efforts to ensure that this country lives up to its democratic ideals, that the rights of all citizens to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are protected, but not at the expense of citizens of other countries. Ben Shahn closed a 1951 lecture with words that still ring true today:

….if either art or society is to survive the coming half-century, it will be necessary for us to re-asses our values. The time is past due for us to decide whether we are a moral people, or merely a comfortable people, whether we place  our own convenience above the life-struggle of backward nations, whether we place the sanctity of enterprise above the debasement of our public. If it falls to the lot of artists and poets to ask these questions of art alone that is at issue, but the survival of the free individual and a civilized society”

i want bob marley copyAn image I found wondering around the net, from this blog: http://raptorize.blogspot.com

And going back to the focus the Schiller Collection, housed at the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio. Looking through the catalog of the collection there is much to talk about, I was driven to this particular print:

Sternberg_Facism_pgThe work above is a screen print created by Harry Sternberg in 1942. It was exhibited in 26 museums across the USA in 1943 in the exhibition titled “American War”.

The depiction of facism is self explanatory once one realizes Sternberg’s upbringing, son of poor Jewish immigrants and living in America in times of war. An active member of American Artist’s Congress, Sternberg’s colorful and gestural print, resembles german expressionism,  gestural and saturated prints, full with  visceral emotions, that create an ambiguity between the palette, the subject, and its a reflection of the historical context. For war is war, and it brings death and destruction, still when such called victory comes some throw their hats up to the air to celebrate and commemorate…The three headed creature (represents Hirohito, Hitler, and Mussolini) as its running away, stepping over Jewish and Christian emblems as well as mathematical tools used for science and art. Alongside the three headed figure run rats, leaving behind a landscape of devastation, burning buildings amongst a landfill of corpses. The figure looks disturbed,fatigued but yet aggressive. The chain in the hand is evidence that the figure took part in the events depicted in the background. Yet my response to the chain the figure hold on its right hand seems ambiguous. The chain can be understood as a symbol of repression, the potential of a weapon, or an unleashed chain can be interpreted as symbol of  release, the breaking free. Perhaps it is ambiguous in its own right, and it hints to all of these.

This work was displayed along with other 99 prints from various american artists in 1943, each artists provided 26 copies of their work and 26 museum across the nation displayed the works. As we look back to different wars throughout the course of human history the propagation of imagery of war’s turmoils and victories are displayed, from the Trajan Column, to the Bayeux Tapestry, to Washington Crossing the Delaware, to Mort Künstler’s Glorious Fourth (depicted below).  Though this piece does not pertain to The Schiller Collection, it brings something to the table within the duality of war and the depiction of such. The works in The Schiller Collection are propaganda in the sense that they are transmitting a reality, documenting hard times, for the most part. In contrast the painting Glorious Fourth comes to glamorize and put upon a pedastal the rise of a nation. One aspect that I really enjoy about the works integrating The Schiller Collection is that it brings a comfrontation to the human condition so many want to neglect but has been ever present. An amalgam of situations, moral debate, violence, aggression and defense. Above all,  the seeking for an ideal, which is in constant re-newal, what are these values being defended, placing stacks of lives to protect them? After all it is the memes that define the context of the times.34_2

Looking at the Schiller Collection made my thoughts deviate,wars on ideals and how things should be. Struggles of the human spirit, fighting for rights, stacks of lives defending values. What are these and who defines them? I could not agree more with the essential core of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”…

stage-Nicole Matta Santos

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