A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Jul 6, 2011
It's an interesting moment—first unsettling, ultimately thrilling— when you realize the accounts presented as fact in history books might represent merely one perspective. That if you read other books and spoke to others throughout the ages and around the world, you’d encounter vastly different takes on past events.
In its latest exhibition, Loaded Image: Printmaking as Persuasion, the Chazen Museum of Art shows how opinionated depictions of specific moments in history, as well as timeless themes, can be when presented through the medium of printmaking.
Open through September 25, the show draws from the museum’s collection, displaying prints from the sixteenth century to the present. While prints, which may be made and reproduced more inexpensively than other forms of art, “can endure as barometers of their times,” they often were used not to objectively document an event or issue but surprise, warn, provoke, humor or persuade their viewers.
Thirty-four prints are intelligently presented in the exhibition, offering the chance to compare styles, themes and time periods side by side and across the gallery.
For instance, Maarten Van Heemskerch’s The Prodigal Son Eating with Swine engraving from 1562 features a muscular young man in rags crouching by pigs and eating from a trough. In contrast, Thomas Hart Benton’s Prodigal Son lithograph of 1939 [pictured below] shows a man returning home not to a loving family but to an abandoned shack in the Depression-era Dust Bowl—a political, time-specific reinterpretation of the Biblical scene.
The topic of technology (particularly interesting to explore after visiting two current exhibitions at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) also warrants comparison. In Crane, Louis Lozomick’s 1928 lithograph, a solid, impressive structure looms above a low vantage point, celebrating industrialization. Next to it, Harry Sternberg offers a different take. Enough, his etching from circa 1940, reveals a naked man struggling against binds around his chest and hands, brick towers and factories filling the backdrop behind him.
A number of prints in the exhibition take on the theme of war. They represent a wide range of time periods, but especially powerful are works from the mid-twentieth century.
Leonard Baskin’s Hydrogen Man from 1954 addresses the fear of nuclear war. The woodcut shows a life-size man’s form made up of swirling black lines that stretch across the skeletal, mutated body like musculature. In Hell No I Won’t Go, William Weege’s print from 1967, a boy stands naked, covering his eyes, toward the edge of the composition; in the center sits a machine gun, dark and heavy. And in Warrington Colescott’s work from 1973, William Randolph Hearst Declares War on Spain, a huge ship crashes into a gray palace, exploding into flames. In the foreground, a man and woman run while three men on horseback whoop it up and another man does a cartwheel.
Like much of the work in the exhibition, these three prints are powerful and provoking and offer unique perspectives on history.
Loaded Image: Printmaking as Persuasion runs through September 25 at the Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit chazen.wisc.edu.
Photos courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.