As part of “Picturing War: Selections From the Zimmerli Art Museum Collection,” now on display at the New Brunswick museum, you can see, on one wall, Timur Novikov’s 1991 “Bombing of Baghdad,” an acrylic-on-textile work that pictures the event, just like most of us saw it, from a safe, TV-like distance. No human suffering is visible, though you know it is there.
On the opposite wall are Edward Steichen photos from World War II, of wounded men, and men with ammunition belts, preparing to go into battle. The human toll is upfront, and obvious.
“Picturing War,” which is on display through July 5, offers an abundance of viewpoints on war, with nearly 130 paintings, photographs sculptures and other works by more than 50 artists from the United States, Japan, France, Russia and elsewhere. There are portrayals of heroic deeds, as in the Japanese woodcut above; grim images of the reality of war; propaganda; and protest.
“While most adults are familiar with the historic facts of well-known battles, we don’t often think about more universal themes of war,” said Christine Giviskos, the museum’s associate curator of European art, in a press release. “Some things have drastically changed, such as how troops mobilize and engage in combat, and the immediacy with which reports from the field reach general civilian audiences. But the underlying brutality, the propaganda tactics, the ‘collateral’ damages — these continue to intensify. This exhibition creates a visual context for some of these broader issues.”
Those interested in the Civil War will be particularly interested in a section devoted to prints by Winslow Homer, who covered the war as an artist for “Harper’s Weekly.” Below is his chilling “The Army of the Potomac: A Sharp Shooter on Picket Duty,” from 1862, with the gunman perched on the branch of a tree, concentrating, awaiting his lethal moment of action.
Equally striking are the two versions of “The Men of One Family,” by Russian artist Sergei Sherstiuk. One painting, in 1941, shows seven stoic men; in the second painting, from the end of World War II in 1945, there are only three men, and they seem to be more than four years older than their younger selves. They’re sporting medals, but wounded. You know what must have happened to the other men.
The museum is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closing time is 9 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month) and Saturdays and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. There is no admission charge. Visit zimmerlimuseum.rutgers.edu.