Canvases slashed. Fabrics burned. Who would do this to art works? In the case of “Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962,” an exhibit that opened Feb. 16, 2013 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the answer is the artists, themselves. Their works were their reactions to the physical and psychological toll of the Second World War.
The artists are from Japan, the United States and all over Europe who emerged as an international movement in reaction to the war’s destruction, according to Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles Curator Paul Schimmel. “They were deeply and profoundly affected by WWII,” said Schimmel who organized the exhibit for MCA Chicago.
To set the mood of destructive expression, visitors step through paper torn at the exhibit’s opening by Tomohiko Murakami in the fashion of his father, artist Saburo Murakami.
But before stepping through the symbolic entry, it is hard to miss “South Bank Demo” by German-born, London artist Gustav Metzger.
An acid-shredded, red, black and grey construction, Metzger's work contrasts sharply with the serene park and Lake Michigan scenery outside MCA’s picture windows that connect the exhibit's rooms on the 4th floor.
The works inside are just as dramatic.
There are the burnt-out looking books and objects on British artist John Latham’s “Great Uncle Estate” 1960 and “Untitled” 1958. There are also the deliberate holes and tears in Japanese artist Shozo Shimamoto’s “Sakuhin” 1950 and the charred, wasteland look of US artist Robert Mallary’s “Trek” 1958-9 and “Lethe” 1959.
Italian artist Lucio Fontana used a razor to make vertical slashes in his red “Concetto Spaziale, Attese 59T1” (Spatial Concept) 1959, and his earlier green “Concetto Spziale, Attese 58T2.” American artist Lee Bontecou used a blow torch for soot effects and burlap and a welding iron to create her war- machine style objects.
Several of the artists later worked in other styles with other materials but the MCA exhibit is important for capturing a point in time when, collectively, these artists became part of a post-war movement.
“Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962 runs Feb. 16 through June 2, 2013. For more information visit MCA Chicago and call 312-280-2660.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is at 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.