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Monday, January 14, 2019

Art for a Cause

The work of New York artist, Keith Haring. Can you decipher his imagery to detect the causes he promoted?
Not necessarily.
As a writer, virtually every word I produce has as its ultimate goal to inform the reader and perhaps changed his or her perceptions of, in my case, art. That's likely true of every writer, even those producing fiction, as we expose others to new ways of thinking and try to influence what they think as well. Although writing is a demanding skill, it in no way matches the skill set needed to accomplish similar results using drawn or painted images. I've frequently noted that such endeavors have long since been surpassed by media much more efficient in that realm--motion pictures, TV, and other forms of digital imaging. In the past, painting was so laborious and time-consuming that any attempt to influence how people thought; what they thought; and how they believed took second place behind simply decorating walls and entertaining art buyers. Only religious works made much of any impact on the causes artists and their clients sought to change.

Haring art sells for around $500,000 to $1 million per painting. An AIDS victim, Haring died in 1990.
Does ambiguous imagery
help or hurt the cause?
If the old, trite expression, "a picture is worth a thousand words" is still valid, then it's also safe to say that producing really effective imagery of equal impact is likewise a thousand times more difficult. When artist have a visual message they wish to render in promoting a cause, their efforts fall into three categories, (1) the Anti-cause, hoping to stop some present day social activity they find abhorrent. (2) Pro-cause, seeking to en-courage some positive human endeavor not cur-rently common, or (3) maintaining some current social activity they find valuable for our well-being. Perhaps one of the most prolific artists in this regard was the American painter, Keith Haring. Despite the simplicity of his images (top) his iconic figures nonetheless caused people to "think," if for no other reason than to figure out what he was trying to say--a simple style with difficult mes-sages. His work continues to influence painters with a message from fifth graders (right) to pro-fessional illustrators today, more than a quarter-century after his death.

Even with a healthy dose of dry humor, the artist's cause is likely to offend those at whom the message is aimed.
Ricardo Levins Morales doesn't think of himself as an artist so much as he does a healer. He considers his work to be "medicinal," full of nutrients and antibodies. For more than four decades, Morales has produced art that speaks to the environment, workers' rights and racial equity (below). David Nicholson, executive director of Headwaters Foundation for Justice, said, "It's hard to overstate the importance of Morales' work. There's a reason Martin Luther King said "I have a dream" and not "I have a plan," he said. "The importance of art in social justice movements is that it captures people's imagination. His images invoke a sense of what's possible and help to represent the struggles that people are in." Morales' work is haunting, moving, inspiring images, much of which features people of color. In one poster, a black schoolteacher writes, "We Can Do It." on a chalkboard (below). Many posters include inspirational quotes. Morales adds, "For some communities, the thing that they've forgotten is that they're beautiful and they're capable. Just that very simple, basic thing. So I hold up a mirror that filters out all the toxic messages, and they see that in my art, and I think that's what draws people in. People more than anything hunger to be seen and recognized."

Morales was born into an activist farming family in Puerto Rico. He later moved to Minneapolis and shortly thereafter co-founded the Northland Poster Collective.
Under most circumstances and by most definitions, the artist who goes by the name, Hari, would probably be considered an amateur. Like most artists, Hari’s objective is to create a works that appeal to art lovers and buyers. An ongoing show (below) of paintings by Hari aspires to create abundant funds which will be donated for supporting the infrastructure and basic amenities for a visually impaired school. Thus Hari, rather than painting to promote a cause does so simply to help finance the cause in which he so desperately believes. The themes of his mostly figurative paintings combine myriad images picked up from nature, surroundings, mythological tales, human figures, and many more. He prefers to experiment and render in varied styles and not stick to a single genre. Hari explains, “More than establishing any personal connotation, my objective is to create a work that appeals to the art lovers and buyers and contributes to increase the fund accumulation. So I try my best to create multiple styles, subjects and compositions.”

Hari at a recent charity display of his work.
Uniting the colonies.
Down through the centuries as artists with strong messages promoting causes, motifs have changed but motives seldom do. Sometimes the causes are relatively unimportant (even silly), taken in their historic context, much like the thought-provoking visual editorial involving the Tango (below). At other times, the artist with a cause has created such powerful images as the "Join or Die" broadside from the American Revolution era, which seems akin to what we think of as political cartoons today. Whether we agree or disagree with the cartoon's artist, these works, mostly in protest, present important messages by people who care what we think as they try to change or reinforce social and political attitudes.

It takes two to Tango--pro and con.
As seen in the "Join or Die" woodcut, very often artists have espoused revolutionary causes, usually when their military outcomes are unknown. Perhaps one of the greatest revolutions in the history of mankind had little to do with armies and warfare. Today, we refer to it as the Protestant Revolution, and the name is well chosen. Although Martin Luther publicly burned Pope Leo X’s Papal Bull in 1520, Karl Aspelin's early 20th century painting (below) not only recorded protest history but aroused cries of protest from Catholics some four-hundred years after the fact. We have to wonder if that was the artist's "cause." or simply the unanticipated consequences.

Martin Luther Public Burning Pope Leo X’s Papal Bull, 1520, Karl Aspelin.
As the artist paints in protest a cause, whether positive, negative, or neutral, there always runs the risk of being sublimated by the sheer beauty of the artwork. That would seems to be the case with Padmaja M's Laxmi Narayana (below, left) or the "beastly" work of Phillip Danner (below, right). Together they recall the old question: "Which is more important, the message or the medium?"

The work of Padmaja M and Phillip Danner.


 
Photos have largely replaced illustrations
in today's messaging. Most of us know a
lot about his cause.










































 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Anish Kapoor

The Spire, 2004, Anish Kapoor
Not too long ago a reader sent me an e-mail discussing one of my posts at which time he asked, how and where I came up with the broad variety of content areas he found so interesting. There is, of course, no single answer to that. Often they come from a news item I come across on the Internet. At other times they simply reflect some artist or art interest I find fascinating myself and wish to probe deeper, hoping those reading my words will enjoy the effort. In the case of Anish Kapoor, my wife, who has very little interest in art, brought a small news article to my attention. I'm ashamed to admit that the name didn't immediately "ring a bell," though it should have. While in Chicago a few years ago I almost saw (experienced would be a better word) his most famous work. I had, in fact written about the British sculptor's Cloud Gate (below, a.k.a. the "bean") located in that city's Millennial Park. I say I almost saw it inasmuch as the park and Kapoor's massive, polished mass is right next door to the Art Institute of Chicago where I spent an entire day. Had I known the art landmark was so nearby, I would definitely have found the time to pay my respects.
 
Cloud Gate, 2006, Anish Kapoor, the centerpiece of Millennium Park, Chicago.

The news item that caught my wife's eye involved an unfortunate mishap in which an elderly man accidentally fell into one of Kapoor's site specific "sculptures" titled Bottomless. It wasn't, of course, only some eight feet deep with the sides painted black to give the appearance of a bottomless abyss. The Italian man in his 60's was slightly injured from the mishap. Bottomless (left) is a part of Kapoor series called Descent into Limbo displayed at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal. The unfortunate art lover has since been released from the hospital.


Kapoor and curator Suzanne Cotter stand next to Descent into Limbo (1992) at the Serralves museum.

 
 
Along the same line as his earlier Bottomless, Anish Kapoor’s endlessly spinning whirlpool titled Descension (below) has descended on Brooklyn, NY, located at pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The continuously spiraling funnel of water penetrates the earth in a powerful rush of ceaseless motion, drawing viewers into its mystifying and mesmerizing abyss. It turns an ordinary material (water) into a strangely behaving substance, disturbing the familiar notions of our world. The 26-foot in diameter installation creates a striking jux-taposition to the adjacent East River as it continues Kapoor’s long-standing interest in the destabilization of the physical world. The spiraling whirlpool is treated with an all-natural black dye, creating a seemingly endless hole, into which visitors are invited to carefully peer (this one has a railing).
 
Brooklyn's Descension follows an earlier display as a smaller, interior work at India's Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Anish Kapoor is a leading contemporary British-Indian artist working in large-scale abstract public sculpture. Throughout his career, Kapoor has worked on a variety of scales and with diverse materials—mirrors, stone, wax, and PVC—exploring both biomorphic and geometric forms with a particular interest in negative space. Born in 1954 in Bombay, India, Kapoor moved to London in the late 1970s, studying at both the Hornsey College of Art and Chelsea College of Arts. He first gained critical recognition for his work in the 1980s, with his metaphysical site-specific pieces in which he manipulated form and the perception of space. Kapoor was awarded the Turner Prize in 1991.
 
1000 Names, 1979-80, Anish Kapoor

Tall Tree and the Eye, 2009,
Anish Kapoor, Royal Academy.
One of Kapoor's favorite work is 1000 Names (above), dating from 1979–80. Being from India, Kapoor relates emotionally to the pieces of the work, which are made in pigments with extraordinarily exotic shapes. They are a source of wonder, luscious, beautiful, delicious and very sensual. Those early works were unlike anything ever seen. However, quite apart from his work with pigments, holes, and other disquieting shapes and media, Kapoor is undoubtedly best knows for his "shiny stuff" such his Spire (top) or his Tall Tree and the Eye, seen at right when displayed in Paris in 2009. Kapoor is intrigued by the empty spaces between and within the shapes he has made, and by the endless, repeating "fractal images" reflected on their polished surfaces. Turning the World Upside Down (below) dating from 1996 is typical of Kapoor's "spacey" work.

Turning the World Upside Down, 1996, Anish Kapoor.
 
For the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Kapoor created the ArcleorMittal Orbit (below), now the UK's tallest sculpture. Standing 114.5 meters tall, the sculpture was erected at the cost of a whopping £22.7 million. Designed by Kapoor and structural designer Cecil Balmond, the work is a tangled steel lattice incorporating the five Olympic rings. Sponsors hope the tower will attract one million visitors a year to Stratford's Olympic Park. The ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture, is 22 meters taller than the Statue of Liberty, and has two observation floors with a spiral staircase consisting of 455 steps. The iconic attraction hopes visitors will be attracted by the architectural design and detailed integration; enough to want to take the elevator to the top and then maybe walk down the spiral staircase. Kapoor's enormous sculpture easily dwarfs the aspirations of Gustave Eiffel.

Anish Kapoor with a scale model of his ArcelorMittal Orbit.
Kapoor’s newer work includes his first paintings in years, though they stretch the description of a painting somewhat. There's paint, of course, but also silicon, and white resin applied deep and wide on canvas. Some of the paintings project as much as two feet from the gallery wall. These creations hang precariously, their apparent weight seemingly defying gravity itself. The initial impression is, as others have noted, that of a three-dimensional Francis Bacon, though Kapoor's works have a more savage quality. It’s pretty hard not to think of slabs of meat, with the sinews, bone, gore and eviscerated flesh both shocking yet, in the painting's hidden depths, truly mesmerizing. Are they his reflection on a particularly barbaric moment in our contemporary history? The artist contends, "I'm not going to exclude it. But I’m not going illustrate it either. I’m not a journalist. I don’t want to have anything to say, it just gets in the way. I think the journey of an artist is a journey of discovery and some engagements with paint, with the nature of material, and bodily things."

Kapoor views an artist’s job as going into the studio saying, "I don’t know what to do, I’m lost."


I don't know what it is, but I'd certainly hate to meet
up with it in a dark alley.
(Actually, it's called Trumpet.)
























 

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Art

Tidal Wave, London, Ed Lopez. Digital painting is definitely a mark of some of the best art of 2018.
Almost a month ago, I wrote about the art of one hundred years ago--1918 Art. This being New Year's Eve, I thought it only appropriate that I should also delve into the art of this past year--2018 art. For those writing about art, it's far easier to discuss the art of the past than that of the present. The past offers perspective. The present, nothing but uncertainty. The art of the past allows me to write about individual artists and their contribution to all the art that has followed their efforts. That is, of course, by definition, impossible in dealing with the work of contemporary artists. The most I can do is to discuss trends I see and to choose works that are representative of art being created today while at the same time offering some degree of uniqueness. What you see here is not in any way an evaluative critique or comparison one piece to another. And although I try to identify the artist, in no way am I predicting the fame and/or fortune of any artist. These are simply works which struck me as outstanding in some, often difficult to pinpoint, manner. In most cases that has more to do with creativity than content--a Postmodern departure from the norm.
 
The Wire, Seth Globepainter. Street artists in 2018 have continued recent trends in working on "canvases" on a scale seldom seen in the past. This one is in Fontaine, France.
Tidal Wave, London, (top) by Ed Lopez is definitely representative of the "wave" (pardon the pun in this case) of the future. CGI (computer generated imaging) allows artists do let their imaginations run wild, unhampered by most limitations as to traditional art skills. It does, however, usher in a whole new "paintbox" of new skills involving digital manipulation offering far greater potential for the representational "painter" than any taught in the past and most art classes now. The other major trend I've noticed is the building-sized murals and the Postmodern use of both serious and whimsical content as seen in Seth Globepainter's The Wire (above). That's obviously not the artist's real name but a pseudonym, which is, in itself, a recent trend.
 
Virtually every style of painting today can be found on the walls of home art galleries which reflect much the same quality as those of the high-end art market, yet at a very small fraction of the cost.
In showcasing the outstanding art (paintings only in this case) I've broken down the work into three major areas--abstraction, portraits, and first of all that which has been created exclusively to satisfy a huge demand for decorative domestic wall art. I've termed them "Couch Paintings" (above), which in no manner is intended as a derogative classification. Quite the contrary, I often find in this type of work some of the most extraordinary creativity to be seen today. The one classification which I've excluded is landscape painting. Quite frankly I suspect that such art is simply "worn out." That is, the possibilities for new imagery, new content, new styles, has simply been exhausted by centuries of such works (particularly the 20th-century). I tried diligently to find landscape paintings on a par with most of the other work being created today but came away both surprised and disillusioned by my efforts.

Abstraction is often taken to mean non-representational. Usually, and in the best works, it's not.
Abstract art is not a style. Abstract Expressionism is, and all too often the two are confused...even used interchangeably. Abstract Expressionism is a style, founded in the Post-WW II era, predominantly in connection with what's come to be known as the "New York School." It was usually non-representational (but not always) and thus thought to be lacking in content. That too is a misconception. The content was the basic elements of design. The abstract art of today seldom lacks some vestige of identifiable content, which makes it devilishly hard to evaluate minus a clear title and statement from the artist. As the works above suggest, most of the traditional art content areas have been freshened (some might say invaded) by the work of abstract artists today (even landscapes). In any case abstract art no longer invites the question: "What is it?" It does not lack traditional content, it simply strips it down to its bare essence, minus details, minus message, minus preconceived notions as to how that content "should" appear. In doing so, the artist is free to pursue beauty, texture, line, color, shapes, and space without most of the traditional constraints of the past.

Portraiture today invites virtually every style of painting from the past while remaining fresh and exciting.
Perhaps the most enduring type of painting in the history of art is that of portraiture. And in spite of the advent of photography, a century and a half ago, it has remained quite lively and inspiring. Portrait painting accommodates virtually every style and medium artists have ever used. Joshu Miels' portraits are about as close to abstraction as on dares venture without losing the key element of a recognizable likeness. Stephan Mackey's portrait of Mason is about as traditional as such work gets today, yet his inclusion of the artist at work on a painting of his own is a fresh concept adaptable to virtually any subject's painted image. Everyone has a job or avocation, right? Meanwhile, Kehinde Wiley's hard-edged rendering of former President Obama breaks virtually every mold ever seen for a presidential portrait. Yet it captures both the man, his gentleness, and his "green" values perfectly.


Rhinos by Dianne Bollentini, in pen and ink
Susan L, Richard Sneary,
watercolor
Although it's not technically a painting, nor is it what it appears to be--a mosaic--Dianne Bollentini's Rhinos (above) is rendered in pen and ink, painstakingly giving the appearance of what it's not. Not only is the work exquisitely done, its content nothing if not unique, but the work captures perfectly the Postmodern es-sence of the art of 2018. By the same token, Richard Sneary's, watercolor titled Susan L (left) is notable for the artist's departure from the tired, traditional watercolor subject matter of landscapes and still-lifes. Though it re-mains, technically, a still-life, the subject is of such size and industrial homeliness as to stand apart from most of the work done today in painting's most difficult medium. Art need not be beautiful. Can the art of 2019 be summed up in just a word or two? Probably, but I'm not up to the task at the moment. I'll let the paintings speak for themselves on that score. And, even though I still paint a little (three or four this year) I've resisted the urge to include any of my own work here in that neither it nor I are representative of the art of 2019.

Mia Molly, artist unknown, but not one of mine.
 













































Monday, December 24, 2018

Mrs. Santa Claus

Mrs. Claus, Stephanie Lee. This was my wife's favorite, which has the look of having been painted from a live model.
This being Christmas Eve, I've been reviewing my holiday musings on various past yuletide topics. Over the years as I've pursued art now and then on a daily basis, I've had the occasion to write quite a number of items relating to art and Christmas. Quite frankly, I find it difficult to add much to what I've already written on topics such as Christmas cards, Christmas trees, over-decorating, really weird Santa paintings, and even boxing day (to name just a few). When I told my wife I was going to write about Mrs. Santa Claus, she suggested I was getting rather "hard up" for ideas. She was right. Somewhat to my surprise though, as I began to do a little research, I discovered that there was no shortages of artwork featuring Mrs. Claus. And like so much art, the work ranged from amazingly good to the godawful. Here's a little of both.
 
Copyright, Jim Lane
He's Makin' a List, 1971, Jim Lane
Although Santa Claus (or St. Nicholas) is centuries old, it's unclear precisely when, where, and how he acquired a wife. It would appear to have been sometime within the past hundred years or so (there is little or nothing on Santa's spouse much before 1900). My own effort to accurately depict the couple came in 1971 with He's Makin' a List (above). Like the wives of so many famous men, Mrs. Claus has long lived in the shadow of her husband's presence. Other than the painting above, I've made an effort to avoid dual portraits, con-centrating on depictions attempting to capture the kindly essence of Mrs. Claus' (for the most part) grandmotherly image as seen in Mark English's depiction (right).
 
Mrs. Santa Claus,
Mark English
 
Mrs. Claus, 2012, Josh Hermann

I think my own favorite portrait of Mrs. Claus is that of Josh Herman (above). I'm not certain I can put my finger on exactly why it's my favorite. Perhaps it's the "kind and gentle" look. It would definitely seem appropriate as to style next to many of the portraits I found of Mr. Claus. Although competently painted, it would not be hard for me to choose my least favorite rendering of Mrs. Claus. That would be the digital portrait of Mrs. Santa Claus by Grzegorz Rutkowsk (below). It's obviously Santa's second (trophy?) wife.
 
Mrs. Santa Claus, Grzegorz Rutkowsk (digital art).
The subject of Mrs. Claus has largely been ignored by famous artists. Even Norman Rockwell, who painted virtually every other aspect of Christmas, neglected to leave us his version of the couple. The only exception I found by a famous artist is that of Cindy Sherman, best known for impersonating important women in her photographic at. Her Mrs. Claus (below) while not at all flattering, is typical of her other images along this line.
 

Mrs. Claus, Cindy Sherman. Traditional, yet modern. At least she doesn't look like Santa's mistress.

A very tradition Mrs. Santa Claus
by Ryan Woods
When encountering paintings or other images of Christmas, Santa, and especially Mrs. Claus, it's hard not to allow traditional depic-tions to color our judgements which, with other types of art, would otherwise be far more unbiased. Art would be quite bland were it not for the more creative approaches painters and others so frequently employ. Traditional renderings of familiar subjects have always tended to bind these efforts, especially when the religious and cultural images from the past are so beloved. And while we may not like attempts by artists to "break the mold," that does not make them any less valid in speaking broadly of art in general or Christmas art in the narrower sense. The works of Cindy Sherman, Grze-gorz Rutkowsk, and Helena Bebirian (below) fall into this category.
 
Mrs. Santa Claus, Helena Bebirian

And, as badly as I hate to admit it, the embroidery patterns (below), and what I've labeled Mrs. (awful) Claus (below that) likewise fit the same definition--art which breaks the mold. In such cases, the art comes first, Christmas is nothing more than just another content area (one of millions) the artist might choose. By the way, did you know that Mrs. Santa Claus has her own movie starring Angela Lansbury (right)? I can't think of anyone better to play the part. Check out the clip at the bottom.
 
 
 
Angela Lansbury as
Mrs. Santa Claus
For those like Mrs. Claus, handy with a needle.
 
There are hundreds of Mrs. Claus
images such as these on the
Internet. These are the best of
the worst.

-------------------------
 
Merry Christmas!
 
                                    --Jim and Sharon






















Monday, December 17, 2018

The Panthéon de la Guerre

A small portion of the original Pantheon de la Guerre (temple of war) by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse and Auguste Gorguet.
Don't let anyone tell you "Size doesn't matter." I'm not sure that's necessarily true in all circumstances, but I know it applies to art, especially painting. In a museum setting, a painting which would look find hanging over your couch simply gets lost in the crowd of gigantic works painted by artist both now and then (in the past). In terms of square feet of surface covered by the artist, let me ask, what might you guess was largest painting ever rendered by an artist? If you guessed Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling you'd be wrong. At a mere 5,382 sq. ft. you'd not even be close. It's said that Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, which hangs in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (also in the U.S. Capitol), is the world's largest framed painting. I don't know if that's still true, but I've seen it in person and it is "large." However, at a miniscule 263 square feet, it's not even in the same ballpark with the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, which in turn is not in the ballpark with The 1918 painting, Pantheon de la Guerre (top).
 
Pierre Carrier-Belleuse
Self-portrait
My original premise is something of "trick question." The key word is "was." That is to say, the massive French mural commemorating the heroes of WW I no longer exists in its original form. At 18,090 sq. feet, the original painting was 402 feet long (that's longer than an American football field, folks) and 45 feet high, making it one of the largest murals in the world. It was completed in Paris in 1918 by around 140 artists working under the guidance of the French artists, Pierre Carrier-Belleuse (right) and Auguste Gorguet. In an octagonal museum built specifically to house the painting, artists pieced together an enormous circular cyclo-rama canvas, which contained over 5,000 life-size portraits of war heroes, royalty, and government officials from the Allies of World War I, with France dominating the stage. The Panthéon de la Guerre was unveiled, to great fanfare, 100 years ago on Oct. 19, 1918. In the century that followed, it was chopped up, auctioned off, hidden away and even stored outdoors in a crate for a decade before finding its place on the walls of the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, 4,500 miles away from the start of its unlikely journey. Today, its "chopped down" version, it's a modest 520 sq. ft., to fit a wall some seventy feet long.

A few of the nearly 6,000 life-size
portraits from the painting.
Work on the painting had begun, with astonishing foresight, just a few months into the war, in the winter of 1914. Carrier-Belleuse and Auguste François-Marie Gorguet together conceived the idea and established the theme, basically a glor-ification of war...the "great war," the "war to end all wars." Together, the two artists enlisted an array of painters--mostly elderly ones, since many of the younger ones were on the front line. They obtained financial and political support, which was essential due to the scale of the project and the materials required. Among the latter were 18,000 square feet of Belgian linen for the canvas, tons of steel armature to support it and enormous amounts of paint, all of which were scarce and quite costly in wartime. Although their intent was patriotic, there was also a commercial element involve from the start. Panoramic paintings were money-making ventures, sort of the Hollywood blockbusters of the day. But it was really a 19th-century phenomenon, and this was sort of its last gasp.

The Belgian section of the Pantheon de la Guerre with King Albert and a Cardinal.
The painting was hung in a complete, uninterrupted circle; visitors descended into a tunnel to emerge right in the middle of it. The custom-built, octagonal building housing it was enviably located in Rue de l'Université, just a few steps from Les Invalides and only two or three blocks from the Louvre. Less than a month before the end of the war the massive canvas mural was inaugurated by French President Raymond Poincaré, who was, himself, immortalized in the painting. Although a circular painting has, technically no center, the main focus of the Panthéon de la Guerre was a temple and staircase, representing the French section that spanned about 122 feet. This segment contained most of the 5,000 figures portrayed in the painting, with the rest split between other Allied nations including Britain, Italy, Russia and the United States, each given a space of around 32 feet or less. The background was meant to represent the battlefields of France and Belgium.

A detail of the original painting depicts a British nursing sister.
It was no simple task searching for figures worthy of appearing in the artwork. Assistants sifted through the press and read the citations of the day, to see who was killed and find out who was most deserving of being put in this sort of encyclopedia of the French war effort. The artists obtained photographs of people who had been killed and made sketches from those, while others, such as government officials, were sketched in person. The spectacular art showpiece remained in its Paris home for nine years and was seen by three million people. It was as much for tourists as it was for the French, and was particularly popular with American soldiers.

However, as paintings go, even the largest painting in the world (at the time) had a somewhat limited "shelf life." By 1927, interest had started to wane. The French sold it to three American businessmen who wanted to take it on a U.S. tour. They paid something on the order of $250,000, which was a princely sum at the time. Together with the French they arranged a high-profile sendoff. The creators of the painting were opposed to the sale, fearing they would never see it again, although the buyers promised to eventually return it. The "sail-away" party involved ambassadors and bands playing national anthems, in the hope that the Panthéon de la Guerre would cement Franco-American relations. A few modifications were made for the American tour, most notably the inclusion of more women and African-Americans.

A portion of the painting (as edited) at the Kansas City World War I Memorial.
The first stop was New York's Madison Square Garden, where it attracted one million visitors in eight weeks. The organizers had an appropriately gargantuan opening night with 25,000 people and lots of notables attending, but the show ended up closing two months ahead of schedule, so the intrepid entrepreneurs were apparently not making as much money as they'd hoped. The painting, like the war itself, was perceived very differently in the U.S. than in France. The French had suffered about 1.7 million deaths in the conflict, whereas America, which entered the war in 1917, lost around 117,000. Americans had a faint, mostly celebratory memory of the war; the French a rather vivid, bloody one.

 A program cover from the 1933 World Fair featuring the Panthéon de la Guerre.
Promotion as the painting was hardly as solemn as before in France. Instead, they blew horns and even fired machine guns in Chicago for the 1933 World Fair. It was little short of a carnival attraction, far from the original spirit of the painting, which was rather quiet for all its grandiosity. The last stop on the painting's U.S. tour was San Francisco in 1940. By that time, the artwork was falling out of fashion. It was sent to a storage facility in Baltimore, where it laid abandoned for twelve years in a tomb-like, 55-foot crate originally built for it in Paris. Being too big to keep indoors, it was left outside. Moreover, once the owners stopped paying the storage fee due to yet another war in Europe, it was auctioned off. The auction took place in July of 1952 and included both the painting and the apparatus required to exhibit it, all of which weighed in at an astounding ten tons. Although the auction records listed it as "an art object of unusual value," few art connoisseurs showed up. The Panthéon de la Guerre went for a paltry $3,400 (around $32,000 in today's money) to William H. Haussner, a local restaurant owner who was also an art collector and, ironically, a German World War I veteran.


The Panthéon de la Guerre being uncrated.
Haussner owned a restaurant in Baltimore that was well known for having good art and bad art (mostly the latter) on its walls. Haussner didn't want to see such an important work go to scrap metal collectors who were only interested in the armature of the painting. Opening the giant crate was a massive operation requiring 22 workers and a 48-foot tractor-trailer. Life magazine sent reporters to document it. Yet even with a new owner, the painting's future looked bleak. Haussner tried to find a museum that was willing to take it. He called on the Smithsonian. He was willing to donate it; but nobody wanted such a massive "white elephant." The cost to repair it and then create a building for it were prohibitive. Even the French didn't want it back. It wasn't considered 'high' art."


Daniel MacMorris reconfiguring the painting.
Fortunately, there was one person who wanted it, a Daniel MacMorris of Kansas City, Kansas. He was an American WW I veteran who had seen the painting in Paris during the war. He had even gone on to study with Gorguet, one of the two original creators. After the war he became a professional artist. Awestruck by the Life magazine article, MacMorris started lobbying Haussner to donate the painting to the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, the nation's largest World War I museum, where he worked. Haussner eventually agreed, giving The Panthéon de la Guerre a second life.

MacMorris and two assistants "edit" the painting.
However the painting needed to be adapted for its new home, so MacMorris took on the task. From the beginning, he knew that he was not going to be able to save the entire painting. MacMorris had a finite amount of wall space to work with and, wanted to pay homage to Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations. But his "rearranging," as he called it, is best known for being US-centric. Few Russian or Eastern European figures made the cut. In fact, he kept very little of the original canvas. In terms of square footage, that amounted to only about seven-percent of the original, which also made it into a regular painting that's totally flat against the wall. He ended up repainting a lot of the figures. Despite the rather radical "editing," the "new" painting is quite impressive for only having taken a couple of years.

The "Americanized" central section of the Panthéon de la Guerre today.
The new, Americanized version of the painting, which now included Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, among others, was unveiled in Kansas City on Nov. 11, 1959. MacMorris centered it on the U. S. involvement in the war. He put Woodrow Wilson and all the American political and military leaders in the center, with the Allies on either side. The whole "panthéon" theme with all the French soldiers was totally removed. The result was quite a different work of art with America dominating the scene and seeming the most responsible for the victory. What happened to the rest of the original painting? A large portion of the original French section now hangs in another hall at the museum, which also keeps dozens of smaller fragments in its archives and exhibits the most significant ones. MacMorris threw away large portions of the canvas, but he also doled out pieces to friends and acquaintances. Some have ended up in flea markets and online going for at little as $99.