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Museum exhibition frames history's take on war

Francisco de Goya's "The Disasters of War" series. Courtesy of the Blaffer Foundation.

"It's hard for us to comprehend life without photography, television and the Internet," says Andi McKenzie, assistant curator of the works on paper collection at the Michael C. Carlos Museum. But in the centuries prior to the advent of mass media, printed images once made powerful statements about warfare.

McKenzie is referencing "The Plains of Mars: European War Prints, 1500-1825, From the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation," an exhibition opening Saturday, Aug. 4, on view in two parts, "Soldiers and Civilians" in the fall, and "Warfare and Peace" in the spring.

"For better or worse, war is always a timely topic. I was interested in bringing this show to Emory particularly because of the nuanced viewpoints it provides," she says.

"There are multiple sides to any conflict, and the lines of right and wrong constantly blur. Works of art have the uncanny ability to inspire compassion on the part of the audience," she explains. "‘Plains of Mars' gives insight into the visual treatment of war historically, but also reminds of the importance of empathy during and after times of conflict."

Among the highlights:

• Woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer. "The Dürer woodcut, 'The Knight on Horseback and the Landsknecht,' is roundly considered one of Dürer's masterpieces," McKenzie says. "It's very rarely exhibited, and we are so pleased to have it here, however briefly."

• Ten aquatints from Francisco José de Goya's "The Disasters of War" series. "Aquatint is a form of etching that can produce deep, dark tones. Goya really exploits the capabilities of the medium in his disturbing and graphic prints of the War for Spanish Independence." The Carlos owns a print from Goya's series. 

• Théodore Géricault's 1818 lithograph, "Return from Russia." "Géricault utilizes [the-then new medium of lithography] to the fullest in this poignant and stirring print."

For museum visitors to best enjoy or learn from the pieces in this exhibition, McKenzie advises, "Come to the related programs!"

She's giving a gallery talk focusing on the relationship between content and technique in the "Plains of Mars" prints on Oct. 18. Another talk will be given by James Clifton, director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation and curator of Renaissance and Baroque Painting at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, on Sept. 20. Clifton is the curator of the Carlos exhibition.

"The Carlos Museum Bookshop will also be carrying the exhibition catalogue. I highly recommend it — the works are exquisitely reproduced and the text is very engaging," she says.

"Each individual visitor will undoubtedly take away something different from the show, as several different themes run throughout," says McKenzie, who is also a graduate student in art history. "For me, the pictorial development of violent conflicts and their aftermath resonated the most — some artists isolated the viewer from violent action or emotional involvement while others slam the most visceral aspects of war in viewer's face. Those are the ones I find most compelling."

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