Shadows of War


The summer of 2014 was the 100th anniversary of the first shots fired in Sarajevo.  In art history World War I marks the transition from a hero worshipping war iconography to the metastasizing of human war-sufferings and its meaninglessness.

The avant-garde and tendency art that followed in the wake of that war was keenly felt in Norway. The exhibition Shadows of War, Political art in Norway 1914-2014, shows how artists at different times have rebelled against established norms, depicted dramatic collective experiences and created utopias of a better world.

The exhibition consists of 150 works and gives the audience a unique opportunity to see contraventions and continuity in political art in Norwegian history.

Per Krogh and other key artists from the interwar period up to today appear in Kunstnerenes hus from January 30th to March 29th.  Take this opportunity to experience works by, among others,  Per Lasson Krogh (1889-1965), son of the bohemians Oda and Christian Krogh. The family lived in Paris when Per Krogh was growing up and as an adult he had an important position on the Norwegian art scene and was headmaster at the National Art Academy for several years.

Growing up in Paris, Krogh showed early a clear artistic talent, and in the years 1903-1907 was a student of his father on Académie Colarossi and in 1909-1910 a student of Henri Matisse at the Matisse Academy in Paris along with several other Norwegian artists.  He was clearly influenced by Pablo Picasso and the cubism idiom, with decomposed images in cubes and geometric shapes with schematic and decorative constructions.  Below we see the painting Cabaret (musicians and female dancers) 1913/14 which was purchased by the Oslo National Gallery in 1966.

The exhibition’s theme of art relating to war and society is more relevant than ever today. How should we relate to our time’s wars and sufferings?  Do artists have a special obligation to do so?  As a result of new source material consisting of paintings, photographs and drawings, several of the works have never been exhibited before, and so the exhibition illustrates the importance of war and rebellion on the artist’s role and the development of contemporary arts.

The exhibition focuses on three periods; the  interwar  (1919-1939), the postwar years  and the present (2000-2014).

The tradegy of the First World War with millions of dead soldiers in the miles-long trenches are part of modernity’s experience and memory. War changed art from a nation’s hero worshipping war iconography to an accentuation of suffering and meaninglessness, which had great influence on  avant garde artists  and paved the way for a political message trend in art.  Henrik Sørensen (1882-1962) believed the artist had a special obligation to react against injustice and suffering, but his pacifist commitment was seen as utopian and naive infatuation in the 1930s.

Henrik Sorensen
Henrik Sorensen

Several of his anti-war works from the interwar period are centrally located in the exhibition, such as the large tableaux Street Fight (1930) and Ground of Honor (1931) along with sketches for the mural Dream of the eternal peace, the League of Nations in Geneva in 1939. In addition, paintings by Per Krohg (1889-1965),  Reidar Aulie (1904-1977),  Willi Midelfart (1904-1975), Kai Fjell (1907-1989), Arne Ekeland (1908-1994), as well as photographs of activist Nanna Broch (1879-1971) from the slums of and posters from Østkantutstillingen on Ankertorget (East side exhibition at Anker Square) are represented in the exhibition.

Henrik Sorensen: Gound of Honor
Henrik Sorensen: Gound of Honor

Text: Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Henrik Sorensen: Street Fight