6abc Loves the Arts: PAFA - WWI & American Art

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It was 100 years ago that the US became engaged in World War I. (WPVI)

It was 100 years ago that the US became engaged in World War I and, in recognition of that milestone, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) has unveiled World War I and American Art, the first major exhibition that explores the ways in which American artists responded to the conflict.

"You have artists who were for the war," says PAFA President & CEO David Brigham, adding, "and you also have artists who were really opposed to the whole idea of the war."

The exhibition includes 173 works that span from the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1914 to its aftermath in the 1930s.

"They include drawings, photographs, paintings, sculptures, prints, collages," Brigham said, who adds that the exhibition features 80 artists, 12 of whom were students at PAFA, and a number who actually served in the war as soldiers and nurses. "So many of the works of art represent battlefield representations that they actually saw and experienced."

That includes a work entitled Gassed by John Singer Sargent.

"He saw this group of men who had been gassed by the Germans whose eyes had been blinded who were choking and gagging," says Brigham.

Brigham pointed to another painting called Parade to War that looks like a celebration among soldiers from afar, "but when you get up close to it," warns Brigham, "you'll see that their skin is stretched tightly across their bones; they're walking cadavers."

It is, he points out, a cautionary painting of the horrors of war and says the exhibit is designed to show that World War I is still relevant today.

"It makes us think about what our soldiers experience and the sacrifices that they make to keep our nation safe," Brigham said.

World War I and American Art is on display thru April 9th. For tickets and show times go to www.TheArtsinPhilly.org.

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