Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Military in Museums

For many years, most images of war and the military came from press photographers, or from artists who were commissioned to go along with soldiers into combat. Now, however, there is a mix of work from combat artists, media, and men and women who are first and foremost soldiers. Recently, many veterans and active duty service members have also turned to art therapy. Canvas, clay, and crayon provide an outlet for pent-up traumas and allow for a different way of coping. These different types of artists and mediums augment our understanding of war and the life of our service members.

Many museums around the country are celebrating military artwork this summer. Here are just a few we recommend seeing.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, DC): Dedicated to showcasing American art, the Corcoran features several exhibits this summer that center on the military and the arts. WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath, is an exhibit that features photographs by more than 200 photographers from 28 nations. It shows images of war spanning 165 years—from the Mexican-American War to present-day conflicts. It is at the Corcoran until September 29, 2013. The exhibit runs concurrently with David Levinthal: War Games, which showcases Levinthal’s recreations of iconic war photographs using toy soldiers.

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Washington, DC): It makes sense that the nation’s capital has so many military art exhibits, since many military agencies are anchored in DC. For this exhibition however, you don’t have to be in the nation’s capital to enjoy it---you can experience it online. The Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, has worked with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to display paintings that focus on military technology, like space shuttles and missiles. The online exhibit, The Soviet Challenge In Space: Illustrating The Threat, displays paintings from the 1970s and 1980s.

The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula (Missoula, MT): The United We Will Win exhibit is a bit different from other exhibitions. Instead of displaying art that comes from the midst of war, its focus is on posters. Most posters shown were created with the intent of inspiring citizens to help with war efforts during World War II. This exhibit is on display until April on 2014, with an online component that can be found here.

Clark County Historical Museum (Vancouver, Washington): Vet Ink: Military-Inspired Tattoos is not your average exhibit. Displaying the tattoos and narratives of eleven veterans, the exhibit celebrates the service and passion these veterans have dedicated to their country. It provides a new perspective into the military by allowing for a commonly unnoticed art form to express the panic and pride felt while at war. The show is at the Clark County Historical Museum until September 28, 2013.

The Ringling Museum (Sarasota, Florida): The art featured in Witness to War: WWII Photographs from the Collections of Veterans draws on work from The Ringling’s permanent collection, as well as the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University. Nearly all of the photographs in the exhibit were taken by soldiers themselves, giving a personal counterpoint to the well-known press photographs of the time. The exhibit is on display until October 27, 2013.






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