Leon Golub: Raw Nerve

Gigantomachy II, from 1966. ‘He was an artist, historian and an advocate for social justice – he wanted to suss out oppression and throw it all into his paintings.’

“New York artist Leon Golub wrote an essay about art in 1986. ‘Artists manage extraordinary balancing acts,’ he wrote, ‘not merely of survival or brinkmanship but of analysis and raw nerve.’ That last phrase explains his entire career in two words. Now, they are the title of a sprawling exhibition called Leon Golub: Raw Nerve, which opens this week at The Met Breuer. Over 45 artworks from 1940 to 2004 show the darker side of politics. There are paintings of dictators, terrorism, interrogations and beheaded victims from the Vietnam war. The exhibition starts with Golub’s masterpiece Gigantomachy II, a 25ft mural of nude men fighting, from 1966. ‘This artwork inspired the show,’ said the curator, Kelly Baum. ‘It’s a mashup of 10 men in an endless struggle – it’s unclear who is hero, villain or why they’re fighting – but there is violence and destruction.’ It sets the theme for the exhibition; violence, destruction and war. It comes from an artist and activist who was a member of the anti-war group, Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam, in New York. ‘Golub’s paintings were a response to the brutality he saw in the media,’ said Baum. ‘As an activist, his paintings represent the violence he was opposed to.’ … After spending several years living in Europe – from 1959 to 1964 – Golub returned to New York. Although he was always politically active, it wasn’t until 1970 that he merged his art with his activism in his Vietnam series. ‘He recognized the gap between being artist and an activist,’ said Baum. ‘Golub redefined his art to bring art and politics together.’ That includes his horrific 1970 painting Vietnamese Head, which shows a beheaded man, presumably a victim of war. ‘It was an important transition painting, and it was then that he committed himself to representing acts of violence,’ said Baum. ‘You can track his political commitments and concerns through his art.’ Golub began a series of political portraits that included Cuban leader Fidel Castro, former president Richard Nixon and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. …”
Guardian: ‘He wanted to get a rise out of people’ – the violent paintings of Leon Golub
The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Critiques of Power and Toxic Masculinity — Kelly Baum on Leon Golub: Raw Nerve
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New Yorker

Vietnamese Head, 1970

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This entry was posted in Cuban Revolution, Nixon, Vietnam War and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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