The horror, the horror
The small bronze plaque outside the UI Museum of Art's latest exhibition reads: "Parents may wish to preview the exhibition before viewing it with their children."
Probably a good idea.
Just the title, The Nazi Drawings, will give a thoughtful viewer pause. And a casual glance inside the gallery will leave even the most ambivalent of minds singed with artist Mauricio Lasansky's message: Nazism is evil, and Lasansky was (and still is) p-i-s-s-e-d.
"I love the Nazis," the former UI printmaking professor said, seated in his Washington Street Gallery during a recent interview with The Daily Iowan. "I love them dead."
At 91, the Buenos Aires native's intense fervor for his subject can still turn heads. And The Nazi Drawings, on display through July 30, elegantly, explicitly, and agonizingly brandish this maniacal zeal.
"It's like they're drawn with anger," said Howard Collison, the director of the Museum of Art, pointing to the deep, almost fanatical lines forming a figure's torso.
Lasansky, the founder of the UI's printmaking department, created the series of 30 drawings and one triptych with basic, universal tools: commercial paper, lead pencil, and water- and turpentine-based washes. This deliberate move was intended not only to forge a connection with the viewer, said UI printmaking Professor Virginia Myers, but also to "understate" the highly emotional topic.
"There's no middle ground," said Myers, who studied with Lasansky at the UI. "It either works, or it's awful. You have to be a master of understatement."
Lasansky doesn't like to talk about his work. Rather, the printmaker wants viewers' own experiences and contemplations to shape their interpretations of the drawings. By using a monochromatic palette of charcoals and whites with subtle undertones of red and burnt cyan, for example, Lasansky wipes out distraction and allows viewers to easily focus on the works' subject.
"As an artist, you should have the power to direct where people look and what they see, and it's done wonderfully here," Myers said. "You're surrounded by an aura of horror and tragedy, and you begin to sense the deep loss, not just of lives, but of intellects and children who have never had a chance to live their lives. This is the kind of thing that gets under your skin."
At the Museum of Art, Lasansky's drawings practically punch the viewer in the face. The room is lightless, save for the glow surrounding the drawings, and spectator's footsteps echo eerily into the inky recesses of the room. The white background of the drawings and the occasional red drips become even more riveting when placed on a pitch-black background.
Goose-bump-raising skull and teeth motifs occur throughout the series, which Lasansky completed in 1966, and which he has exhibited in many prominent museums, including the opening of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Walking through the exhibition, one can see the skull develop into a full-blown skeleton that drapes the backs of other figures, simultaneously a haunting reminder of history's burden and a ghoulish manifestation of evil.
"The whole series is trying to evoke the animal hatred [inherent in] humans," Collison said.
For Lasansky, justice has always been a priority.
"When I learned to talk, I was already socially oriented. That resentment," the artist said, his voice still thickly colored with shades of his South American homeland, "I've had since I was a child."
The clear connection Lasansky feels with his subject is manifested in the last drawing of the series. Museum of Art curator Kathleen Edwards interprets the squatting figure signing his name in blood and nearly enveloped by a dismembered skeleton as the artist's self-portrait.
"As an artist, he is part of mankind," she said.
Reprinted from The Daily Iowan,
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