„Les Gueules Cassées“
Scars from the Great War in the contemporary Art
There were five French war veterans present at the treaty signing in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles on June 28, 1919. Their faces were disfigured by horrid scars from gre-nade shrapnel. Those injured in battle were standing there as living war monuments, their images unmercifully multiplied in the Baroque mirrors. The sight of the men brought French Prime Minister Clemenceau to tears. The German delegates were also obliged to walk past this “memorial.” Not a single one of them would ever utter a word about this staging of the horrors of war.
During the First World War they were called “Les Gueules Cassées”: from then on the “mutilated faces” (actually “contorted mugs”) became a fixed part of the iconography of the “Great War.” One hundred years after 1914, the Kunsthalle Mainz was commemorating “Les Gueules Cassées” in a special centenary exhibition. The exhibition depicted war wounds, pain and loss from the perspective of contemporary art. Neither the political nor the military history of World War I was illustrated. Instead, this exhibition brought together outstanding works of modern art which lay bare the scars of war: fear, trauma and precarious memory.
The sight of facial injuries creates feelings of dread and shame. The local point of reference becomes readily apparent when Black Hawk helicopters fly over the Kunsthalle Mainz several times a day. The helicopters are stationed at the Wiesbaden-Erbenheim airport less than 10km away, where the US Army has its European headquarters. Severely injured servicemen and women from the Iraq and Afghanistan war theaters are given medical treatment at the local military hospitals. Our present-day “gueules cassées” are directly nearby, yet unlike the battle-injured from the First World War, their modern counterparts are shielded from public view and rendered invisible for propaganda reasons.
27 February - 8 June 2014
Curated by Markus Schinwald and Thomas D. Trummer Yael Bartana