New Haven Museum hosts “An Artist at War” exhibit
Dylan Haviland – General Assignment Reporter
The exhibit in the rotunda of the New Haven Museum was decorated with images of the past. In the circular room World War II propaganda and detailed portraits hung alongside each other. A photograph in particular depicted US soldiers Deane Keller of New Haven standing alongside companion Charlie Bernholz with the statue of David by Michelangelo towering above them alongside rubble.
Keller and the men that served along him were sent into service in World War II not to fight the enemy Axis powers, but to preserve art such as the statue David that were threatened by the chaos of battle.
The featured exhibit, titled “An Artist of War: Deane Keller, New Haven’s Monuments Man” depicted Keller’s service for MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives) in the army. The collection of personal items from Keller’s deployment in Italy and posters he found depicted the Yale professor of arts journey through war torn Europe.
An Artist of War was primarily put together by guest curator, Laura Macaluso and exhibition coordinator, Jason Bischoff-Wurstle an alumni of history from Southern Connecticut State University.
“A large importance of the Monuments Men program was it was the first time a national military put together a special team essentially to go in and conserve and protect cultural items,” said Bischoff-Wurstle.
Bischoff-Wurstle stressed that an important aspect of the exhibit was to show that both sides of the war were causing damage to important infrastructure and priceless pieces of art in Europe. He explained it was Monuments Man’s job to preserve and rescue the pieces of art threatened by war.
“Basically it was propaganda back and forth and that’s what we want to highlight too. It wasn’t just American’s going in with a certain agenda,” said Bischoff-Wurstle. “It’s like every story has three sides.”
The photos in the exhibit documented the men working tirelessly to rescue the art that was yet another casualty of war. One mount depicted the painstaking work of surrounding the statue of David in brick to protect it from bombardments.
The Artist at War exhibit made an effort to depict Keller not only in the ruins of Italian cities, which he spent a majority of his service in but the family and human aspect of the artist.
A particular section of the showcase held framed letters Keller wrote to his young son, revealing clever sketches that documented his war time life and lessons for his child to learn.
The exhibit showed his return to the arts after the war ended, especially with his continued teachings at the Yale University Art program. The signs of the wall mentioned how Keller was able to influence a large number of Yale graduates in art.
“He did tons of portraits throughout his life,” said Bischoff-Wurstle. “You’ll see his work all throughout New Haven, he was very much involved in the community for his life.”
An Artist at War accomplishes more than the telling of a World War II artist and soldier, but provides a window when facing contemporary issues of the destruction of art in wartime. Bischoff-Wurstle is a strong supporter of cultural preservation in hostile areas.
“It’s the idea that this represents something, we are going to wipe it out to do something to you,” said Bischoff-Wurstle. “It’s something that doesn’t go away much like war and its tactics unfortunately remain the same.”