Albert Giacometti, La main, 1947. Kunst Museum Winterthur. Foto/Photo: TES

Rarely will the preparation of an exhibition be so overtaken by the events as ‘Kunst und Krieg’ at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, on show from 8 October to 12 January 2023. Since 24 February, however, the current title has replaced the original title, ‘Wargames’.

It was intended to represent artists’ depictions of war and human suffering from the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Wargames were the apotheosis or (anti) climax of digital warfare in the 21st century. Four videos of simulations for US soldiers in Iraq, the Wargames, still conclude the exhibition. However, the current context has changed.

Harun Farocki, Ernste Spiele I-IV, 2010. Collection Harun Farocki GbR

The quality of the works, however, remained the same. Unique series by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), die Apokalypse, Jacques Callot (1592-1635), Les Misères de la Guerre, Hans Ulrich Franck (1590-1675), Schrecken des Dreissigjährigen Krieges, the Vari Capricci by  the Baroque painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), best known for his painted vaults in churches, and Francisco Goya (1746-1828), Desastres de la Guerra, are on display.

They depicted the true nature of war in their original and unsparing ways. These artists did not put rulers and war heroes at the centre of large oil paintings but created small graphic works at their own risk and without a commission. They could easily be multiplied and distributed. Dürer was the first to use the newly invented printing press.

Albrecht Dürer. Die apokalyptische Reiter. 1511. Collection Kunstmuseum St. Gallen

Félix Vallotton (1865-1925), Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), Eduard Rüdisühli (1875-1938), Otto Dix (1891-1969), Frans Masereel (1889-1972), Walter Kurt Wiemken (1907-1941), Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) Gerhard Richter (1932) and finally Harun Farocki (1944-2014)and his series ‘Ernste Spiele’, four simulation videos for US soldiers, trace the line from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century.

Jacques Callot, L’estrapade, nr. 11. 1633. Collection Kunst Museum Winterthur/Stiftung Oskar Reinhart

A big surprise is the work of Frans Masereel (Juin 1940-1942). This Belgian artist fled from Paris to southern France in June 1940. Like a ‘Bayeux Tapestry’, he drew a small panorama, a Makimonos, of the war events on six metres of paper. The work was not in public view for 40 years.

Francisco Goya, Tampoco, 1810-1814, blad 34. Collection Kunst Museum Winterthur/Stiftung Oskar Reinhart

Giacometti’s 1947 La main is based on his personal experience. While fleeing from Paris in June 1940, he saw a severed arm lying in the street after a German attack. With it, he depicts not only the suffering of the war but also his artistic development of life-sized figures.

The impressive show also has a sequel, depicting ruler figures in miniatures of the early Baroque. This period was highly violent (including the Thirty and Eighty Years Wars), and rulers waged war as if on a ‘chessboard’. Rulers needed to legitimise their power, and miniatures were an effective means of self-representation.

Friedrich V., Count and King of Bohemia (1596-1632), 1621. Collection Emil S. Kern

Beautiful miniatures from France, the Netherlands and England are on display.
Chess has been a favourite and prestigious leisure activity of monarchs, generals and other (military) leaders since 1000. The Lewis Chessmen are Europe’s first found (Isle of Lewis, northern Scotland) ivory chess pieces, probably made in Trondheim in Norway.

De Lewis Chessmen (and woman), 11 the century.  Collection British National Museum, London.  Copies. Photo: TES

These Vikings inhabited Scotland and Ireland and had learned about chess in Byzantium through the city and kingdom of Kyiv centuries before the creation of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and its Tsars.

The circle is round, and the title ‘Checkmate-Spiel der Könige. Herrscherminiaturen des Frühbarock’ touches on current events.