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The Art of War: American Posters from World War I and World War II
I Want You for U.S. Army, 1917, James Montgomery Flagg, Poster, 30 x 40 in. Norton Simon Museum, Gift of Misses Helen F. and Edith Robinson, P.1952.106.085

PASADENA, CA.- The Norton Simon Museum presents The Art of War, an exhibition featuring 33 government-sponsored posters created for the Apublic during World Wars I and II. Chosen from the Museum’s extensive collection of 20th-century war posters, these vibrant pieces of visual propaganda have rarely, and in some cases never, been on view. Together, they provide a unique opportunity to examine artworks commissioned by the U.S. government from some of the most important and popular artists of the 20th century. Timed to coincide with the presidential election season, the exhibition is also intended to encourage an exploration of the ongoing dialogue between contemporary politics and visual art.

Organized into four themes—production, conservation, economic sacrifice and general patriotism—the posters present an extraordinary range of artistic techniques. The works from World War I were created during the “Golden Age” of American illustration, when many of the artists were trained in academic ateliers abroad and then honed their skills in the rapidly expanding world of magazine publication back home. Artists featured in the show include James Montgomery Flagg, responsible for the iconic image of Uncle Sam exclaiming, “I Want YOU,” as well as popular illustrators Howard Chandler Christy and J. C. Leyendecker.

Posters created during World War II present a striking melding of commercial, graphic and fine art, particularly after the advertising industry offered its services to the government in early 1942. In many cases traditional illustrative practices remained, but overall these works strike a far more modern sensibility, owing to the contemporary influences of photography, cinema and design. A threatening image of violence by John Falter and an iconic representation of the American ideal by Norman Rockwell exemplify the great diversity of approaches to inspiring American patriotism.

The Art of War is organized by Leah Lehmbeck, Assistant Curator at the Norton Simon Museum. The collection of war posters was donated to the Norton Simon Museum (then named the Pasadena Art Institute) in 1952 by Helen F. Robinson and Edith Robinson. Some 525 pieces comprise the collection, many of them multiples of the same image.

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