The largest exhibition on “Peace. From Antiquity to the Present” is located at the LWL Museum of Art and Culture in Münster (LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur). It is entitled “Pathways to Peace”. There, very diverse and impressive exhibits are gathered around the topic, which take the visitors on a journey through different eras and different perspectives on the topic. This week I finally had the opportunity to take part in a guided tour, and I have to say: I could take many, many impressions with me.
Seven areas on the topic “peace“
The exhibition is divided into seven main sections. The first area deals with images, symbols and visualizations of peace. The second shows artists who have worked actively for peace or against war. The third deals with gestures, rituals and procedures in peace processes. The fourth area shows exemplary peace agreements – here, of course, also the Peace of Westphalia. The 20th century as the “age of extremes” with the two world wars and the nuclear threat during the Cold War are the focus of the next two sections, while the last room is dedicated to the issue of peace today and finally, a modern art installation in the atrium of the old building triggers associations on the theme of peace.
The gentle Pax is usually accompanied by Iustitia
Under the heading “Symbols for Peace” in the LWL Museum of Art and Culture you will find mainly paintings of the early modern period in which Pax, the personification of peace, is depicted. What I found particularly interesting was that the gentle Pax is usually accompanied by Iustitia, the goddess of Justice. Thus, already in these Renaissance representations – such as those of Battista Dossi (c. 1490-1548) – it becomes clear that only a “just” peace is also a good one – today one would probably say a “sustainable” peace.
In addition to the impressive oil paintings on Pax, various depictions of Orpheus, engravings on the theme of peace, writings, depictions of a golden age or a just regency as well as satirical drawings symbolizing peace are exhibited.
I particularly liked Otto Piene’s rainbows in this first area, which line the exit from the first museum hall as “day” (white background) and “night” (black background).
Artists for Peace usually create depictions of war
In the second hall there are also a number of exhibits from various periods and styles. What they all have in common is that with these works of art, the artists wanted to set an example for peace. They often succeed in doing so by impressively demonstrating the consequences of war.
The works of Käthe Kollwitz, Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Otto Dix are particularly worth mentioning to me. They show in a particularly drastic way how destructive war is for the individual, how it makes them “fall” according to the title of the Lehmbruck sculpture.
My favourite exhibit in the second room: the large-format oil painting “Flandern” (Flanders) by Otto Dix. Only at second glance I noticed the soldiers in the front of the picture and was almost “absorbed” by the eyes of the right soldier, who looks out of the picture with an indescribable expression of sorrow and emptiness.
Kiss, handshake, kneel, banquet: Rituals in peace agreements
The third thematic room was very exciting in my opinion. Here, the exhibition deals with the various actions and rituals that are important in the context of a peace agreement. A distinction is made between different forms of peace: the “negotiated peace”, for example, or the “peace of submission”. They all had different rituals – for example that of a kiss of peace or a feast, a gesture of submission or even a handshake.
The room opens with a picture by Jean François Edouard de Bièfve entitled ” Paix des Dames” (Ladies’ Peace) from 1843, which shows very clearly that some political peace agreements do not come from the heart. In the painting Margarete of Austria and Luise of Savoy shake hands and thus decide on an at least temporary peace. They did this out of political reason against all the dislike that the painter clearly expresses.
My favourite exhibit here: the photo of Willy Brandt kneeling in front of the Warsaw Ghetto memorial in 1970. Whenever I see this picture I am once again deeply impressed by the (probably spontaneous) gesture of our then chancellor.
Peace agreements: Always an enormous effort for the protocol
Who can negotiate? Who can talk to whom? Who will sign first? Who sits where at the negotiating table? Protocol issues such as these are often crucial in peace negotiations. If they are not successfully, intelligently and satisfactorily resolved in advance, the negotiations fail before they begin.
Finally, the fourth room of the exhibition “Paths to Peace” presents peace negotiations and peace agreements. The focus here is of course the Peace of Westphalia negotiated in the city itself – a true masterpiece of protocol, diplomacy and the art of negotiation. But also the negotiations after the defeat of Napoleon or the “Turkish peace” are shown.
My favourite exhibit here is the invocation of the Spanish-Dutch Peace within the framework of the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia, painted by Gerard ter Borch. The already signed peace was put into force through the exchange of ratification documents and solemn oaths were made to keep it forever.
First World War, Second World War, Cold War – decades of extremes
Propaganda for war, propaganda against the burdens of the Treaty of Versailles, propaganda for armament. The fifth room shows a series of posters and campaigns by means of which various political parties wanted to make their positions known to the population more or less drastically. Also on display are exhibits such as “The Red Phone” between Washington and Moscow.
Photographs and contemporary documents illustrate how fragile the times of peace between the two world wars and after the Second World War were. Looking back, it is almost a miracle that the Cold War never broke out.
One work of art I particularly liked in this room is Ernst Barlach’s bronze statue called “Der Rächer” (The Avenger). Barlach depicts an attacker who doubts his own actions. A very impressive figure, I think.
The present finalises the exhibition
With present-day perspectives, one is finally taken out of the exhibition. First, one passes a series of older and more current “Spiegel” titles that deal with war or peace. They make clear how relevant the topic is time and again and in how many places in the world peace has not yet been achieved or only recently.
Afterwards you can see a video in which interviews were conducted with various people on the subject of peace. Artists, activists and experts have their say.
After leaving the exhibition, one then encounters a very impressive and worth seeing video installation by Yael Bartana in the historic atrium. It is entitled “Tashlikh” and refers to a Jewish ritual in which you shake off your clothes and thus symbolically throw off your sins. On a huge screen, accompanied by a piercing sound, objects fall that in one way or another are connected with the theme of “war and peace”. Really remarkable!
The size of the exhibition indicates that one should take sufficient time to fully grasp it. The thematic structure of the rooms makes it possible to set priorities and deal with individual topics in more detail. I definitely recommend the “complete program”. A visit to the museum that is worthwhile!
Image: © Alexa Brandt
Further interesting insights into the exhibition “Peace. From Antiquity to the Present” and its five associated exhibition venues can be found in this video of the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Muenster.