UB Anderson Art Gallery exhibit showcases art done by veterans

Art Studies League of New York gives veterans chance to study art


People rarely get a chance to see the creative sides of the men and women that put their lives on the line to serve in the military.

On Saturday night, Ira Goldberg and her team at the Arts Students League of New York put them on exhibition.

UB’s Anderson Art Gallery opened its newest exhibit “On The Front Lines”to the public. The exhibit is a collection of art created by war veterans who returned and went to school through the G.I. Bill.

The gallery debuted more than 20 pieces of art created by veterans after wars as early as World War II, as well as three other related exhibits on the second floor of the gallery. All of the artists featured in the exhibit studied at the Arts Student League of New York.

Through the G.I. Bill veterans can apply for low-interest mortgages and may be granted a stipend that covers tuition and living expenses for attending college or a trade school. After the passage of the G.I. Bill in 1944, more than 4,000 veterans have studied at the Art Students League of New York unemployment compensation program.

“Throughout the 1940s, two-thirds of the League’s student body was attending on the G.I. Bill,” Goldberg, executive director of the Arts Students League, said. “It is because of this that the Arts League was able to stay open and thrive.”

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 established the G.I. Bill in an effort to help veterans of World War II go to school and start a new life after the war.

Robert Scalise, UB’s assistant director of exhibitions and galleries, credits the G.I. Bill to saving the Arts Student League of New York.

“The school has been open since 1875, and at the time after World War II, their numbers were low and their funding was low,” Scalise said. “The funding from the bill really fueled the school and that’s a big reason as to why it’s still open today.”

Scalise also explained that the exhibit has roots in Buffalo, playing a major role in making it possible to come to UB’s Anderson Gallery.

Of the featured artists, some of the most well known are Paul Jenkins, Donald Judd, Michael Goldberg and Al Held.

Suzanne Jenkins, wife of World War II veteran Paul Jenkins, talked about his time at the Arts League and his paintings.

“Many vets used their money to study abroad in Europe, but Paul decided to use it in the Arts League, it wasn’t a lot of money, but it was enough,” Jenkins said. “It was a way for veterans to find a new passion and express themselves after coming home and maybe not knowing what to do for a profession.”

A number of Jenkins’ works were featured in the gallery, including a series of four pieces that were never shown together until 2014, it was a special occasion to see all four works in the same room.

“The four were first shown together at Robert Miller Gallery in 2014. They’re called Chapel of Meditation because they don’t pertain to any certain religion. It’s meant to be spiritual, you don’t have to view them in any order,” Jenkins said.

There were a variety of different styles and techniques used, creating a diverse mix of textures and colorful, eye-catching paintings.

Some of the materials used included oil and wax on linen, acrylic and oil on canvas and watercolors and paper collage on masonite.

The diversity of the works of art showcased the way the war influenced each artist. Some works utilized abstract techniques with very dark and gloomy colors. While others painted simplistic scenery using lighter colors.

While no Buffalo natives painted the works, the artists came from all over the United States and were brought together by the Arts Student League.

Jillian Russo, a curator from the Arts Student League of New York, said the collection of works in the show could have gone any direction during preparation.

“We thought a lot about what theme we wanted, we could have taken it in any direction,” Russo said. “What we tended towards was mostly early abstraction. Artists were experimenting with collage, pouring paint and letting it flow down the canvas, after the war this theme of abstract expressionism was the direction we leaned towards while curating the gallery.”

“On The Front Lines; Military Veterans At The Art Student League of New York”will be at the Anderson Gallery from April 2 to August 7. The exhibition honors the art and service of the thousands of military veterans who have studied at the Art Students League of New York.

Max Kalnitz is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com.