Opening February 6 at The Met Breuer, Leon Golub: Raw Nerve will present a selective survey of this groundbreaking artist’s work. Timed to celebrate the 2016 gift to The Met of the monumental
painting Gigantomachy II (1966) from The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts and Stephen, Philip, and Paul Golub, the exhibition will present highlights from Golub’s long, eminent career, drawn from distinguished private collections as well as the artist’s estate. Golub’s unflinching portrayals of power and brutality have profound relevance today, as does his belief in the ethical responsibility of the artist.
Born in Chicago, Golub (1922-2004) occupies a singular position in the history of mid to late 20th-century art. His devotion to the figure, his embrace of expressionism, his amalgamation of modern and classical sources, and his commitment to social justice distinguish his practice as an artist. The centerpiece of Leon Golub: Raw Nerve is Gigantomachy II, a commanding, epic work measuring nearly 10 by 25 feet. Created in 1966, two years after Golub joined the Artists and Writers Protest Group and began to lobby actively against the Vietnam War, this political allegory recounts the story of a mythic battle between the Olympian gods and a race of giants. In Golub’s contemporary retelling, there are no heroes, only anonymous men in various states of distress, their bodies riven by scars and wounds. Alongside this powerful and terrifyingwork, Leon Golub: Raw Nerve will feature paintings from all of the artist’s most important series, including Pylon, White Squad, Riot, and Horsing Around. These will be accompanied by a 1970 painting of a victim of the Vietnam War, as well as a suite of early paintings that reflect Golub’s study of antiquity, and a group of unsettling portraits of the Brazilian dictator Ernesto Geisel. Also on view will be works on paper that represent subjects of longstanding interest to the artist, from mercenaries , interrogators, and the victims of violence to political figures, nudes, and animals, all of them rendered in the raw, visceral style for which he is justly celebrated. Taken together, the works in Leon Golub: Raw Nerve, which span the entire arc of Golub’s career, attest to his incisive perspective on the catastrophes that afflict human civilization as well as his critique of violence and belligerent masculinity.
Leon Golub: Raw Nerve is organized by Kelly Baum, Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon Polsky Curator of Contemporary Art in The Met’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art.