News desk | ILLINOIS
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Internet memes and editorial cartoons use humor and satire to twist events, stoke political divisions, and persuade people to believe a certain side of the story. These images have their origins in the work of 17th century Dutch engravers.
A new exhibition at Krannert Art Museum“Fake news and misleading images: political printed matter in the Dutch Republicexamines the innovative visual strategies of printmakers in an era of unprecedented freedom of expression and how they used imagery to advance political interests. The exhibition is supported by substantial grants from the Getty Foundation by his initiative The paper projectthe DutchCultureUnited States program through the Consulate General of the Netherlands and other sponsors. It opens on August 25 and ends on December 17, with a opening reception September 1 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“The exhibit features more than a hundred 400-year-old prints, the ideas of which are still very much alive and with us,” said Maureen Warren, curator of European and American art at KAM and expert on modern Dutch art. Print posters of the time were meant to be timely, eye-catching and everywhere – like social media because they were so inexpensive to produce.
“There was anarchy in burning and distribution, like there is today with the internet,” Warren said. The devolved Dutch government had few means for effective censorship, mainly because it lacked a monarch with absolute power to control the entire state.
Prints that depict assassinated politicians in power show a nation sharply divided into two warring political parties and the starkly different versions of historical events they offer.
“The images attempt to frame these events. It’s never just about reporting, it’s trying to control the mainstream narrative about what happened,” Warren said. “Take any number of our current events and you see a similar media twist, like with coverage of political violence on January 6, for example.”
After periods of turmoil, these same political fingerprints could be used to glorify a new ruler or legitimize a regime.
“Fake News & Lying Pictures” isn’t really about Dutch history, but about the methods of persuasion artists used back then and we still use today, Warren said.
“It’s fascinating to watch artists create argumentative, engaging or humorous imagery to elicit a specific effect on an audience. If we understand the mechanics the way they do, we become more critical consumers of images of any time or place, especially our own. We can think about messages based on contextual information and start asking ourselves what motives are at play. An image is a type of weapon in a propagandistic sense,” she said.
The exhibition has six thematic sections. The largest section, Spoils of the Seas, deals with shipping, naval warfare, and the Dutch East and West India Companies. The Dutch “had a massive global business empire built on trade,” Warren said. They brought home their sense of cultural and global dominance through highly decorated prints and maps. The art in this section reflects the fascination with exotic products and technological innovations, as well as the evils of colonialism – especially violence, exploitation of people and resources, and slavery, she said.
The exhibition also celebrates the work of pioneering printmaker Romeyn de Hooghe, who was as important in Dutch art history as Rembrandt but far less well known, Warren said.
“He developed modern political satire as we know it. The images we now see in newspaper editorial cartoons are directly indebted to the spectacular engravings made by de Hooghe,” she said.
He created a new format of political imagery in the form of series featuring recurring characters and aimed at an educated audience, with references to Greek and Roman mythology and drama. “Satirical characters appear and reappear, mocking Louis XIV of France and James II of England, attacking monarchs in a way that has never happened before,” Warren said.
A popular practice was to reuse well-known images by reusing the copper plates used to create them and altering the text or adding people to the images, like making memes today.
Programming tied to “Fake News & Lying Pictures” will make similar connections between the past and the present. It includes a teen zine, a printmaking workshop, and an October symposium.
Additionally, KAM will host an event on December 1 featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes; Keith Knight, whose work inspired the Hulu series “Woke”; and printmaker Eric J. Garcia of Chicago’s Instituto Gráfico, a group of Latino printmakers making socio-political art and the Veteran Art Movement, a network of veterans and service members who challenge American militarism through art. ‘art. Graphic design professor Stacey Robinson will moderate the discussion.
Warren is the editor and lead author of a book accompanying the exhibit. “Paper cutter, paper crownsis the first publication to take a broad look at this subject. At 10 a.m. on September 1, the museum will hold a virtual book launch on Zoom. Registration is required for this event.