The newest exhibit of the Kruizenga Art Museum, “The Lure of Ruins,” is available to students and the public for free from now until Nov. 16. It explores different perspectives of some famous and lesser known ruins. It was assembled as a part of the 2018 Big Read project in order to supplement this year’s book, “Station Eleven,” which is set in a post-pandemic period where 99 percent of the global population had been wiped out, hence the imagery of ruins. This exhibit provides some insight into sites of ruins to set the stage for the ravaged world that exists within the book. Housed back behind the reception desk of the Kruizenga in the conference room, the exhibit is anything but large, with only ten works included. However, it is the sobriety and solemnity of the pieces that give this collection such gravity and meaning. At first glance, it is very dark.
Many of the works utilize dark colors as one way of expressing these sentiments. One work that exemplifies this darkness is Raphael Gleitsmann’s “Substance of a Town.” It is difficult to distinguish many small details, but the overall image shows the aftermath of World War II on a small town. There are no people or living objects in it; even the plants appear to have died. The only usage of light color is that of the snow, which has gently blanketed the rooftops, but even the snow, which has a tendency to cover everything in its purity, cannot conceal the damage done. Gleitsmann’s story is particularly interesting as he served as a combat engineer during World War II, so this image is likely inspired by a real scene he saw when he was on the battlefront. He used art as a way of processing the gruesome images he saw and to help him emotionally recover from war.
Another piece that shows a more traditional idea of ruins is The Acropolis from the Temple of Jupiter in Athens. This piece features the Temple of Jupiter, a Roman-made structure dedicated to the god Zeus. However, it now lies in ruins. The temple itself is a famous symbol of European and particularly Roman civilizations. The image shows crumbling pillars and stairs. Nothing has been left unruined; even a temple in the background is visibly destroyed. The gray sky creates the image of fog and dust in the air, as though from this wreckage even the sky was not left unaffected. In this image, similar to the Gleitsmann piece, there are no people, and the only signs of life are a few trees scattered in the distance. “The Lure of Ruins” is not an uplifting exhibit, but its importance stems not from joy but from sorrow. We must understand the terrible effects of war, dispute and sickness in order to truly appreciate times of peace and joy.