The Art of the American Soldier exhibit at the National Constitution Center displays thousands of paintings, sketches, cartoons and art pieces all done by soldiers – soldier artists, rather – in the line of duty during the 20th century.
The artwork itself is captivating and awe inducing, but it’s the added use of technology in the gallery that really caught our Geekadelphia eye. Extensive audio and video elements, including interviews with the artists and soldiers in their units, add dimension to the already- impressive collection.
An audio guide, dished out on an old-school iPod video, can accompany your self-guided tour through the exhibit’s five sections. You can walk up to a piece and tick the iPod menu selection to the corresponding chapter (there are guides and numbers on the walls). In the introductory section, you’ll hear from a current artist about his role as a soldier-artist and how the historic program began.
Since World War I, commissioned artists were sent off to war, weighed down with paintbrushes and machine guns alike, to capture the scenes and experiences they saw. There’s a different kind of emotion here, in the thick and dark oil paintings of Vietnam or the endless beige landscapes of Afghanistan. There are elements in these works you can’t capture in a photograph or a video.
The artists themselves explain this in video interviews, displayed on iPads in each room. The gadgets have a protective case around them, but they’re most definitely iPads.
Artists speak directly to the viewers about their paintings, experiences as a soldier-artist, and circumstances or inspiration for the art. Overall, the collection is a well-rounded portrait of young soldiers’ fear, courage, boredom, homesickness and bravery. The videos and audio are put together well and had us lingering in the gallery for hours, playing with the touch screens and looking at old photographs.
The exhibition will stay at the center until January 10, 2011, and then set off on a national tour. Admission to the entire center is only $12; entrance to the Art of the American Solider exhibit is free with your general ticket. While you’re at it, check out their online gallery, with more videos and photos.