Leon Golub Vietnam II 1973, Tate Modern collection displays

Leon Golub
Vietnam II 1973
© DACS, London and VAGA, New York 2004

This room brings together two bodies of work that confront the violence and atrocities of contemporary war and civil society.

Vietnam II 1973 belongs to a series of three large paintings made in the early 1970s by American artist Leon Golub, drawing upon news photographs from the Vietnam War for their imagery and subject matter. Golub had been involved in the protest movement against the war since the early 1960s, but wanted his paintings to remain universal and timeless. After Richard Nixon’s landslide election victory over the anti-war platform of Senator George McGovern in 1972, he felt impelled to address the conflict more directly. A primary source of inspiration was Picasso’s Guernica, which Golub described as ‘the visual metaphor of a newspaper, a super photograph or comic strip. It is “read” urgently and the viewer is assaulted by the tumult and violence.’

Hrair Sarkissian’s Execution Squares 2008 comprises a series of photographs depicting the sites of public executions in Syria, the artist’s country of birth. The images were taken in three different cities – Damascus, Aleppo and Lattakia – in places where public executions have taken place, for civil rather than political crimes. Sarkissian took these photographs early in the morning when the streets were quiet, around the time when executions are carried out. The subject of an execution will usually be brought to the square at 4.30 a.m., but their body is routinely left there in full view of passers-by until around 9.00 a.m. Sarkissian’s first personal experience of an execution was as a child when he passed one of these squares on his journey to school and saw three bodies hanging in the street.

Leon Golub (1922–2004) was born in Chicago. He lived and worked in New York.

Hrair Sarkissian was born in Damascus in 1973. He lives and works in London.