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Sebastian Spreng. Dresden: Canto XXIX, verse III, 2017, direct print on brushed aluminum, 24 x 24 inches

Sebastian Spreng: Dresden
Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami
May 17, 2018 - September 23, 2018


Miami, Florida
Carol Damian

The February 1945 Allied bombing of Dresden, one of Europe’s most culturally significant and beautiful Baroque cities is another dark chapter in the story of war.  The tragedy has haunted Sebastian Spreng, an Argentine artist of German heritage, for many years and he has finally found a path to remembrance in this exhibition at the Lowe Art Museum, his first in a major museum.  Now, for a project he has contemplated for many years, the story of Dresden has given Spreng an opportunity to explore new media and new technologies for a body of work that aims to capture the many moods of war while commenting on the indomitable human spirit.  In 60 digital images created on his IPAD and printed directly on aluminum, he has used historical photographs and computer manipulation of line and color to create ghostly interpretations of destruction.  Dominated by shadows of deep despair, the works must also be seen as hope for humanity emerging from within as rays of light, despite the worst of circumstances.  Each print is named a Canto, a reference to divisions in poetry and music derived from the Latin for song, and this series is inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy and his cantos about purgatory.  The works are arranged like verses and odes to memory.  Technically, this project marks a different direction for Spreng, known for his lyrical paintings that embrace the beauty of the environment, but now he has added the imposition of war and destruction and loss of humanity to the plight of nature.  He continues to be successful in inventing new modes of interpretation through technology that maintain a sense of timelessness and emotions. 

Spreng’s metaphorical adaptations move in the direction of abstraction in his personal and emotional versions of the war-torn city.  He erodes the surface of the plate to capture the remains of its destruction, replaying with his artistry a process of obliteration.  Somehow, beneath the ruins, there is a romantic aesthetic that is typical of his earlier works and inspired by his love of music, but now a frightening narrative is taking place, like a dramatic crescendo of time and place.  Canto XXIX, verse III, is one of 4 verses printed in colors ranging from fire orange to subdued blue and grey tonalities, as if we are looking from above at different times of the day to the rubble of the city below. Shadowlike clouds interfere with the true reality beneath them.  

To bring the exhibition full circle, an early “war painting” from 1973, the only oil on canvas, complements the new work and demonstrates his belief that life is a meditation between good and evil and humanity has the will to survive.  



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