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Known for his insightful novels, Kurt Vonnegut also created many drawings during the 1980s, often applying the same acerbic humor he used so effectively in his written works. The Johnson Museum is presenting the first museum exhibition of these works, drawn from the collection of his daughter Nanette, in conjunction with the campus and community reading of Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cornell’s 2015 New Student Reading Project selection.
While a chemistry major at Cornell, Vonnegut wrote for the Cornell Daily Sun and once claimed that “working on the Daily Sun . . . [was] how I got my liberal arts education.” In 1943 he enlisted in the army, cutting short his undergraduate career as part of Cornell’s Class of 1944. He was taken as a prisoner of war during the Battle of the Bulge and sent to the Dresden prison known as Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five), a name adopted by the POWs. The devastating firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 was the inspiration for his famous novel.
Vonnegut’s graphic art career began with illustrations he created for Slaughterhouse-Five and later in Breakfast of Champions. These drawings evoke the work of illustrators Al Hirschfield and Edward Gorey but are also inspired by art-historical masters such as Marcel Duchamp, Georges Braque, and Paul Klee, variously playful, cerebral, intuitive, and prosaic. Vonnegut used colored felt-tip pens because, as he explained, “Oil is such a commitment,” and watercolors are “too bland, too very easy.”
This exhibition includes more than thirty drawings that Vonnegut himself deemed “as rare as exotic postage stamps,” offering another way of getting to know this beloved, quixotic author.
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