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21st Century Acquisitions

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Under the Overpass

1949
29 1/2 x 37 1/2 in. (75 x 95.2 cm)

Henry Koerner
American (Austria, 1915 - 1991)

Object Type: Painting
Medium and Support: Oil on masonite
Credit Line: Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Accession Number: 2012.33
Location: Currently on view
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In 1938, Henry Koerner immigrated to America from Vienna to escape persecution by the Nazis. Koerner later learned that his family members were among the millions of Jews who were systematically murdered in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War.
The artist described how that personal trauma and the general destruction wrought by the violence and chaos of the war made him feel that “Reality had turned into surreality…‘normal’ life into existentialism.”

"Under the Overpass" is a meditation on the transience of life and the pain of loss and death. The changing colors of the leaves and the streaks of rust on the overpass evoke time and decay. What looks like an urban streetcar or trolley could represent the train that transported the Koerner family to the concentration camp. Scholars believe the artist’s mother is the crying woman in the yellow dress as well as the woman on the train (sitting next to his father). The scene is intentionally ambiguous. His magic realist style—visible in the painting’s hyper-realistic details, improbable shifts in scale, and elimination of shadows—creates a low-frequency sense of confusion and unease in the viewer.

[Gallery label text, 2015]

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