‘Dazzle Camouflage’ Helped Allied Warships Win WWI. Now, Artists Are Paying Tribute to the Cubist-Inspired Designs. Tauba Auerbach will follow Tobias Rehberger, Peter Blake, and Carlos Cruz-Diez by transforming a fireboat in the avant-garde style devised during World War I.

artnet News | Javier Pes

In 1918, the New York Harbor put on art show of sorts. Hundreds of US warships waiting to carry men and supplies to Europe during World War I were painted not in battleship gray but in bright, contrasting colors and geometric patterns. The novel designs, called “dazzle camouflage,” were intended to distract the U-boat crews lying in wait to sink them. One American journalist called the ships “floating Cubist paintings.” Dazzle designs soon became all the rage. It was a far cry from the hostile reception given to modern art from Europe at the Armory Show in 1913. Now, a century later, artist Tauba Auerbach is following in the footsteps of the artists who devised the designs that helped the Allies win World War I. She is painting her own dazzle ship, and it will set sail this July.

“I’m interested in the unlikely intelligence of dazzle camo. I like that it works to outsmart rather than hide,” Auerbach tells artnet News. “It’s like prioritizing ‘ingenuity over virtuosity,’ which is something I say to myself all the time in my head.” The 1918 designs were created to be seen from the periscope and confuse gunners about the range, direction, and speed of his moving target. More than 4,000 British and US boats were painted with the wild patterns. Auerbach says that she is particularly interested in the range-finding instruments of the time, which would slice an image horizontally so the viewer would have to adjust it until the two halves coincided. “Dazzle ships often had slices cutting through their designs, so when a person tried to align their bisected view, they’d get muddled between the schism in the lens and the ones in the paint,” she points out…read more

Image: Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship / Liverpool. Courtesy 14-18 Now.