Posts Tagged ‘symbolism

08
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Gerda Wegener’ at ARKEN Museum for Moderne Kunst, Ishøj, Denmark

Exhibition dates: 7th November 2015 – 8th January 2017

GERDA WEGENER: The unusual story of a love between painter and muse that transcends gender boundaries.

 

 

Just a small comment on this posting as I am still recovering from a root canal operation at the dentist.

A fascinating, historically significant, love affair. Beautiful, stylish art painted with panache and flare. The two intertwined as, “The depictions of Lili are quite central to Gerda Wegener’s oeuvre.”

Much admiration and love to both.

Marcus

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Many thankx to ARKEN for allowing me to publish the art work and texts in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Read an extract from the catalogue on ISSU.

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) is an outstanding figure in Danish art. As a woman artist she uniquely depicts the beauty of women with equal proportions of empathy and desire. Flirting girls, glamorous divas and sensual women are among Gerda Wegener’s favourite subjects. And to these we can add the pictures of her transgender spouse, Lili Elbe, who developed her female identity as a model in Gerda Wegener’s art. Gerda Wegener’s ambivalent sexuality and the story of her spouse were too difficult for people to relate to in her time. On the whole, she broke down the boundaries of gender and sexual identity.

Today the themes of her works are highly topical. Transgender people have loomed large in the mass media, and trans icons like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner give the transgendered a voice in popular culture. Hollywood has seized on the story of Lili and Gerda, and the film The Danish Girl will have its Danish premiere in February 2016. In the biggest exhibition so far of the work of this pioneering artist we meet an experimental zest for life from the colourful, abandoned 1920s which hits a nerve in our own time.

 

 

 

“Woman must unleash her womanly instincts and qualities, play on her feminine charm, and win the competition with man by virtue of her womanliness – never by trying to imitate him.”

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Gerda Wegener, 1934

 

“Einar Wegener felt like a person who was forced to go around in a costume that stifled him and in which he felt ridiculous.”

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Lili Elbe, 1931

 

“Once one has found Paris, one cannot imagine living anywhere else. Although I love Italy, when I return and smell Paris, then I am happy.”

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Gerda Wegener, 1924

 

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Lady in a large hat' 1909

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Lady in a large hat
1909

 

 

Painter and muse

In 1904 Gerda Wegener, born Gottlieb, married the landscape painter Einar Wegener (1882-1931), who is known today as the trans woman Lili Elbe. Lili was Gerda Wegener’s favourite model, and together they created a place of freedom in art where Lili could live out her female identity. In 1930 Gerda Wegener supported her spouse when Lili became one of the first in history to undergo a series of gender-modifying operations in order to become a woman both physically and legally. She died the next year as a result of complications after a last operation.

In her art Gerda Wegener is profoundly fascinated by people’s games with identity through dressing-up, masks and theatre. In the depictions of Lili, Lili poses as a woman in make-up, a succession of wigs, dresses, shoes and exotic fans. We come close to the couple’s friendship and love as each other’s painter and muse across the normal gender boundaries.

 

A controversial work rediscovered

One of the biggest disputes in the history of Danish art followed from the rejection of Gerda Wegener’s Portrait of Ellen von Kohl (below) by both the Charlottenborg Exhibition and Den Frie Udstilling in 1907. It led to a storm of contributions to the newspaper Politiken for and against the spiritualized, refined Symbolism that the picture was taken to represent. The opponents were given the name “the Peasant Painters”. Wegener herself remained outside the “Peasant Painter Feud” but organized her own exhibition of the picture at an art dealer’s. Afterwards the work has never been shown, but now it has been rediscovered and hangs at ARKEN so everyone can see it for themselves and think about how the portrait could divide opinion so much on the Danish art scene in 1907.

 

“After many years in the wilderness a harbinger of spring has once more appeared in Danish art.”
The artist Gudmund Hentze on Gerda Wegener’s Portrait of Ellen von Kohl in Politiken in 1907.

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Portrait of Ellen von Kohl' 1906

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Portrait of Ellen von Kohl
1906

 

 

“Ever since. the work has been known from an old black-and-white photograph, but in 2015 it has been found for ARKEN’s exhibition and photographed in colour, and it is now being exhibited again for the first time since 1907. This provides a suitable occasion to note that there is nothing wrong with the technical execution. Ellen von Kohl sits like a Renaissance woman in a 16th-century portrait, viewed obliquely from the side with her face turned towards us. The dress, the background and the hair are in the darker colour, while the face, the skin in the neck opening of the dress and the beautiful hands are in lighter shades. The long, slender fingers are typical of Gerda Wegener’s visual idiom, elegant and mannered. To these we can add the strangest thing in the picture, the only thing that our eyes tell us may have seemed objectionable – the eyes and the woman’s gaze. The is are not clearly open. Ellen von Kohl both sees and does not see. She appears to be half in a trance, present not only in this world, but also in the one she sees with her mind’s eye. The model is not a worn-out old women “with mittens and a back bent by work”, but a well-dressed, highly cultivated and sensitive being, so sensitive that for better or worse she seems sensual and erotic to the viewers of the time…

The portrait has several resemblances to a number of other portraits by Gerda Wegener in these early years in Copenhagen, which typically show women who were themselves active in various arts such as literature, dance, or theatre. Many have a similar gaze, and they are all shown with the greatest possible beauty.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 17

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Lili with a Feather Fan' 1920

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Lili with a Feather Fan
1920
Photo: Morten Pors

 

Gerda and Einar Wegener in front of Gerda’s painting Sur la route d'Anacapri during the exhibition in Ole Haslunds Hus,1924. Photo The Royal Library, Denmark

 

Gerda and Einar Wegener in front of Gerda’s painting Sur la route d’Anacapri during the exhibition in Ole Haslunds Hus, 1924
Photo: The Royal Library, Denmark

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Sur la route d'Anacapri (On the Way to Anacapri)' 1922

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Sur la route d’Anacapri (On the Way to Anacapri)
1922

 

 

“Gerda Wegener also drew and painted several pictures of Gerda and Lili together. In 1922 she painted one of the finest examples on one of the couple’s many journeys to Italy, including several to Capri – the double portrait On the Way to Anacapri (above). Gera and Lili are seen standing in profile in front of a magnificent view of a sea bay in moonlight surrounded by mountains and with the town below. Lili turns her head and looks directly at the viewer, holding her arm fondly and protectively around Gerda. Gerda looks forward dreamily with an apple in her hand. Both women wear make-up as well as jewellery and dresses in red shades. Lili is tallest and brownest; their rings are identical. The picture is painted in delicate colours and has an almost ethereal, dreamlike lightness as if the moment is timeless. Again there is a certain Renaissance atmosphere, especially in the strict profile of the self-portrait…

It is as if this particular borrowing of the formal language of of a bygone time elevates the scenario beyond time and space and gives it the character of the eternal. The works take on a special meaning, showing both Gerda’s and the couple’s love of Italy, art, beauty and each other.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 21

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Two Cocottes with Hats' c. 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Two Cocottes with Hats
c. 1925
Photo: Morten Pors

 

 

“In Gerda Wegener’s Two Cocottes with Hats, 1920s, it is presumably Lili in the light-coloured wig with flowers and feathers in her hair, who looks at us with seductive bedroom eyes. In her hands she holds the symbol of the female sex, a rose whose scent permeats the atmosphere of the picture and probably helps to attract the other woman’s attention. The two stand close to each other and are further united by the compositions close cropping of the subject.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 26

 

Gerda Wegener. 'On the banks of the Loire' (the artists' colony at Beaugency), Paris, 1926

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
On the banks of the Loire (the artists’ colony at Beaugency)
Paris, 1926

 

 

The female gender role in transition

“In Gerda Wegener’s On the banks of the Loire, 1926, we see innumerable Bohemians from the artists’ colony on a summer’s day in swimsuits far from the city of Paris…

For female artists just a generation before Gerda Wegener’s it was not possible at all for a woman to move around freely in the spaces of the city without being accosted and misunderstood. The definition of the Impressionists as ‘the painters of modern life’, for example, is therefor problematic in the case of an artist like Berthe Morisot. Gerda Wegener on the other hand romped freely through city life, whether this was well received or not. At any rate it became normal – not least during the First World War, when the french men were at the front, and the women had to take over many of the men’s former tasks. The women grew stronger… After World War One, Europe was traumatised, and the survivors lived wilder lives than before – quite simply so they could feel alive. The 1920 were thus typified by festivities and amusements and by gender roles in transition. Everything was permitted, much more so than before.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 28

 

Gerda Wegener. 'A Summer Day' (Einar Wegener behind the easel, Lili nude, Elna Tegner with accordion, publisher wife Mrs. Guyot with book) 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
A Summer Day (Einar Wegener behind the easel, Lili nude, Elna Tegner with accordion, publisher wife Mrs. Guyot with book)
1927
Photo: © Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers

 

 

“The painter and illustrator Gerda Wegener aroused a furore in Denmark, but was fêted in Paris because of her sophisticated line and her elegant portraits of women. In November ARKEN presents the biggest exhibition so far of works by the pioneering artist whose life and works strike a chord in our own time.

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) was a woman ahead of her time. It was not in the cards that this minister’s daughter from eastern Jutland would become Denmark’s foremost exponent of Art Deco and one of the most colourful personalities of her time. In 1904, she married the landscape painter Einar Wegener (1882-1931) who today is better known as the trans woman Lili Elbe. Paris was to be the city where they unfolded their artistic careers. There the couple lived a fashionable life, enabled to a great extent by Gerda’s success as a portrait painter and an illustrator for the leading fashion magazines. Decadent, frivolous Paris also made it possible for them to live out their controversial love affair in which playing with gender and identity became the central focus.

 

A tale of metamorphosis

La Vie Parisienne, La Baïonnette and Le Rire – Gerda Wegener’s technically superb and sometimes daring drawings could be found in the leading French periodicals of the time, and often it was her spouse who posed for her. The depictions of Lili are quite central to Gerda Wegener’s oeuvre. Gerda Wegener idealized Lili’s tall, elegant figure, the gloved hands and the wistful face crowned by a succession of wigs. But outside the canvas too Einar dreamed of merging with his wife’s depictions of Lili. He was unhappy in his male body and Gerda supported her husband in having the operations done that were to effect the physical transformation from man to woman, but ended in Lili’s early death.

 

Renewed topicality

ARKEN’s exhibition is a tribute to a strong artist whose works and extraordinary life strike a chord in our own time. With 178 works the exhibition will be the biggest ever of her work – and one of the first at any art museum. While in Paris Gerda Wegener won great recognition and fame – among other things three of her works were incorporated in the Louvre’s collection and are today at the Centre Pompidou – she never achieved the same status here in Denmark, because she was a woman, because she also expressed herself in commercial mass culture, and because her ambivalent sexuality and the story of her marriage were too difficult to relate to.”

Press release from ARKEN

 

Gerda Wegener, advertisement for powder in the French magazine La Vie Parisienne, 5 June 1920

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Advertisement for powder in the French magazine La Vie Parisienne, 5 June 1920

 

Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the erotic book 'Les Délassements de l’Éros' 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Illustration for the erotic book Les Délassements de l’Éros
1925
Photo: Morten Pors

 

Illustration by Gerda Wegener for the erotic book 'Les Délassements de l’Éros' 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Illustration for the erotic book Les Délassements de l’Éros
1925

 

Front page illustration by Gerda Wegener for the Danish magazine 'Vore Damer', 19 October, 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Front page illustration for the Danish magazine Vore Damer, 19 October, 1927

 

Gerda Wegener. ' Girl and pug in an Automobile' (sketch for front page illustration in Vore Damer, 1927) c. 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Girl and pug in an Automobile (sketch for front page illustration in Vore Damer, 1927)
c. 1927

 

Gerda Wegener. 'The Carnival' c. 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
The Carnival
c. 1925
Photo: Morten Pors

 

 

A Danish Parisienne

Gerda Wegener divided opinion in Copenhagen, but enjoyed great success in Paris, where she and Lili lived for two decades from 1912. They participated enthusiastically in the Parisian entertainment world, as is evident from Gerda Wegener’s many depictions of festivities and carnivals. Gerda quickly became a popular portrait painter and exhibited at the most important annual art exhibitions in Paris, and even in the French Pavilion at the World Exposition in 1925, where she won two gold medals. She provided illustrations, especially of erotic literature, and designed glass mosaics for Parisian shops and prosperous homes.

None of the major Danish art museums bought any of Gerda Wegener’s works, but the French State bought three. Today these are in the Centre Pompidou’s collection – and two of them can be seen at ARKEN’s major exhibition.

 

Artist, illustrator and cartoonist

Throughout her artistic life Gerda Wegener worked with both art in the traditional sense and popular mass culture. She alternated between participating in important art exhibitions, primarily in Paris, and supplying huge numbers of advertisements, newspaper and magazine drawings and book illustrations in the fields of fashion, satire, humour and the erotic.

Gerda Wegener had her breakthrough as an illustrator in 1908 when she won a drawing competition in Politiken with the set task of portraying ‘Copenhagen Woman’ and again in 1909 with ‘Figures of the Street’. After this she had a regular association with Politiken as an artist. At the same time Gerda Wegener supplied drawings to several other magazines such as Klods Hans, Tik-Tak and Vore Damer, and in France her drawings for leading French magazines were her primary source of income until the middle of the 1920s.

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Lili Elbe' c. 1928

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Lili Elbe
c. 1928
Watercolour

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Queen of Hearts (Lili)' 1928

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Queen of Hearts (Lili)
1928
Photo: Morten Pors

 

“Gerda Wegener was a curious observer in this whole period as she participated in life in the metropolis of Paris. In her innumerable pictures of women she accordingly revealed very different female types, just as the pictures of Lili send out a wide variety of signals. Lili who is often sweet and innocent looks rather like a provocative sinner in Queen of Hearts from 1928. Here she is playing cards, which in the history of art has always been symbolic of a life of sin, and in the sixteenth century was regarded as ungodly. An ashtray, a bottle and a glass are on the table, and Lili has a cigarette in her mouth. She has her feet up on two different chairs and is wearing snakeskin shoes and a red dress that has slipped slightly down along her legs, revealing the petticoat. The room in which Lili sits is more well-defined than in most other Lili portraits and is full of realistic details. The picture is no longer detached from time and place or ethereal. The hands are not long and graceful. It is the real Lili of flesh and blood that we see here, an emancipated and erotically self-assured woman. And so it is naturally the Queen of Hearts that she holds in her hand.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 28

 

Gerda Wegener. 'The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana' Paris, 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana
Paris, 1927
Photo: The Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre

 

 

“In Poulsen, Gerda Wegener cultivated the perfect classical ideal of beauty fro a woman. Ulla Poulsen was well known for her pure, oval face and could have posed from the most beautiful Madonnas of the Italian Renaissance. She met the Wegeners during a tour of Paris in 1927 and ever afterwards appeared in many of Wegener’s works, both when she has posed and when Gerda depicted her from memory.

In the best known and most monumental portrait of Ulla Poulsen the ballerina takes her bow after a performance of the ballet Chopiniana. A typical Wegener bouquet lies on the edge of the stage, and in Toulouse-Lautrec fashion a little piece of a bass or cello projects from the orchestral pit. Again the light beams shine down over the main figure in a fan pattern, and the ballet skirt spreads around her in a circle. The ballerina is set up as the most beautiful imaginable object for the viewer’s gaze, as is the point of ballet and theatre, for the delectation of everyone. The awareness that someone is looking is so to speak a condition of all theatre, and for that matter of the existence of the phenomenon of fashion – another of Gerda Wegener’s favourite fields.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 32

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) 'Eva Heramb' 1934

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Eva Heramb
1934
Photo: Photo: The Theatre Museum at The Court Theatre

 

Eva Betty Koefoed Heramb (24th November 1899 in Aarhus – 9th January 1957 in Copenhagen ) was a Danish actress. She made her debut in 1921 at Odense Theatre, at which theater she was employed the following six years. From 1927 – 1935 she was engaged to the People’s Theatre, where she received a variety of roles, including appearances in this period with several other Copenhagen theaters. She also recorded a few films.

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Young Man, Bare Chested' 1938 and 'Adrienne Sipska' Paris 1925

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Young Man, Bare Chested
1938

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Adrienne Sipska
Paris 1925

 

 

“The mixture of sources of inspiration and materials is yet another characteristic of Art Deco – and in the portrait of the short-haired, long-necked Adrienne Sipska from 1925 Gerda Wegener has painted the hard with gold. The young man she paints with a bare chest in 1938, on the other hand, has soft locks on his brow and marked, almost feminine facial features. Men and women cross over imperceptibly in many of Gerda Wegener’s pictures as the boundaries between the normal gender roles are gradually erased more and more.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, p. 30

 

Gerda Wegener. 'Carnival, Lily' Paris, 1928

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
Carnival, Lily
Paris, 1928

 

Gerda Wegener. 'At the mirror' 1931-1936

 

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940)
At the mirror
1931-1936

 

 

“In Gerda Wegener’s At the mirror, 1931-1936 (above), the directions of the gazes are more complicated. A woman sits in front of the mirror and forms a beautiful S-shape with the low-cut back and neck of her dress and the turning of her head. She looks herself deep in the eyes. We see he both from the back in front of the mirror and her face from the front in the mirror. In the mirror we also see an elegantly dressed man, presumably standing more or less where we are conceived as standing, looking at the woman’s beautiful neck with a slightly worried expression. For she is not looking at him, although she is well aware that he is there. Nor is it certain that it is only for him that she is putting on make-up. He is like a perplexed voyeur who has been discovered. He seems a little superfluous as a moment of profound solidarity arises between the woman and her ‘sister’ in the mirror.

Gerda Wegener does not only depict empty decorative dolls, but also strong personalities who stage themselves as beautiful women and exercise much of the power at play in their relations with other people. ‘Girl Power’, quite simply.

As mentioned, a viewer is always latently present in Wegener’s works, as the figures are so aware of the signals they are sending out. The women display themselves with a clear exhibitionistic tendency which is taken to extremes in the pictures of theatre, masquerade and disguise. At the same time the very act of looking at themselves in the mirror is associated with narcissism. This beautiful woman in front of the mirror and in the mirror exhibits and enjoys herself at one and the same time. As always the work is charged with an intense eroticism. This woman is attracted by herself and is also ready to attract others. And these others could be of either sex depending on who is looking at the picture.”

Andrea Rygg Karberg. “When a woman paints women,” in Gerda Wegener (exhibition catalogue). Arken, 2015, pp. 32-34

 

 

Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst
Skovvej 100, 2635 Ishøj, Denmark

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00  – 17.00
Wednesday: 10.00  – 21.00
Monday: Closed

Arken Museum for Moderne Kunst website

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22
Nov
12

Exhibition: ‘Dark Romanticism. From Goya to Max Ernst’ at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Exhibition dates: 26th September 2012 – 20th January, 2013

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Many thankx to the Städel Museum for allowing me to publish the reproductions of the artwork in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Installation photographs of Dark Romanticism. From Goya to Max Ernstat the Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Photos: Norbert Miguletz

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Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) 'Villa by the Sea' 1871-1874

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Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901)
Villa by the Sea
1871-1874
Oil on canvas
108 x 154 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

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Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) 'Kügelgen's Tomb' 1821/22

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Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Kügelgen’s Tomb
1821/22
Oil on canvas
41.5 x 55.5 cm
Die Lübecker Museen, Museum Behnhaus Drägerhaus, on loan from private collection

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Ernst Ferdinand Oehme. (1797–1855) 'Procession in the Fog' 1828

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Ernst Ferdinand Oehme (1797-1855)
Procession in the Fog
1828
Oil on canvas
81.5 x 105.5 cm
Galerie Neue Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

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Samuel Colman (1780-1845) 'The Edge of Doom' 1836-1838

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Samuel Colman (1780-1845)
The Edge of Doom
1836-1838
Oil on canvas
137.2 x 199.4 cm
Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Laura L. Barnes

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Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) 'Dream caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Awakening' 1944

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Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Dream caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Awakening
1944
Oil on wood
51 x 41 cm
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012

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“The Städel Museum’s major special exhibition Dark Romanticism. From Goya to Max Ernst will be on view from September 26th, 2012 until January 20th, 2013. It is the first German exhibition to focus on the dark aspect of Romanticism and its legacy, mainly evident in Symbolism and Surrealism. In the museum’s exhibition house this important exhibition, comprising over 200 paintings, sculptures, graphic works, photographs and films, will present the fascination that many artists felt for the gloomy, the secretive and the evil. Using outstanding works in the museum’s collection on the subject by Francisco de Goya, Eugène Delacroix, Franz von Stuck or Max Ernst as a starting point, the exhibition is also presenting important loans from internationally renowned collections, such as the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée du Louvre, both in Paris, the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Art Institute of Chicago. The works on display by Goya, Johann Heinrich Fuseli and William Blake, Théodore Géricault and Delacroix, as well as Caspar David Friedrich, convey a Romantic spirit which by the end of the 18th century had taken hold all over Europe. In the 20th century artists such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte or Paul Klee and Max Ernst continued to think in this vein. The art works speak of loneliness and melancholy, passion and death, of the fascination with horror and the irrationality of dreams. After Frankfurt the exhibition, conceived by the Städel Museum, will travel to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The exhibition’s take on the subject is geographically and chronologically comprehensive, thereby shedding light on the links between different centres of Romanticism, and thus retracing complex iconographic developments of the time. It is conceived to stimulate interest in the sombre aspects of Romanticism and to expand understanding of this movement. Many of the artistic developments and positions presented here emerge from a shattered trust in enlightened and progressive thought, which took hold soon after the French Revolution – initially celebrated as the dawn of a new age – at the end of the 18th century. Bloodstained terror and war brought suffering and eventually caused the social order in large parts of Europe to break down. The disillusionment was as great as the original enthusiasm when the dark aspects of the Enlightenment were revealed in all their harshness. Young literary figures and artists turned to the reverse side of Reason. The horrific, the miraculous and the grotesque challenged the supremacy of the beautiful and the immaculate. The appeal of legends and fairy tales and the fascination with the Middle Ages competed with the ideal of Antiquity. The local countryside became increasingly attractive and was a favoured subject for artists. The bright light of day encountered the fog and mysterious darkness of the night.

The exhibition is divided into seven chapters. It begins with a group of outstanding works by Johann Heinrich Fuseli. The artist had initially studied to be an evangelical preacher in Switzerland. With his painting The Nightmare (Frankfurt Goethe-Museum) he created an icon of dark Romanticism. This work opens the presentation, which extends over two levels of the temporary exhibition space. Fuseli’s contemporaries were deeply disturbed by the presence of the incubus (daemon) and the lecherous horse – elements of popular superstition – enriching a scene set in the present. In addition, the erotic-compulsive and daemonic content, as well as the depressed atmosphere, catered to the needs of the voyeur. The other six works by Fuseli – loans from the Kunsthaus Zürich, the Royal Academy London and the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart – represent the characteristics of his art: the competition between good and evil, suffering and lust, light and darkness. Fuseli’s innovative pictorial language influenced a number of artists – among them William Blake, whose famous water colour The Great Red Dragon from the Brooklyn Museum will be on view in Europe for the first time in ten years.

The second room of the exhibition is dedicated to the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya. The Städel will display six of his works – including masterpieces such as The Witches’ Flight from the Prado in Madrid and the representations of cannibals from Besançon. A large group of works on paper from the Städel’s own collection will be shown, too. The Spaniard blurs the distinction between the real and the imaginary. Perpetrator and victim repeatedly exchange roles. Good and evil, sense and nonsense – much remains enigmatic. Goya’s cryptic pictorial worlds influenced numerous artists in France and Belgium, including Delacroix, Géricault, Victor Hugo and Antoine Wiertz, whose works will be presented in the following room. Atmosphere and passion were more important to these artists than anatomical accuracy.

Among the German artists – who are the focus of the next section of the exhibition – it is Carl Blechen who is especially close to Goya and Delacroix. His paintings are a testimony to his lust for gloom. His soft spot for the controversial author E. T. A. Hoffmann – also known as “Ghost-Hoffmann” in Germany – led Blechen to paint works such as Pater Medardus (Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin) – a portrait of the mad protagonist in The Devil’s Elixirs. The artist was not alone in Germany when it came to a penchant for dark and disturbing subjects. Caspar David Friedrich’s works, too, contain gruesome elements: cemeteries, open graves, abandoned ruins, ships steered by an invisible hand, lonely gorges and forests are pervasive in his oeuvre. One does not only need to look at the scenes of mourning in the sketchbook at the Kunsthalle Mannheim for the omnipresent theme of death. Friedrich is prominently represented in the exhibition with his paintings Moon Behind Clouds above the Seashore from the Hamburger Kunsthalle and Kügelgen’s Grave from the Lübecker Museums, as well as with one of his last privately owned works, Ship at Deep Sea with full Sails.

Friedrich’s paintings are steeped in oppressive silence. This uncompromising attitude anticipates the ideas of Symbolism, which will be considered in the next chapter of the exhibition. These ‘Neo-Romantics’ stylised speechlessness as the ideal mode of human communication, which would lead to fundamental and seminal insights. Odilon Redon’s masterpiece Closed Eyes, a loan from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, impressively encapsulates this notion. Paintings by Arnold Böcklin, James Ensor, Fernand Khnopff or Edvard Munch also embody this idea. However, as with the Romantics, these restrained works are face to face with works where anxiety and repressed passions are brought unrestrainedly to the surface; works that are unsettling in their radicalism even today. While Gustave Moreau, Max Klinger, Franz von Stuck and Alfred Kubin belong to the art historical canon, here the exhibition presents artists who are still to be discovered in Germany: Jean-Joseph Carriès, Paul Dardé, Jean Delville, Julien-Adolphe Duvocelle, Léon Frédéric, Eugène Laermans and Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer.

The presentation concludes with the Surrealist movement, founded by André Breton. He inspired artists such as Ernst, Brassaϊ or Dalí, to create their wondrous pictorial realms from the reservoir of the subconscious and celebrated them as fantasy’s victory over the “factual world”. Max Ernst vehemently called for “the borders between the so-called inner and outer world” to be blurred. He demonstrated this most clearly in his forest paintings, four of which have been assembled for this exhibition, one of them the major work Vision Provoked by the Nocturnal Aspect of the Porte Saint-Denis (private collection). The art historian Carl Einstein considered the Surrealists to be the Romantics’ successors and coined the phrase ‘the Romantic generation’. In spite of this historical link the Surrealists were far from retrospective. On the contrary: no other movement was so open to new media; photography and film were seen as equal to traditional media. Alongside literature, film established itself as the main arena for dark Romanticism in the 20th century. This is where evil, the thrill of fear and the lust for horror and gloom found a new home. In cooperation with the Deutsches Filmmuseum the Städel will for the first time present extracts from classics such as Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), Faust (1926), Vampyr (1931/32) and The Phantom Carriage (1921) within an exhibition.

The exhibition, which presents the Romantic as a mindset that prevailed throughout Europe and remained influential beyond the 19th century, is accompanied by a substantial catalogue. As is true for any designation of an epoch, Romanticism too is nothing more than an auxiliary construction, defined less by the exterior characteristics of an artwork than by the inner sentiment of the artist. The term “dark Romanticism” cannot be traced to its origins, but – as is also valid for Romanticism per se – comes from literary studies. The German term is closely linked to the professor of English Studies Mario Praz and his publication La carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica of 1930, which was published in German in 1963 as Liebe, Tod und Teufel. Die schwarze Romantik (literally: Love, Death and Devil. Dark Romanticism).”

Press release from the Städel Museum website

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Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) 'Flying Folly (Disparate Volante)' 1816-1819

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Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)
Flying Folly (Disparate Volante)
from “The proverbs (Los proverbios)”, plate 5, 1816-1819, 1.
Edition, 1864
Etching and aquatint
21,7 x 32,6 cm
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

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Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931) 'Nosferatu - A Symphony of Horror' Germany 1922

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Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931)
Nosferatu – A Symphony of Horror
Germany 1922
Filmstill
Silent film
© Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung

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Edvard Munch (1863-1944) 'Vampire' 1916-1918

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Edvard Munch (1863-1944)
Vampire
1916-1918
Oil on canvas
85 x 110 cm
Collection Würth
Photo: Archiv Würth
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012

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René Magritte (1898-1967) 'Sentimental Conversation' 1945

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René Magritte (1898-1967)
Sentimental Conversation
1945
Oil on canvas
54 x 65 cm
Private Collection
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012

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Paul Hippolyte Delaroche (1797-1856) 'Louise Vernet, the artist's wife, on her Deathbed' 1845-46

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Paul Hippolyte Delaroche (1797-1856)
Louise Vernet, the artist’s wife, on her Deathbed
1845-46
Oil on canvas
62 x 74.5 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes
© Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes

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Gabriel von Max (1840–1915) 'The White Woman' 1900

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Gabriel von Max (1840-1915)
The White Woman
1900
Oil on canvas
100 x 72 cm
Private Collection

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William Blake (1757-1827) 'The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun' c.1803-1805

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William Blake (1757-1827)
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun
c. 1803-1805
Watercolor, graphite and incised lines
43.7 x 34.8 cm
Brooklyn Museum, Gift of William Augustus White

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Roger Parry (1905-1977) 'Untitled' 1929

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Roger Parry (1905-1977)
Untitled
1929
Illustration from Léon-Paul Fargue’s “Banalité” (Paris 1930)
Gelatin silver print
21.8 x 16.5 cm
Collection Dietmar Siegert
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2012

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Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie
Schaumainkai 63, 60596 Frankfurt
Tel: +49(0)69-605098-170

Opening hours:
Tuesdays, Fridays to Sundays 10-18 h, Wednesdays and Thursdays 10-21 h

Städel Museum website

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29
May
12

Exhibition: ‘Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun’ at the Art Institute of Chicago

Exhibition dates:  25th February – 3rd June 2012

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“In many ways, Cahun’s life was marked by a sense of role reversal, and her public identity became a commentary upon not only her own, but the public’s notions of sexuality, gender, beauty, and logic. Her adoption of a sexually ambiguous name, and her androgynous self-portraits display a revolutionary way of thinking and creating, experimenting with her audience’s understanding of photography as a documentation of reality. Her poetry challenged gender roles and attacked the increasingly modern world’s social and economic boundaries. Also Cahun’s participation in the Parisian Surrealist movement diversified the group’s artwork and ushered in new representations. Where most Surrealist artists were men, and their primary images were of women as isolated symbols of eroticism, Cahun epitomized the chameleonic and multiple possibilities of the female identity. Her photographs, writings, and general life as an artistic and political revolutionary continue to influence countless artists, namely Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin and Del LaGrace Volcano.”

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Text from Wikipedia

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Cahun was a resistance fighter during the Second World War, was arrested, sentenced to death and survived. She lived with her longtime female partner and collaborator on Jersey from 1937 until 1954, the year of her death. Entre Nous means “Between Us,” such an appropriate title for the their collaboration, love and partnership. What a talent, what a woman and gay to boot!

Many thankx to the Art Institute of Chicago for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1929
Gelatin silver print
24 x 19 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes. (C) RMN/Gérard Blot

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Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1929
Gelatin silver print
11.5 x 8.5 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

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Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1928
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 9 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

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Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1927
Gelatin silver print
10.4 x 7.6 cm
Soizic Audouard Collection

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“Claude Cahun (1894-1954) has something approaching cult status in today’s art world. However, her work was almost unknown until the early 1980s, when it was championed by the research of François Leperlier, after which exhibitions at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes (1994) and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1995) brought it to public attention. Her life and work (both literary and artistic) bespeak an extraordinary libertarian personality who defied sexual, social and ethical conventions in what was an age of avant-garde and moral upheaval. Among her many photographs, it is undoubtedly her self-portraits that have aroused the greatest interest in recent years. Throughout her life, Cahun used her own image to dismantle the clichés surrounding ideas of identity. She reinvented herself through photography, posing for the lens with a keen sense of performance and role-play, dressed as a woman or a man, as a maverick hero, with her hair long or very short, or even with a shaved head. This approach was extended in innovative ways in her photographs of objects and use of photomontages, which asserted the primacy of the imagination and of metamorphosis.

By exploring the many different analyses made of Cahun’s work since the 1990s, and ranging across its different themes: from the subversive self-portraits that question identity, to her surrealist compositions, erotic metaphors and political forays, this exhibition confirms the modernity of a figure who, as a pioneer of self-representation and the poetry of objects, has been an important influence for many contemporary artists.

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Metamorphoses of identity and the subversion of gender (I)

This set of photographs, going from 1913 to the end of the 1920s, includes some of Cahun’s major works, in which she staged her own persona, emphasising disguise and masks, and working through variations on gender: feminine, masculine, androgyne, undifferentiated. Sexual ambiguity is consciously cultivated and calls into question established norms and conventions. In 1928, she even represented herself with her head shaved, wearing a singlet, in profile, or with her hands against her face, or wearing a loose man’s jacket. Some of the mise-en-scènes from this period seem to anticipate contemporary performance.

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Poetics of the object

The “assemblages of objects,” which make their appearance in around 1925, inventively explore what at the time was still a rather new form. This work came to wider attention in the Surrealist exhibition at the Charles Ratton gallery, in May 1936, and then with the commissioning of 22 photographic plates to illustrate a book of poems by Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic (1937), prefaced by Paul Eluard. These photographs capture ephemeral set-ups, often in a natural setting (garden, beach). Each “sketch” is a composition of heterogeneous elements, both found and made, such as knickknacks in spun glass, sewing items, twigs, bones, insects, feathers, gloves, pieces of fabric, shoes, tools, etc. This “theatre of objects” has both a visual and symbolic significance, which Cahun explained in her text Prenez garde aux objets domestiques (1936).

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Metamorphoses of identity and the subversion of gender (continued)

The 1930s saw Cahun continuing to explore images of the self. However, questions of sexual difference and its social and cultural construction were now less to the fore as she went deeper into the potential of situations and disguises and experimented with duplication in a way that extended the work of the photomontages from the late 1920s.

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Metaphors of desire

Eschewing the direct and sometimes reifying display of the female body found in many paintings and photographs, Cahun opted for a more subtle kind of “veiled eroticism” using distance and irony. Here we find some very evocative examples of her calculating games with desire. Whether through the contained display of the body, allegory (the bacchante or faun, surrounded by sensuous vegetation), or anthropomorphic objects (the hermaphroditic “père”), she aimed to capture the essence of desire, to bring out its essential grounding in fantasy.

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The two of us. Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe (Marcel Moore)

The photograph Entre nous (1926) clearly establishes the spirit of this section, which evokes various aspects of Claude Cahun’s intimate relationship and artistic collaboration with her partner, Suzanne Malherbe. In fact, a number of the photographs here were taken by Suzanne following Claude’s suggestions. A double portrait from 1921 shows a surprising parallel which could be read as a metaphor of their relationship, a deep closeness and understanding between two strong personalities. The linchpin of this section is constituted by the four photomontages used to illustrate Aveux non avenus (1930), Cahun’s most significant literary work, gathering together all the artist’s main themes and obsessive metaphors. The plates were executed by Moore in collaboration with Claude Cahun.

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Elective encounters

This series of portraits, which reflect the importance of friendship in the development of Cahun’s work, gives an idea of the figures who were important to her and influenced her, or to whom she felt close, among them Henri Michaux, Robert Desnos, André Breton, Jacqueline Lamba and Suzanne Malherbe. There are also two photographs from performances at Pierre Albert-Birot’s theatre Le Plateau (1929). They attest Cahun’s keen interest in theatre and acting.

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Poetry and politics

In the 1930s Cahun’s positions grew increasingly radical in response to the rise of totalitarianism. She joined the Surrealists and associated with a number of groups on the left and far left. This radicalisation is reflected in her aesthetic. In line with the ideas put forward in her pamphlet Les Paris sont ouverts (1934), she exploited the subversive qualities of “indirect action” in the sphere of symbolic expression, making a number of objects in which poetry and politics are intimately intertwined. This process culminated when she used these pieces for two big series of photographs dominated by a mood of irony, revolt and provocation: “La Poupée” (The Doll), a figure fashioned out of newspaper, and “Le Théâtre” (The Theatre), a wooden mannequin surrounded by various elements and placed under a glass dome.

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Beyond the visible. The last self-portraits

Close study of Cahun’s photographs reveals the presence of allusions to non-visible phenomena, pointing the way to other realities – and perhaps, too, beyond death. Her attraction to symbolism, her interest in Eastern doctrines and her closeness to Surrealism only confirmed the primacy of fantasy and metamorphosis evidenced in the intellectual and aesthetic approaches she took throughout her life. The series Le Chemin des chats (The Way of Cats, around 1949 and 1953), suggests a mediation on and questioning of reality and appearance. Cahun was a true cat lover: for her, this animal was the great intercessor, the medium of an intuitive contact between the visible and the invisible, leading to sensorial worlds that are both unfamiliar and yet very near.”

Juan Vicente Aliaga and François Leperlier, curators of the exhibition

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Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1939
Gelatin silver print
10 x 8 cm
Jersey Heritage Collection
© Jersey Heritage

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Claude Cahun
Autoportrait
1926
Gelatin silver print
11.1 x 8.6 cm
IVAM, Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Generalitat

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“Born Lucy Schwob to a family of French intellectuals and writers, Claude Cahun (who adopted the pseudonym at age 22) is best known for the staged self-portraiture, photomontages, and prose texts she made principally between 1920 and 1940. Rediscovered in the late 1980s, her work has not only expanded our understanding of the Surrealist era but also serves as an important touchstone to later feminist explorations of gender and identity politics. In her self-portraits, which she began creating around 1913, Cahun dismantled and questioned preexisting notions of self and sexuality. Posing in costumes and elaborate make-up, Cahun appears masked as various personae: man or woman, hero or doll, both powerful and vulnerable. Almost a century after their making, these innovative photographs and assemblages remain remarkably relevant in their treatment of gender, performance, and identity.

From her university years until her death, Cahun was accompanied by her partner and artistic collaborator, Suzanne Malherbe, a childhood friend and stepsister. They surrounded themselves with members of the Surrealist movement and created work that embraced leftist politics. Cahun, with assistance from Malherbe (under the pseudonym Marcel Moore), produced photographs, assemblages, and publications from the 1920s on. The photograph Entre Nous (Between Us), featuring a pair of masks embedded in sand, gives the title to this show and is emblematic of their multifaceted relationship.

The first retrospective exhibition in the United States of Cahun’s work, Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun brings together over 80 photographs and published material by Cahun and Moore, including several photomontages from their 1930 collaborative publication Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), and the only surviving object by Cahun, which is in the Art Institute’s permanent collection.

Organizer: This exhibition was organized by the Jeu de Paume, Paris, and coproduced with La Virreina Centre de la Imatge, Barcelona.”

Press release from the Art Institute of Chicago website

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Claude Cahun
Combat de pierres
1931
Gelatin silver print
21 x 15.5 cm
Private collection
© Béatrice Hatala

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Claude Cahun
Le Père
1932
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 17.7 cm
LAC

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Claude Cahun
Aveux non avenus, planche III
1929 – 1930
Gelatin silver print photomontage
15 x 10 cm
Private collection

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The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6404
T: (312) 443-3600

Opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday, 10.30 – 5.00
Thursday, 10.30 – 8.00
Friday, 10.30 – 8.00
Saturday – Sunday, 10.00 – 5.00
The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s days.

The Art Institute of Chicago website

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02
Jul
11

‘Spomenik’ by Jan Kempenaers

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Three Canons

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Be still with yourself

Until the object of your attention

Affirms your presence

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Let the Subject generate its own Composition

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When the image mirrors the man

And the man mirrors the subject

Something might take over

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Minor White 1968

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Gone is the modernist tenet of authorship in which everything in a photograph depends and can be traced to a single photographer acting in isolation. In its place, White supposes a relationship with subject that is a two way street: by granting the world some role in its own representation we create a photograph that is not so much a product solely of individual actions as it is the result of a negotiation in which the world and all its subjects might participate.

Vince Leo

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These are beautiful photographs; there is no fuss, no histrionics here. The use of light and the framing of subject are wonderful. The photographer has let the subject generate its own composition meaning that the sculptures speak for themselves: something takes over – an ethereal evocation of space and place.

The sculptures occupy a representational space appropriated by the imagination. “Lefebvre writes that it [representational space] “overlays physical space, making symbolic use of its objects” and is predominantly non-verbal in nature.”1 The photographs and their representational space offer the viewer the possibility of drifting (Guy Debord’s dérive) encouraging “an unplanned journey through a landscape… where an individual travels where the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct them with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.”2

I find the photographs truly authentic. I immerse myself in their presence: I embrace them because they are in my imagination, creatures of the deep recesses of the mind.

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Many thankx to Jan Kempenaers for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs © Jan Kempenaers and courtesy of the artist.

Buy the book; support the artist!

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'Spomenik' by Jan Kempenaers

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This monument, authored by sculptor Miodrag Živković, commemorates the Battle of Sutjeska, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II in the former Yugoslavia.

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The Petrova Gora monument was designed by Vojin Bakić and built in 1982. It was dedicated to the people of Kordun and Banija who died during World War II. It was dismantled in 2011.

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The Kosmaj monument in Serbia is dedicated to soldiers of the Kosmaj Partisan detachment from World War II.

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The Kruševo Makedonium monument in Macedonia was dedicated to the Ilinden Uprising of 1903, when the Bulgarian population revolted against the Ottoman Empire.

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The Susanjar Memorial Complex in Bosnia and Herzegovina was created in remembrance of the thousands killed by Germans during the Orthodox festival of Ilindan in 1941.

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Built in 1963, this monument in Niš, Serbia commemorates the 10,000 people from the area that were killed during World War II. The three clenched fists are the work of sculptor Ivan Sabolić.

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This monument is in Korenica, on the border of Croatia and Bosnia. It commemorates Yugoslavia’s victory in World War II.

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This monument is dedicated to the soldiers who freed the city of Knin, Croatia from the fascists during World War II.

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Built in 1949, this monument was designed by Vojin Bakić and is dedicated to the fallen fighters of the Yugoslav front.

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The Kadinjača Memorial Complex commemorates those who died during the Battle of Kadinjača.

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This sculpture was built in 1973 and designed by Bogdan Bogdanovic. It is dedicated to the long mining tradition in Kosovo.

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1. Burgin, Victor. In/Different Spaces: Place and Memory in Visual Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, p.27.

2. Anon. “Dérive,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 28/06/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dérive

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Jan Kempenaers information

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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