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Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt

'130 Years of Witty Art'. The exhibition explores a decisive development of 20th-century art linked to the grotesque in the German speaking countries. While the grotesque has been acknowledged as a fundamental literary and dramatic stylistic form for quite some time, the exhibition investigates its role in the fine arts for the first time.

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The exhibition 'Grotesque! 130 Years of Witty Art' explores a decisive development of 20th-century art linked to the grotesque in the German speaking countries. The grotesque, which the artists of the Ancient World were already interested in, constitutes a counterpoint in regard to the world of truth and beauty and stands for the strange, the different beyond all orders and boundaries. Full of insolent wit, the impact of the grotesque as a new aesthetic approach gained momentum especially in the German speaking countries towards the end of the 19th century. While the grotesque has been acknowledged as a fundamental literary and dramatic stylistic form for quite some time, the exhibition 'Grotesque! 130 Years of Witty Art' investigates its role in the fine arts for the first time. The presentation takes Arnold Böcklin's grotesquely comical pictorial compositions from the end of the 19th century as its starting-point. Based on this still controversial artistic personality's work, the exhibition outlines the emergence of 'a different modernity' with its inherent subversive power and grotesque wit - a development spanning from Max Klinger, Alfred Kubin, and Thomas Theodor Heine to Dada and contemporary artistic positions such as those of Martin Kippenberger, Ulrike Ottinger, Sigmar Polke, Franz West, or Christian Jankowski and John Bock, both of whom are preparing new works for the show at the SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT.

In addition, 'Grotesque! 130 Years of Witty Art' focuses on the relationship between the birth of the cabaret and the further development of fine art in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland - a context which has hardly been taken into account so far. This perspective includes the Munich cabaret 'Die Elf Scharfrichter' (The Eleven Executioners) as well as Karl Valentin's grotesquely comical theater.

Pamela Kort, SCHIRN guest curator: 'The influential treatises on the art of the past century mostly ignore the 'grotesque.' Aimed at highlighting this main strand of modern art, the presentation explores 20th century art in the German speaking countries from a new point-of-view.' Max Hollein, Director of the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt: ''Grotesque!' is a voyage of discovery through 20th-century art which - besides centering on prominent positions - will confront the visitor with artists wrongly forgotten such as Paul Scheerbart or the philosopher Salomo Friedlaender (Mynona). With this exhibition, the SCHIRN again concentrates on the inquiry into the foundations and developments of 20th-century art as one of the crucial elements of its program.'

Today, 'grotesque' is just a word that signifies something abstruse and terrible. But its roots reach back to the myths and rites of prehistoric times, to the comedy and dance of Ancient Rome and Greece and the carnival tradition popular for centuries and especially marked in the Middle Ages. Embellishing the walls of subterranean vaults - grottoes - with tendrils and a mixture of human and animal creatures, architectural elements, and other decorative props, Renaissance artists took up the ornamental motif of the 'grotesque' dating back to Ancient Rome. During the second half of the 19th century, the grotesque, in the fine arts, indicated a new form of the fantastically comical (Friedrich Theodor Vischer), an exaggerated type of caricature (Karl Schneegans), or the demonic (Jean Paul) - which is no subject in the exhibition though. In the show, 'grotesque' rather comprises works of art revealing the positive qualities attributed to the concept in Meyers Konversationslexikon of 1895: 'The result of a humor which - in an apparently anarchical manner - combines the most heterogeneous elements since it, unconcerned with the individual and just playing with its specific features, always just picks on those things that might serve its zest for life and high spirits.'

Encompassing more than a century, 'Grotesque! 130 Years of Witty Art' reveals the topicality and critical potential of the grotesquely comical. The special role assigned to Arnold Böcklin as the pioneer of a peculiar German modernity is another new aspect of the exhibition. Böcklin's grotesque pictorial realms from the 1870s and 1880s, which indeed fuse ancient myth and contemporary everyday life, the sublime and the awkward, reflect both the longings and the seamy sides of human existence. Böcklin reconciles these apparently incompatible moments with a fleet-footed humor that transcends all boundaries and always reveals a subversive energy. Lovis Corinth, Franz von Stuck, Max Klinger, Emil Nolde, Alfred Kubin, and Paul Klee number among the artists inspired by these works populated with animal humans and human animals. These painters also relied on distortion and blending as their means for sketching a universal 'topsy-turvy world' with which they opposed the familiar order of things. The question for the possibilities of the grotesque as an expression and manifestation of a counterculture runs as a central thread through the entire exhibition.

Towards the end of the 19th century, artists' interest in the grotesque was accompanied by the foundation of a series of German humoristic magazines such as 'Ulk,' 'Lustige Blätter,' 'Simplicissimus,' and 'Narrenschiff.' The artists contributing to these periodicals and their scions included Lyonel Feininger, Bruno Paul, and Thomas Theodor Heine, as well as George Grosz and John Heartfield some time later. It was this milieu from which the cabaret 'Die Elf Scharfrichter' sprang in Munich in 1901, as did Karl Valentin's grotesquely comical theater after. Many of the stylistic means developed here, such as the abrupt change from word to pantomime or the reduction of characters, were subsequently used by the Dadaists. The process of fusing cabaret and the fine arts started in Zurich in 1916 with the foundation of the Dadaist 'Cabaret Voltaire' culminated in the 'First International Dada Fair' that took place in Berlin in 1920 which saw the local Dada protagonists actually blowing up the barriers between the two forms of art in their performances.

After Word War II, the Dada revolt against sacrosanct art and bourgeois culture was followed by a number of movements that attacked capitalism and imperialism. The Fluxus artists criticized the mechanisms of the market economy in a humorous, yet seriously committed manner. Around the same time, the 'Wiener Gruppe' established itself in Austria: Friedrich Achleitner, H. C. Artmann, Konrad Bayer, Oswald Wiener, and Gerhard Rühm rebelled against the stuffy bourgeois atmosphere with their provocative, grotesquely macabre texts. The 'Vienna Actionists' were considerably more aggressive in their approach and caused a lot of turmoil with their taboo-breaking appearances. The late 1960s and the 1970s were characterized by anarchical-satirical actions against the establishment.

In the mid-seventies, the followers of Punk turned their back on society with the slogan 'No Future.' In Germany, artists such as Martin Kippenberger rejected any false pathos and paralyzing correctness with their ironical and cynical assaults - Kippenberger: 'I cannot make out any swastika, much as I'd like to.' What mattered to them was not to change the social order by suggesting a contrary model, as Dada or parts of the 'Vienna Actionism' movement had attempted to, but rather to brand the existing circumstances with biting ridicule. While the grotesque has manifested itself as a counterculture in the course of the 20th century, it seems to have moved from the periphery into the center of society with today's 'fun culture.' At present, opposition implies a rejection of the craze for fun and events. The grotesquely comical is not a countermovement within art but has rather taken on an individual tenor. Franz West's 'passstücke' resembling strange body appendices, the parodistic use of food by Fischli & Weiss, or John Bock and Jonathan Meese featuring as masters of ceremonies of their own fictitious world just indicate some of these positions. All these works share the power of fathoming the 'topsy-turvy' world as a specific mirror of reality.

Press preview: Wednesday, 26 March 2003, 11.00 a.m.
Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
With Max Hollein, Director of Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt,
Pamela Kort, Curator of the exhibition, and Chris Dercon, designated Director of Haus der Kunst, Munich.

The exhibition 'Grotesque! 130 Years of Witty Art' is a cooperation between the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and the Haus der Kunst, Munich. It has been prepared by the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt and will be shown in the Haus der Kunst in Munich from 27 June to 14 September 2003 after its presentation in Frankfurt from 27 March to 9 June 2003.

Image: Franz von Stuck, Dissonanz, 1910

LIST OF ARTISTS: Hans Arp, Johannes Baargeld, John Bock, Arnold Böcklin, Günter Brus, Lovis Corinth, Max Ernst, Lyonel Feininger, Fischli & Weiss, George Grosz, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann, Thomas Theodor Heine, Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando, Hannah Höch, Christian Jankowski, Martin Kippenberger, Paul Klee, Max Klinger, Alfred Kubin, Markus Lüpertz, Jonathan Meese, Emil Nolde, Ulrike Ottinger, Sigmar Polke, Arnulf Rainer, Dieter Roth, Gerhard Rühm, Tomas Schmit, Paul Scheerbart, Rudolf Schlichter, Georg Scholz, Eugen Schönebeck, Thomas Schütte, Kurt Schwitters, Franz von Stuck, Karl Valentin, Franz West, a.o. (as of March 2003).

CATALOGUE: 'Grotesque! 130 Years of Witty Art.' Edited by Pamela Kort. With a preface by Max Hollein and Chris Dercon and essays by Hanne Bergius, Ralf Burmeister, Frances Connelly, Lisbeth Exner, Harald Falckenberg, Michael Farin, Peter Jelavich, Pamela Kort, and Gregor Wedekind. German, ca. 296 pages, ca. 170 color illustrations, ISBN 3-7913-2887-5 (hardcover trade edition), Prestel Verlag, Munich, Berlin, London, New York.

OPENING HOURS: Tue, Fri-Sun 10 a.m. - 7 p.m., Wed and Thur 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

INFORMATION: phone: (+49-69) 29 98 82-0, fax: (+49-69) 29 98 82-240.

ADMISSION: 7 euro, reduced 5 euro;

CURATOR: Pamela Kort. The publication of the catalogue is supported by the Georg und Franziska Speyer'sche Hochschulstiftung.

PRESS OFFICE: Dorothea Apovnik, Jürgen Budis, SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT, Römerberg, D-60311 Frankfurt,
phone: (+49-69) 29 98 82-118, fax: (+49-69) 29 98 82-240,

60311 Frankfurt, Germany
phone: (+49-69) 29 98 82-0
fax: (+49-69) 29 98 82-240

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