Cobra inspiration at Sharjah Art Museum
Masterpieces from Revolutionary Cobra Movement go on display in Sharjah Art Museum.
Sharjah Art Museum is hosting works from one of Europe's most influential art movements for the first time in the UAE. The Cobra: 1000 Days of Free Art exhibition, which runs until November 20, features over 60 artworks from the post-Second World War movement.
Established in Paris in 1948 by a group of artists and poets, Cobra is an acronym for the three capital cities where the founding artists lived and worked, Copenhagen (Denmark), Brussels (Belgium) and Amsterdam (the Netherlands). The exhibition at the Sharjah Art Museum focuses on four of the founding leaders of the movement, Karl Appel, Lucebert, Constant and Eugene Brands. The tailored exhibition includes paintings, photographs, ceramics, textiles, jazz music and documentary materials from 1947 and the early 1960s.
"It's a great honour for us to host the Cobra exhibition for the first time in the UAE," said Alya Al-Mulla, Curator of Sharjah Art Museum. "What we try and do here with each exhibition and collaboration is to present something new, something different to our visitors. We want to give them an experience, a learning process."
The Cobra exhibition is definitely the right place to learn about the beginnings of modern art. Lasting no more than 1,000 days, the movement challenged conventions and broke down barriers in what was considered art and how to create it. The exhibition is organised so that visitors literally walk through the chronological journey of the Cobra movement. Each space and is dedicated to a phase and one of the four artists who contributed to the advancement of the movement.
Artistic Director at the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Katja Weitering, who helped bring the exhibition to the UAE, believes that the influence of the movement has echoed throughout the generations.
"The movement opened the way to absolute artistic freedom," she says. "It was the first movement from a European perspective with an international resonance. It was the first movement in post Second World War Europe that created the possibility that there are no limits, to the material you can use, to the subject you want to use or to the type of expression you choose. I think that was probably their most important contribution."
The four artists on show strove to create a new, free and expressive type of art each in their own style. They collaborated together as a team, exchanging ideas, theories, and writing poetry with the goal to liberate the artistic creativity hidden in every person.
Karel Appel was in search for a more immediate and expressive way to create art. Like his contemporaries Appel lived through the Second World War when he was young and growing up had a political urge to express what he'd seen through art and to establish something new. Appel developed a language that was childlike in its expression but also very free.
Dutch artist Lucebert is known to combine disciplines like painting, drawing and poetry to create visual poetry. Lucebert's poetry was revolutionary in that it was non-traditional, had different rhythms and even some made up words. The exhibition also marks the first time his poetry has been translated into Arabic.
Eugene Brands was the most spiritually informed of the Cobra artists. Heavily influenced by music, poetry and non-Western art from the Middle East and oceanic art, his paintings have a dream-like quality with strong symbolic imagery.
Constant was essential to the Cobra movement not only as an artist but as a theoretician as well. With strong beliefs in the importance of art in society, the exhibition displays two aspects of his work. First, his influence directly within the Cobra period, which includes paintings depicting his own mythology where fantasy animals in human shapes are painted in a delicate style. Constant also developed a project titled New Babylon where drawings, paintings and plans display his Utopian vision of a new type of urban society.
THE QUINTESSENTIAL PIECE
The showstopper of the exhibition has to be the large-scale work by Karel Appel titled Femmes, Enfants, Animaux / Women, children, animals. Appel found the large piece of canvas at a building site and on seeing its potential, took it back to his warehouse apartment and painted in only two days in 1951. The result was an explosion of expressions that embodies many of the Cobra ideals and Appel's own experiences. Influenced by the impulsiveness of Jazz music, primitive, non-Western art and the imaginary worlds of children, Femmes, Enfants, Animaux is a direct form of expression. After the Second World War, Appel travelled through Germany by train and was affected by the sights of many begging children he came across. His post-war experiences, particularly those children's faces, were reinterpreted in Femmes, Enfants, Animaux. Colourful, spontaneous, with a child-like quality in both the marks of the paint and the shapes, the work was seen as shocking and controversial at the time. Critics and art lovers were used to classical paintings and here Appel had painted a flat image with no sense of perspective, using mostly primary colours of reds, blues and yellows.
Femmes, Enfants, Animaux has also had a curious history. Ironically, at one point it was hung in a restaurant with people eating in front of it and ended up as part of Lars Ulrich's art collection, drummer of heavy metal band Metallica. Eventually it was sold at Christie's auction house and purchased by the Cobra museum where it remains the most expensive art work in their collection. Over time, Appel's mastery and the significance of Femmes, Enfants, Animaux was recognised and his experimentation in technique and ideas appreciated.
There are many reasons to visit The Cobra: 1000 Days of Free Art exhibition. History, art, storytelling are all on show and the joy of art making is displayed in a manner where everyone in the family can learn and enjoy.
"It sounds like a terrible cliché," Katja says on what visitors can take away from the exhibition, "but inspiration. Inspiration to not feel any boundaries when it comes to your individual expression and to see the force of art and the sheer joy but also the impact."