ART SEEN - Things Fall Apart
Things fall apart: Does Art reflect a crumbling worldview?
How do groundbreaking revelations in science and their repercussions on the human self-perception reflect in the art of the respective epoch? The present exhibition at the Kunstmuseum in Bern zooms in on this question on a national level, looking at Swiss art from the 19th and early 20th century, with masterpieces by Swiss artists from Ferdinand Hodler to Félix Vallotton, as well as works by female artists who have so far received less attention, such as Annie Stebler-Hopf.
According to Sigmund Freud, three major scientific discoveries have fundamentally shaken humanity's understanding of itself:
- Copernican cosmology
- Charles Darwin's theory of evolution
- Freud's own theory of the unconscious
These revelations resulted in the realisation that man is not the centre of the universe and rules neither over nature nor even over himself. In which way did this mood of uncertainty influence how artists saw and represented the world around them?
In the works of this time, idyllic and romantic landscape paintings make way for a menacing and monumental picture of nature. The human figure ,formerly shown as heroic knights or conquerors, now appear only at a distance, almost invisibly small and vulnerable at the foot of gigantic mountains. Humans don't get more significance than grazing animals, equal in the presence of overwhelming nature and elements. Gabriel Loppé's 'Das Matterhorn' from 1867 in which two hikers practically disappear in the barren, alpine landscape with sharp-edged icy peaks demonstrate this graphically.
- Gabriel Loppé, 'Das Matterhorn'
- Annie Stebler-Hopf
Landscape paintings became a vehicle to transport emotions such as fears, concerns and hope. Some Swiss painters used mountains as a symbol for stability to embody a sense of national identity in the context of the newly created confederation. The times, where nature just provided an decorative backdrop to human achievements, glory or pleasurable activities like picnics were over.
- Eduard Boss
In paintings of this era in which humans remain the subject (and not just a footnote at the bottom of a page on monumental nature), they appear lost and tired, disoriented, haunted by dreams and fear, resigned or disillusioned. Great examples are the paintings by Eduard Boss, Albert Anker and Ferdinand Hodler. The human figure is no longer represented as triumphant and sovereign, but unprettyfied and with psychological depth.
Freud's revelations of a deeper, unconscious mental reality also lead to paintings picturing hybrids of all sorts; violent, instinct-driven minotaurs, nymphs and sirens owned by desire, pointing to the uncontrolled aspects of humanity.
- Arnold Böcklin, 'Meeresstille'
Doubtlessly at the heart of the interesting exhibition are Ferdinand Hodler's deconstructed and strikingly modern masterpieces 'Aufstieg und Absturz', commemorating the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1864 (triumph and tragic fall so immediately connected). They strikingly symbolize the theme and message of the exhibition and their staging on a monumental wall at the centre of exhibition rooms, could not be more perfect.
'Things fall apart' is an interesting, carefully curated exhibition putting Swiss masterpieces into their historical context and illustrates beautifully how art acts as a mirror of society.
Ferdinand Hodler, 'Night'
WHAT: Things fall apart - Swiss Art from Böcklin to Vallotton.
WHERE: Kunstmuseum Bern, Hodlerstrasse 8-12, 3011 Bern www.kunstmuseumbern.ch
WHEN: Now, until September 20, 2020 (Tues 10:00-21:00, Weds - Sun 10:00 - 17:00, Closed Mondays)
ENTRY FEES: Adults: CHF 10 (Seniors, students CHF 7.-, Children <16 Free)
- Ferdinand Hodler, 'Aufstieg und Absturz'