The Kunsthalle Bremen presents a comprehensive exhibition of the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. New perspectives are revealed of Hundertwasser's creative output through a selection of seldom displayed early works of the artist along with classic masterpieces.
Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928–2000) is one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century who is often misunderstood and underestimated. The exhibition "Friedensreich Hundertwasser: Against the Grain. Works 1949–1970" presents the artist as a prominent member of the international avant-garde who worked in Paris during the 1950s and developed a highly original visual language in parallel to the prevalent Art Informel. During the 1950s and 60s, he broke new ground in his search for luminous worlds of color and as a trailblazer of visionary artistic forms. During this phase of his creative career, he was involved with numerous protagonists of the international avant-garde, including Yves Klein, Pierre Soulages, Jean Tinguely, Alain Jouffroy, and Arnulf Rainer. In the 1960s, Hundertwasser represented Austria at the Venice Biennial and exhibited at the documenta III in Kassel, achieving international recognition.
A New View of the Unknown Hundertwasser
In his theory of "Transautomatism" (1954–1957), Hundertwasser stated that art is charged with teaching humanity a new mode of vision. The Kunsthalle Bremen is offering new perspectives onto one of the best known and most controversial artists of the twentieth century. Standing at the center of what will be the largest exhibition of his oeuvre for many years are impressive early works as well as masterpieces from the 1950s and 60s. On display will be around a hundred selected paintings, graphic works and watercolors which lead back to the origins and early creative high points of this extraordinary artist. The exhibition brings together important loans, among others from the Centre Pompidou in Paris; the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark; the Albertina, the Belvedere, the KunstHausWien and the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna, as well as from numerous private collections in Belgium, France, Liechtenstein, Austria and Switzerland.
The Moldiness Manifesto and the Line as a Fundamental Stylistic Element
Hundertwasser considers the growing, uneven and sinuous line to be the fundamental artistic element and an expression of his nature-oriented approach. In the Moldiness Manifesto Against Rationalism in Architecture from 1958, he inveighs against the straight line: "The straight line is not a creative, but instead a reproductive line. Dwelling within it is not God and the human spirit, but instead the brainless ant that covets comfort and follows the masses." He advocates "creative moldiness", for in his eyes, mold animates the straight line. In 1953, he discovers the key motif of the spiral – a symbol of life, genesis, and the creative act.
The Political Gardener
The spiral may be found in multifaceted variations in Hundertwasser's oeuvre, for example in the extraordinary painting The Green Woman – The Political Gardener (1954), in whose arms are inscribed a swastika as well as a hammer and sickle. As the artist himself explains, he created the painting in order to "defuse" the impact of the symbols and to emphasize their formal structure. Hundertwasser advocates an unprejudiced approach to and consideration of a purely aesthetic quality in order to break the power of symbols. "Here I practiced 'learning to love political symbols,' impartially, just as children see something beautiful without knowing what it is or what it means." At the same time, The Political Gardener is a programmatic, life-affirming demonstration of the power of nature and the inexorable progress of life, which is symbolized by the ancient sign of the swastika as the wheel of life.
The Hour of Birth of European Performance Art
Not only was Hundertwasser a pioneer on a stylistic and ecological front, but he also gave important impulses to Performance Art and Happenings. In 1959, Hundertwasser together with Bazon Brock and Herbert Schuldt carried out the performance Die Linie von Hamburg ("The Hamburg Line"). Over the course of two days, together with a group of students, they covered the walls of the Hundertwasser’s studio in the academy of art in Hamburg with an endless line which wound upwards from the floor in a spiral form. This unauthorized action led to a scandal and explosive quarrel with the director, and ultimately to Hundertwasser's resignation as visiting lecturer. Until today, the event is considered to be an hour of birth for European Performance Art and Happening. For the first time after more than fifty years, the Kunsthalle Bremen is re-staging this legendary event in close collaboration with Bazon Brock. In the spirit of the original, a line will be generated in an uninterrupted session lasting more than fifty hours, transforming a large gallery in the Kunsthalle into an endless spiral and a spectacular environment.
Pioneer of Art and Precursor of the Ecology Movement
Hundertwasser's groundbreaking ecological involvement developed out of his artistic production as well as from his belief in the power of nature and in individual creativity. Already in his early work, he symbolically countered social conformity with his complex, curvilinear compositions and opulent coloration. His radical critique of civilization and his ecological positions are documented through manifestos and performances and the exhibition sets them in relation to his painterly oeuvre. Hundertwasser pursued an emphatically holistic approach which is reflected in his painting technique, his subject matter and his attitude towards life: He had a revulsion against working with prefabricated materials and colors, painted on packaging paper and found scraps, and depicted his environment through a formal structure which proliferates like vegetation. Already early on, he pursued a nomadic existence, propagated a simple and independent life with minimal impact on the environment and made his own clothing. Life and work, life and art were one for Hundertwasser.