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20 Feb 2018 - 30 Dec 2018

Presentation of the Cobra Museum collection

The CoBrA movement was one of the major Art movements of the 20th century. The Cobra Museum presents its own collection in regularly renewed configurations.

The new collection presentation is divided into two rooms. It highlights the multidisciplinary nature of CoBrA on the ground floor (Waterzaal) such as ceramics and sculptures and CoBrA’s interest in the relation between text and image. The presentation on the first floor highlights the paintings and work on paper of the CoBrA members. The works are roughly grouped around nationality: the Dutch, Danish and Belgian branches of CoBrA. The exhibited works give an impression of the diverse ways in which the various CoBrA members developed as artists during, but also after, the CoBrA years. The associative, not strictly chronological approach to this presentation is underlined by the modular exhibition architecture, designed by the multidisciplinary design and production studio PolyLester.

The relation between text and image played an important role within CoBrA. The members of the group saw writing as a spontaneous creative expression that was not merely functional, but had a visual quality as well. In the seventh issue of the Cobra magazine, for instance, Christian Dotremont described his discovery that when he held his notebook vertically against the light, it bore resemblance to Eastern calligraphic drawings. Earlier, in 1944, Asger Jorn had stated that text and visual expressions were actually the same. In addition to Dotremont and Joseph Noiret, the Belgian co-founders of CoBrA, several other poets were involved with the group, including Lucebert, Gerrit Kouwenaar, Jan Elburg and Hugo Claus (later known as ‘De Vijftigers’). Just like the CoBrA artists, these experimental poets opposed the ideas of their predecessors. By focusing on the experience of language instead of its direct meaning, these poets developed a radically new voice in poetry.

Lucebert.

In this part of the collection presentation that focuses on CoBrA’s poetry, there is also ample attention for Lucebert (Lubertus Jacobus Swaanswijk). Recently, the biography ‘Lucebert’ by biographer Wim Hazeu was published. The book contains a chapter that has sparked much debate lately. Letters from Lucebert to his childhood friend Tiny Koppijn, which Hazeu received from Koppijn’s daughter, reveal that the young Lucebert sympathised with fascism and maintained anti-Semitic viewpoints. Lucebert would conceal his Nazi-sympathies for the rest of his life. It is evident that these shocking facts shed new light on Lucebert as a person, yet in what way they will affect the interpretation of his work is less easy to predict and is something that will have to become clear in the next couple of years. A dominant perspective in our present time is that when it concerns art, the work should be seen separately from the maker: it is not about what the maker has put into his work, but instead what the viewer gets out of it. But is that true? The Cobra Museum will continue to exhibit Lucebert’s work, supplemented with adapted texts, with the intention to facilitate a dialogue about these complex questions.

Cristian Dotremont 'Blue Winter' 1979. Collection Cobra Museum / Long term loan Karel van Stuyvenberg Caracas

The CoBrA artists’ desire to express themselves in a completely free and spontaneous way did not only manifest itself in two-dimensional works, but also in experiments with ceramics. In the autumn of 1948 – just before CoBrA was founded – and in 1949, Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille and Anton Rooskens experimented with ceramics in the earthenware factory ‘Russel-Tiglia’ in the Dutch town Tegelen. They painted both abstract patterns and fantasy figures on plates, bowls and vases made in the factory. The ceramics production of some of the CoBrA artists peaked halfway through the 1950s, after the group had split up. This was initiated by Danish CoBrA artist Asger Jorn, who had been making ceramics since the 1930s. Encouraged by his friend and artist Enrico Baj, Jorn moved to Albisola, an Italian coastal village renowned for its rich pottery tradition. Between 1954 and 1956, Jorn organised a number of gatherings in the local ceramics factory of Tullio Mazzotti, during which several artists, such as Appel and Corneille, worked collaboratively using clay and paint.

Asger Jorn creating a relief with a scooter in Albisola, 1959

Musique barbare: Karel Appel en Ed van der Elsken

Furthermore, a recent addition to the collection is exhibited: the publication Musique Barbare (1963) about Appel and his experimental exploration of jazz, with the original prints of photographer Ed van der Elsken who recorded Appel’s adventure in jazz music in photo and film.

In 1961 Karel Appel confined himself, together with sound engineer Frits Weiland, to a Philips sound studio in Hilversum for a period of fourteen days. It was there that Appel, inspired by the liberating sounds of Jazz, made music for the documentary De werkelijkheid van Karel Appel (The reality of Karel Appel) (1961) by filmmaker Jan Vrijman (1925-1997). Appel played different instruments, subsequently editing the recordings electronically. The songs composed by Appel were also released on a vinyl named Musique Barbare (1963), accompanied by a publication with the same title.

You can listen to some of the tracks here.

Karel Appel: Musique Barbare. Foto © Ed van der Elsken

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