Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Steiner and Visual Arts

Who is Rudolph Steiner? A giant photograph of the "philosopher, architect, sociologist, humanist and visionary" greets the visitor, along a description of his life and his accomplishments at the DOX, Centre for Contemporary Art, located in a northern neighborhood of Prague.

Steiner (1861-1925) is the founder of Anthroposophy, an esoteric philosophy with links to Theosophy. Its goal is to develop inner spiritual knowledge, independently of sensory experiences. Steiner applied his theories to various fields, including agriculture, medicine, pedagogy, architecture, dance, music (he developed eurythmy) and more. He designed the Goetheanum in Switzerland and several other buildings and his pedagogical movement is still widely followed with over 1000 Waldorf schools worldwide. He never claimed to be an artist, he was a philosopher.
What is the impact of Anthroposophy on the art? Artistic expression becomes a path, a medium to create a bridge between spiritual and material worlds. The art inspired by Anthroposophy is aimed at the awakening of inner spiritual energy.

The Dox presents two exhibitions: "Thinking without Limits: Inspired by Rudolph Steiner" and " Rudolph Steiner and Contemporary Art". The first is didactic and starts with writings from Steiner displayed in glass cases, followed by photographs and the paintings from artists who lived in Prague and Vienna at the start of the 20th century. Occultism, Theosophy and other esoteric philosophies influence the subjects of the works. The artists, among them Alois Bilek, Joseph Vachal, Karel Novak, Frantisek Drtikol, are unknown to the me and I found most the paintings mediocre. To my surprise, Kandinsky who was exposed to the theories of Steiner during his stay in Vienna, was not mentioned. The symbols found in his works evoke some similarities with Steiner's blackboards circles, arrows and lines representing the universe and also our inner self. Kandinsky went beyond the theory and built a spiritual world through his creations.

The exhibit flows without transition and the visitor is exposed to works from international artists, in search of spirituality, not necessarily related to anthroposophy. Among them, I discovered Joseph Beuys who was deeply inspired by the theories of Steiner and also used blackboards as a media. I found new dimensions to the works from Anish Kapoor and Olafur Eliasson. "When I Am Pregnant" (1992), a sculpture from Kapoor, is glowing from inside and creates a surrounding halo on the wall. It reaches perfection in smoothness, roundness, whiteness and ultimately purity. An area is dedicated to Olafur Eliafsson with "Before the Star Lamp" (2010) and "Power Tower" (2005). Plays with lights, reflections, shadows, create an ever changing world from the source with a whole universe of satellites. I noticed the sculptures from Karel Malich who was deeply inspired by Steiner's philosophy. He transforms a common material into ethereal creations floating in space. Steiner's works are represented by several of his famous blackboards, drawn spontaneously during his lectures to illustrate his theories. These were teaching tools and without the comments of the lecturer, are staying silent and hermetic. The exhibition with more than 70 displays, includes works from Giuseppe Penone, Mario Merz, Helmut Federle, Tony Cragg and to consider their philosophical dimension give them their full impact.

Thought provoking, it renews the interest for a philosophy which has still a strong impact on today's art and most likely centuries to come...
a reminder that Rudolph Steiner's legacy lives on.

photographs by the author:

"Atlantis" Richard Pollack Karlin, 1914-191

"Power Tower" Olafur Eliasson, 2005

"When I Am Pregnant" Anish Kapoor, 1992

sculpture, Karel Malich, 1976-1980

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