Wednesday, January 15, 2014

CoBrA in Florida

Post-WWII's art scene is overshadowed by the American artists and movements like Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop art. The NOVA Southeastern University, Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is bound to remedy this with a series of three exhibitions dedicated to CoBrA, an acronym for Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, the cities from which the original members of the movement originated. Corneille, Constant (Nieuwenhuys), Karel AppelChristian Dotremont, Asger Jorn and Joseph Noiret met at the Café Notre-Dame in Paris in November 1948 and signed the manifesto "La Cause Etait Entendue" (the case was heard) drawn by Dotremont. A reaction to Surrealism, De Stijl, Constructivism, Academism, it had also some political undertone, embracing Marxism and denouncing the "bourgeoisie".

The exhibition titled: Spirit of Cobra starts with a timeline of art history clearly drawn with color coded lines  and related short texts illustrated by photographs, placing the movement in its context. The works are displayed in five different areas following themes: Text and Image, Multifaceted Primitivism, Myth and Fantasy Animals (Scandinavia), Experimentation... They include paintings, sculptures, drawings, watercolors, videos and mixed media works from the museum's rich permanent collection, loans from the Cobra Museum in the Netherlands and private collections.
It is all about spontaneity of gesture and experimentation with media (often by necessity). Forget bronze or marble. Burlap from the neighbor, found objects, scraps of newspapers, broken glass, sand, the media itself becomes part of the creative process and the object becomes art.
Mythical creatures, birds, beasts, goblins, zoomorphic forms, inspiration was found in dreams and myths especially Scandinavian and African, also Folk art. Violence is looked at as a rebellion to order, a liberating gesture. The interdisciplinary movement included poets and writers. Words and poems become visual pieces of art, define the space on the canvas.
Some of the works have never been displayed and the exhibition as a whole is very informative about a movement which is still rarely mentioned. With six initial members, claiming approximately thirty participants and now retrospectively a list of artists related to Cobra, in a loose fashion. Names like Jean-Michel AtlanPierre Alechinsky come to mind and then, they were artists who were in contact with members of Cobra like Jean MessagierJean Dubuffet.
The movement was short lived and was officially dissolved in 1951, however it had a tremendous impact on the art world with its influence on Tachism, Abstract Expressionism and the recognition of Art Brut. Artists kept producing Cobra inspired works in the 60's and beyond.

The exhibition illustrates the spirit of Cobra, summed up with a few words like spontaneity, emotion and instinct versus reason and intellect.
"A painting is not a construction of colors and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a person, or all of that together" Constant, 1948.

Photographs by the author:

"Man with a Beard", Henry Heerup, 1934
"Dos ornés têtes dorées", Pierre Alechinsky, 1973
"Chapeau du désert", Asger Jorn, 1969
"Parmi nous", Pierre Alechinsky, 1965

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