Exhibition | Celebration!

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 25, 2016


Francisco de Goya, Blind Man’s Bluff (La Gallina Ciega), 1788, canvas, 269 x 350 cm
(Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado)

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Press release for the exhibition now on view in Vienna:

Celebration! 125 Years, Anniversary Exhibition / Feste Feiern: 125 Jahre – Jubiläumsausstellung
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 8 March — 11 September 2016

Curated by Gudrun Swoboda

In 2016 the Kunsthistorisches Museum is celebrating a jubilee: 125 years ago, on October 17, 1891, Emperor Franz Joseph formally opened the new main museum on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. To celebrate this anniversary in style we are showing an important exhibition on ‘the art of celebration’ showcasing precious artworks from all the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. International loans like Francisco de Goya’s La gallina ciega from the Prado in Madrid or the magnificent Yashmak designed by Shaun Leane for one of Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows from the V&A in London will enrich this magnificent show, which presents 125 groups of objects in three galleries.

The show focuses on celebrations and their history, and looks at different aspects of European festivities from the Renaissance to the French Revolution—at court (especially that of the Habsburgs) in towns and cities, and in the country. Court banquets and their opulent dishes, dancing and music form the centre of the show (Gallery VIII). The adjacent galleries look at sumptuous outdoor parties organized to celebrate coronations, weddings or birthdays but also during Carnival, popular festivals or on market days (Gallery IX), and at courtly tournaments (Gallery I).

Festivities always represent a state of exception during which every-day laws are temporarily suspended—through role-playing games and disguises that flout historical, cultural and gender differences. But what can we display of these ephemeral, long gone festivities? By turning the question on its head we arrive at a preliminary answer: we can display what remains of the day: show-pieces, props and pictorial records of these events.

For millennia something was presented or displayed during many of these celebrations, be they ecclesiastical or secular. Court festivities offered the host the opportunity to display precious show-pieces removed for this purpose from his treasury or Kunstkammer. The large two-handled rock crystal vase is such a show-piece; in 1764 it was removed from the Imperial Treasury in Vienna and transported to Frankfurt for the coronation of Joseph II. After the event these prestigious artefacts were returned to their respective depositories, only to reappear again at the next important festivity. Not a show-piece sensu stricto but nonetheless an important prop is the seventeen-metres-long tablecloth presented here to the public for the first time; Emperor Charles V commissioned it in 1527 for the banquets of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Another extraordinary prop for princely drinking parties is the 16th-century ‘trick chair’ that shackled guests until they had downed the content of a ‘welcome-glass’.

Fantastic parade armour worn at Renaissance tournaments documents exceptional creativity and imagination, and these artefacts are among the most fascinating props used as elegant disguises by the elite. Courtly festivities demanded both opulence and splendour but also extravagance—including technical extravagance. A particularly sophisticated construction that documents the innovative potential and the creative energies employed to plan and produce surprising show-effects is the mechanical breast-piece comprising springs and levers that Emperor Maximilian I commissioned for courtly tournaments. A direct hit on the shield of one’s opponent activated the mechanism, catapulting the pieces of the disintegrating shield high into the air. Hosts worked hard to surprise and enchant their guests, and the creative achievements of the court artists especially employed to plan and organize these festivities reflected back on their patrons.

Fragile sculptures made of molten sugar functioned as ephemeral table décor at banquets, and they, too, illustrate the sophistication of such costly festive creations. Contemporary Tuscan artisans have produced a number of sugar statuettes especially for this exhibition, an attempt to recreate the splendour of these centrepieces known as trionfi di tavola. But festive infrastructure also required invisible props like the 17th-century rocket-pole that bears witness to the magnificence of ephemeral baroque fireworks displays. In addition to opulent treasures and curious extravagances the exhibition includes depictions of real and imaginary festivities: from coronations to Bruegel’s boisterous peasant celebrations to the fanciful fêtes galantes of Watteau and his followers—dreamy scenes set in Arcadian parklands in which fashionable ladies and gentlemen give themselves up to dance, games and gallant conversation.

Public festivals offered a counter-draft to the strictly regulated hierarchical court festivities—especially during Carnival, a looking-glass world when the existing social order was temporarily turned upside down through exuberant partying, the donning of disguises and role reversal—one way of defusing the tensions that accumulate in every hierarchic society. A number of musical examples document that various elements of public festivals have enriched and inspired court celebrations. A perfect example of this rich interdependency is the painting of Blind Man’s Bluff by the Spanish court painter Francisco de Goya, who recorded public festivals and their entertainments in many of his compositions. Occasionally elements of a public festival are even turned into a court ceremony, and are thus constrained and controlled. One example is the Cuccagna Napoletana, which evolved out of carnival processions in Naples. The rising number of increasingly serious accidents during celebrations originally organized by the craftsmen’s guild led the ruler to assume control. Royal troops guarded a land-of- Cockayne-like structure set up in front of the royal palace until the king standing on a balcony gave the sign that gave it up for plunder, and it was stormed by the populace.

The artefacts assembled for this exhibition bear witness to the exceptional splendour and opulence of some of these festivities but they also hint at their rigid as well as fragile order. They also show that the history of celebrations includes some that never actually happened. The exhibition offers insights into the history of celebrations—mainly, but not exclusively, during the early Modern Era. Our aim is to show that throughout history festivities were always also displays, and although the installation is ‘festive’ it aims also to remind visitors of what separates us from earlier festivities: it is, of course, obvious that modern museum visitors differ greatly from the protagonists and spectators of historical feasts—but how does a modern audience see itself? The exhibition poses this question in the form of a magnificent baroque mirror: it is, in a way, a precursor of our modern selfies, and functioned in much the same way. But perhaps it can also turn into an instrument of (humorous) self reflection, for which there is more than enough cause 125 years after the formal opening of the magnificent museum building on the Ringstrasse.

The exhibition was curated by Gudrun Swoboda, curator for Baroque Painting in the Picture Gallery of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Most of the artefacts on show come from the rich holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and some of them have never, or only very rarely, been on display. In addition, the show includes loans from a number of national and international museums such as the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museo del Prado in Madrid, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, the Historisches Museum Frankfurt, the MAK—Austrian Museum for Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, the Albertina, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, the Hofmobiliendepot and the Musikverein in Vienna, and the Tiroler Landesmuseum. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, who have also lent a number of important works.

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The full-length German catalogue is available from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, along with an abridged English version. A 27-page booklet with a checklist of the 126 items included in the exhibition and a brief description for each object is available to download as a PDF file here.

Sabine Haag and Gudrun Swoboda, eds., Feste Feiern (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum, 2016), 320 pages, 35€.

Exhibition | Goya: Mad Reason

Posted in exhibitions by Caitlin Smits on May 25, 2016

From The Blanton Museum:

Goya: Mad Reason
Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin, 19 June — 18 September 2016

Almost 200 years after the artist’s death, the work of Spanish court painter Francisco Goya (1746–1828) remains powerful, arresting, and pertinent. Addressing abuses of power and the ravages of war, Goya’s work shows his hope for Enlightenment principles (progress, liberty, tolerance) as well as his dismay at the movement’s failures, especially its inability to prevent war and oppression. Goya: Mad Reason explores these dynamics across much of the artist’s printmaking career, highlighting his mastery of both idea and artistic expression. The exhibition features superb editions from Goya’s print series, including Los desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War)La tauromaquia, (The Art of Bullfighting), and Los disparates (The Follies or Absurdities) from the collection of Yale University Art Gallery.

Press release (added 19 June 2016) . . .

The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin presents Goya: Mad Reason, an exhibition of nearly 150 prints and paintings by renowned Spanish court painter Francisco de Goya. The series of prints comprising the exhibition—borrowed from Yale University Art Gallery’s distinguished Arthur Ross Collection—illustrate the artist’s mastery of forms and concepts as he grappled with the changing political and intellectual landscape of his native Spain in the early nineteenth century. Yale chose the Blanton as a partner for its Ross Collection sharing initiative, and the Blanton in turn selected Yale’s superb and affecting Goya prints as a foundation for this exhibition. Select paintings on loan from the Kimbell Art Museum, the Meadows Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston further punctuate Goya: Mad Reason thematically and visually, offering new and insightful ways of understanding the artist’s prints.

“We are honored to partner with Yale University Art Gallery to bring selections from the renowned Arthur Ross Collection to Austin,” remarked Blanton Director Simone Wicha. “This project has also afforded us the opportunity to borrow paintings from other key institutions across Texas, offering further insight into the remarkable works of Francisco de Goya, an artist whose oeuvre touches on the very fabric of human nature, and whose profound creativity remains an inspiration centuries after his death.”

Among Spain’s most celebrated artists, Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) is sometimes considered to be among the first truly modern artists. Edouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and many other artists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries looked to Goya’s art for inspiration, and he continues to serve as a touchstone for contemporary artists like Yinka Shonibare and Enrique Chagoya. Goya is known for his penetrating characterization of the human condition, his insightful criticisms of ignorance and oppression, and his unflinching look at the inhumanity of war.

Goya: Mad Reason highlights the artist’s treatment of war, bullfighting as a national pastime, and the instability of reason itself. His work makes visible the great transformations and unrest of Europe during his lifetime. Goya’s images manifest his hope for social progress as well as his disappointments. Against the traditions and vested interests of the populace, Church, and nobility, and influenced by French and English ideas, Spain’s liberal elites sought and achieved limited economic and educational reforms throughout the 1700s. Fears of the French Revolution spreading instability, and Napoleon Bonaparte’s subsequent 1808 invasion of Spain, halted much of that progress. After the war, the reign of Ferdinand VII led to regression and repression. In 1824, Goya left Spain for a self-imposed exile in Bordeaux, France.

Goya’s art belongs to this history, yet it remains relevant for today’s viewers due, in part, to the themes explored in his works as well as his unique visual expression. The works exhibited in Goya: Mad Reason also reveal a shifting tension between objectivity, or reason, and irrational emotion. The partitioning of knowledge that flourished in Goya’s lifetime, as modern scientific thought emerged, underlies this development and persists as a basis of our own worldviews today. Goya: Mad Reason explores these issues across the artist’s prints and paintings, examining their historical and social power as well as the artist’s mastery across the media of painting and printmaking.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

· Portrait of the Matador Pedro Romero (ca. 1795–98): Goya painted Pedro Romero, one of the greatest toreadors of all time, shortly before he retired from the bullring. Goya’s study of the works of Diego Velázquez is evident in the skilled brushwork of Romero’s costume and muted tones of the painting’s background.

· La tauromaquia [The Art of Bullfighting] (1815–16): A series of etchings chronicling Goya’s idea of the evolution of bullfighting in Spain, including the practice’s history as well as the rituals and styles of famous bullfighters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

· Los desastres de la guerra [The Disasters of War] (1810–ca. 1815): One of Goya’s most well-known series, Los desastres de la guerra (first published posthumously in 1863) is often viewed as a visual protest against the violence of the 1808 Dos de Mayo Uprising, the subsequent Peninsular War of 1808–14, and the Bourbon Restoration of 1814.

· Los disparates [Follies] (1815–24): Los disparates, also known as Los proverbios [The Proverbs], was Goya’s last major intaglio print series, and was not published until after the artist’s death. The works depict dark and dream-like scenes, and they have been variously related to political issues, the Spanish carnival, and traditional proverbs—though they are far more complex puzzles than any one solution may answer.

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