From the museum website, 30 September 2008
Sixty years ago the CoBrA artists were portrayed as ‘scribblers, daubers and cheaters’. This label, originally intended as derogatory, has since become a familiar slogan in praise of this famous experimental art movement.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the CoBrA movement by six passionate young artists: Karel Appel, Constant and Corneille from the Netherlands, Asger Jorn from Denmark, and Christian Dotremont and Joseph Noiret from Belgium. On 8 November 1948 they made a pact in the Café Notre Dame in Paris, their intention being to liberate art from the straitjacket that gripped it immediately after the war.
It was thanks to the CoBrA movement that art in post-war Holland, where rather conservative taste held sway, received a much-needed new impetus. The shock brought by CoBrA was felt particularly during and after the first – notorious – show at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, in November 1949. The Dutch public, media and art world were united in barring these ‘scribblers, daubers and cheaters’ from the realms of serious art. The reception and appreciation of CoBrA proceeded – to put it mildly – with difficulty. On the whole, critics and members of the general public felt that they were being ‘taken for a ride’ by the art of the international experimentalists, who by now also counted among their ranks artists from Germany and France. But the tone had been set, and over the last sixty years CoBrA has become one of the most highly regarded art movements of the post-war era. The CoBrA artists have achieved what they intended when they signed the original manifesto: a revolution in modern art.
With its anniversary exhibition The Cobra Museum of Modern Art brings to life the rebellious spirit of CoBrA. More than 70 major works from the 1940s and ’50s are included, among them the large paintings by Constant, Appel en Eugène Brands first shown at the Stedelijk Museum exhibition of 1949. Furthermore, the exhibition contains a number of Danish CoBrA works that have never been shown in the Netherlands. The focus is not exclusively on the period 1948-1951: the mentality and the spirit of the times that initially led to the foundation of CoBrA and have kept it going ever since (even when the group was officially disbanded in 1951) form a connecting thread throughout the exhibition. A selection of unique and fascinating documents, including the original manifesto, contemporary newspaper articles and historical photographs, provide further insight into the international joining of creative forces that makes CoBrA so special. The exhibition also focuses on the involvement in CoBrA of poets such as Jan Elburg, Gerrit Kouwenaar and Lucebert.
To present their contributions a modern version of the legendary poets’ cage of 1949 has been made specially for the exhibition.
The show highlights the international scope of CoBrA, drawing attention to the collaboration between experimental artists from different countries who influenced each other and whose vibrant spirit is still alive today. CoBrA’s core values – experimentation, spontaneity and a critical stance against society – are inextricably linked with the 21st century and contemporary art.
CoBrA and the Cobra Museum
Art of the CoBrA movement is the mainstay of the exhibition programme of the new Cobra Museum of Modern Art. In addition to being a leading exhibition venue for contemporary art, the museum houses a unique and internationally important collection of major works from the movement, which is constantly growing in size and importance, and which is supplemented with works from other prominent collections.
In collaboration with Waanders Publishers, the Cobra Museum of Modern Art is publishing CoBrA 1948-1951: terug naar de bronnen van kunst en leven, by Dr Willemijn Stokvis (ISBN 978 90 400 8474 4). Her studies of CoBrA, and research into the role and meaning of the international movement were fundamental in shaping the developing vision in this field. The English edition, Cobra 1948-1951: back to the sources of art and life, will be published by Lund Humphries, London.
Press release by three museums holding CoBrA exhibitions in 2008, 10 September 2008
60 years of CoBrA celebrated in three museums
This autumn, three museums will devote attention to the memorable fact that the CoBrA movement was founded exactly sixty years ago. In Café Notre Dame in Paris, Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Christian Dotremont, Joseph Noiret and Asger Jorn sealed the formation of the new international art movement (CoBrA: Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) in 1948. In doing so, the Experimentele Groep in Holland entered into a co-operative association with the Danish ‘experimentalists’ and the Belgian ‘surrealist-revolutionary’ groups.
The Koninklijk Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België (The Royal Museums for the Fine Arts in Belgium), the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, and the Cobra Museum voor Moderne Kunst Amstelveen have now organized prominent CoBrA exhibitions, each with its own angle of approach.
The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is the first of these museums to present an exhibition. In this case, it is the jubilee exhibition entitled 60 jaar CoBrA: de kleur van vrijheid (60 years of CoBrA. The colour of freedom), which deals with the relationship between private collections and collectors on the one hand, and museum collections and collectors on the other. The museum presents the Schiedam CoBrA collection, along with important loans from private collections. Here, the emphasis lies on works from the fifties by the Dutch participants in the CoBrA movement. (13.09 – 30.11 2008)
The exhibition entitled Knoeiers, Kladders, Verlakkers: Cobra 60 (Scribblers, Daubers, Cheaters. CoBrA 60) in the Cobra Museum for Modern Art in Amstelveen does not restrict itself to the period 1948-1951; the attitude and spirit of the times that led to the foundation and continuation of CoBrA run as a leitmotif through the exhibition. The international participation, the co-operative efforts and the mutual influences between the artists is the focus of attention in this exhibition. (18.10 2008 – 25.01 2009).
The Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels (Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten België) will present around 150 works in the exhibition entitled COBRA: bij de 60e verjaardag van de oprichting van CoBrA (COBRA: at the 60th anniversary of the founding of CoBrA). The exhibition will concentrate primarily on the story behind the CoBrA movement, and will place this key episode in its historical and cultural context. (07.11 2008 – 25.02 2009).
As mentioned, the jubilee exhibition 60 jaar CoBrA: de kleur van vrijheid covers the relationship between private collecting and museum collecting. In the fifties, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam purchased work by the ‘experimentalists’ in the sincere conviction that it was thus compiling a collection that was ‘representative of present-day art’, as curator Daan Schwagermann formulated it at the time. The Schiedam CoBrA collection, now comprising more than 250 works, is closely connected with the phenomenon of private collecting. The museum’s own collection is flanked by a large number of works from private collections compiled in the fifties, and also from collections initiated much later. All these works and all these collections have their own histories, which jointly constitute the story of how ‘the last avant-garde in Europe’ was originally only appreciated in very small circles, but eventually received such a sympathetic response that it has genuinely become the ‘art of the people’ that it aimed to be.
The Knoeiers, kladders, verlakkers: CoBrA 60 exhibition contains 70 masterpieces from the forties and fifties, and revives above all the rebellious spirit of the CoBrA movement. The attitude and spirit of the times, which led to the foundation and continuation of CoBrA (even after its dissolution in 1951) run as a leitmotif through the exhibition. The works of display have come from private and museum collections both at home and abroad. The exhibition also includes a selection from the CoBrA collection of the Cobra Museum, particularly from Danish artists who have not been shown previously in the Netherlands. In addition, special attention is paid to the participation of poets in the CoBrA movement, in a present-day variant of the legendary ‘poetry cage’ of 1949. Fascinating documents, newspaper articles and historical photos complete the picture of the CoBrA artists; their unique international combination of creative vigour.
COBRA: bij de 60e verjaardag van de oprichting van CoBrA sketches a historical overview of the CoBrA movement in the period 1948-1951. It depicts the movement in broad contours that outline the situation in which art found itself just after the war, as well as the debates in which a genuine European consciousness began to develop. The exhibition offers an eclectic view of the period in question. CoBrA is regarded as the tail of a surrealistic comet, as a northern manifestation of tachismic or informal art, or as a European form of the abstract Expressionism that began to flourish in the USA at that time. In the years following the Liberation and during the Cold War, CoBrA was eager to explore new paths – nowadays we would refer to these as ‘anarchistic’ and ‘alternative’ routes. In doing do, several members of CoBrA paved the way for Situationism and Fluxus.