CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

CoBrA: bij de 60e verjaardag van de oprichting van CoBrA

CoBrA: for the 60th anniversary of CoBrA Exhibition: 7 November 2008 - 15 February 2009

From the museum website, 22 September 2008

Created in Paris in November 1948 by artists coming from Copenhagen (Jorn), Brussels (Dotremont, Noiret) and Amsterdam (Appel, Corneille, Constant), the CoBrA movement remains unknown out of Europe. Sometimes considered as a tail of Surrealist comet, sometimes as a Nordic expression of the tachiste or informal art, Cobra is also considered as an European formula of the abstract Expressionism as it was then blowing in the United States.

The project firstly aims at relating the story of the Cobra movement by putting it in its historical and cultural context. After the Liberation and during the Cold War Cobra wanted to explore other paths which we now could call libertarian or alternative. Therefore the action of Cobra is worth to be enhanced in a perspective that will lead some of the artist to Situationism and Fluxus.

Press release by three museums holding CoBrA exhibitions in 2008, 10 September 2008

Stedelijk Museum Schiedam
Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

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.

Brought together in an interesting scenography an exhibition with more than 180 works will enable a retracing of the history of the Cobra movement, limited to the three years (1948-1951) of spontaneous creativity and intense group activities. The examination of sources is left to the richly illustrated and documented catalogue. This will allow to define the fundamental approaches that gave expression to, on the one hand, the artistic reality at end of the Second World War and, on the other, the constitutive debates on the question of a real European consciousness. In another respect, this historical model does not preclude ‘monographic’ groupings, which will provide the visitor with many opportunities to discover personalities as important as Christian Dotremont, Asger Jorn, Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Henry Heerup and Carl-Henning Pedersen.

The resourcefulness of Cobra’s painting, which pushed collective art to its extreme, saw interactive approaches arise to match the coming together of such great individuality. The intensity of the first endeavours of Jorn and Dotremont, or of Dotremont with Corneille and Atlan inspired emulation, especially in the enthusiasm of Pierre Alechinsky and far beyond the end of the Cobra movement in 1951. Painter and poet, painter and painter, painter and sculptor came together, using the language of Cobra, to paint with two brushes, to write with two intellects.

The final aspect of the exhibition will be a large collection of documentary items (texts, reviews, books, pictures). The Cobra review, rich living archives that precede and accompany the international encounters, which illustrate and visually display the experimental cultural sources of the world of the child, the art od the alienated, the popular and the primitive art, will all be present, illustrated for you to leaf through.


Michel Draguet
Catalogue of an exhibition held in 2008-09 in Brussels (Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België – Museum voor Moderne Kunst)
320 pp., 29 cm.
Tielt (Lannoo) 2008
ISBN-13: 978-90-209-8220-6