- Wilderness, an exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle
Never before have we seen such an alarming decline in biodiversity on our planet, a trend that could prove fatal for the survival of the human species itself. There are no more white patches on the geographical maps, the period of large-scale explorations is over and today’s expeditions are aimed at classifying what remains of untamed nature rather than at discovering the unknown.
For this very reason, we are also witnessing a resounding resurgence of our age-old fascination with the wilderness, with the untamed, uncultivated world. This trend goes against the euphoric belief in modern progress and artists were widely drawn to it even back in the 20th century. Artists began searching for originality, which they believed they could find outside bourgeois society. But it is interesting to see that in many cases the artistic portrayals of wilderness proved to be constructed renditions, onto which they projected ideal images and cultural stereotypes of distant natural landscapes. Not only that, but the wilderness has always acted as a screen where we project our ideas of the unknown and what it is like.
With the Wilderness exhibition, the SCHIRN Kunsthalle in Frankfurt presents about 100 major works of art by artists including Tacita Dean, Mark Dion, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Asger Jorn, Georgia O’Keeffe, Gerhard Richter, Frank Stella, Thomas Struth, Henri Rousseau and Carleton E. Watkins.
Not only does this exhibition bring together artistic testimonies, but it also responds to a mood that is spreading through today’s society, where the desire for untamed nature it very much in vogue and is infiltrating civilisation. This, at least, is the impression given by the numerous settings of “untouched” nature in advertising and social media and many lifestyle trends. In this context, the exhibition doesn’t focus on the iconographic theme of the wilderness, but rather on the relationship between the wilderness and art in the 20th and 21st centuries, to illuminate them from a contemporary perspective. The exhibition develops a thematic narrative between contemporary and historical artworks. Attention is focused on the aesthetic of the sublime made popular by the Romantic movement, the exploration of wilderness as a space of artistic experience, the metaphorical dimension of the wilderness as a creative principle and the creation of new artificial forms of wilderness using the medium of art.
The comparison with the traditional images and the pretences of wild nature that mark the artworks on exhibition are extremely interesting from the perspective of visual literacy. A masterful example of this comes from the French-Swiss artist Julian Charrière who based a series of photographs on snow-covered peaks rising up out of misty valleys. But in actual fact, the artist created these majestic mountain landscapes from piles of soil and flour on a construction site in Berlin. In this way, he questions not only our perception but also our idea of natural landscapes, which we are often all too quick to label idyllic.
A visit to the Wilderness exhibition at the SCHIRN is, therefore, an excellent exercise for us to train ourselves in the art of carefully observing and uncovering parasitical and stereotypical images.
from 1 November 2018 to 3 February 2019
SCHIRN Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany
Images: see captions
To find out more about what’s behind the Wilderness exhibition we recommend this digital narrative: https://www.schirn.de/wildnis/digitorial/en/