Reports

The exhibition Artists and Prophets. Schiele, Hundertwasser, Kupka, Beuys and Others represents an important, yet nearly unknown chapter in the history of European art. Although the exhibition curated by Dr. Pamela Kort, organized by Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in cooperation with the National Gallery in Prague, features works of renown artists, this is the first time they are shown in the broad social and historic context that conditioned the emergence of the prophets so decisive to their aesthetic. The exhibition presents more than 350 works dating from 1872–1972, including a variety of rare documentary material; on view are the works by Johanness Baader, Joseph Beuys, Fidus (Hugo Höppener), Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Jörg Immendorff, František Kupka, Egon Schiele, Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern and Heinrich Vogeler.

The strong and diverse artistic attitudes of artists would not have emerged in the 1880s without links to the self-proclaimed prophets of the time. Religious dissent and social revolution deeply concerned these charismatic figures, whose relevance for modern art remains a story yet to be told. All of them aimed at effecting a change in the lifestyle and outlook of contemporary man in order to help him solve personal, social, and economic problems. And yet, their names – Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, Gusto Gräser, Gustav Nagel, Friedrich Muck-Lamberty, and Ludwig Christian Haeusser – have fallen into oblivion. These prophets were not just well known in avant-garde circles; they had a profound effect on the development of modern art in Europe. Artists and intellectuals also admired them, albeit often behind closed doors.

In 1882, Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, painter and early advocate of vegetarianism, became Germany’s first artist-prophet. His Vienna exhibition at the Österreichische Kunst-Verein held ten years later became legendary and had a crucial impact on František Kupka’s later work in Paris. Egon Schiele was inspired not only by Diefenbach but Gusto Gräser too – one of the great themes of his art was the notion of the artist as a martyred prophet. Aroung 1900 the “Nature Prophet” Gräser began to encourage the public to follow his example of living off the land and loving fellow man. During the 1950s Friedensreich Hundertwasser followed suit, positing himself as an artist-ecologist.

Johannes Baader’s Dadaist work which posited his identification with Christ was encouraged by such Jesus Apostles as Gustav Nagel. Styled as a modern-day Christ Nagel he supported himself by selling thousands of postcards for a penny or two that featured his portrait. This entire tradition fueled the messianic dimensions of Joseph Beuys’s sense of his artistic mission. Initially Jörg Immendorff parodied exactly this aspect in Beuys’s art and person. Later he pledged himself to the “religion” of Communism.

The Trade Fair Palace exhibition not only reveals the links that connected the artist and prophets but also illustrates the far-reaching social and historical context that led to the emergence of key works of modern art.

The artistic work of Jonathan Meese (b. 1970) integrates paintings, sculptures, installations, performances, drawings, collages and works for the stage. During the opening of the exhibition Artists and Prophets. Schiele, Hundertwasser, Kupka, Beuys and Others the artist will present an art performance created specially for the National Gallery in Prague. Within its course he will converse from a hideout with the prophets featured in that show. In the Trade Fair Palace’s Small Vestibule, a collection of his paintings tellingly entitled My Über Daddys will be featured that also allude to the activities and impact of the prophets.

Although Jonathan Meese perceives himself as an anti-prophet, in his current performance “You“, Living in the Erzbox: L.O.V.E. de LARGE (VISIONTELEFON), he draws on the tradition of the visionary movement of the artists-prophets. In the late 19th and early 20th century, social revolution was among the chief themes of these figures whose lifestyle and outlooks influenced the output of other prominent German-speaking artists.

From the beginning of his creative years, the concept of integral art, emphasis on performance art, the notion of art as the counterworld and “the dictatorship of art” that define all of Meese’s works link his oeuvre with the theater. Meese became widely acclaimed during his debut at the 1st Berlin Biennale in 1998, where his art installation celebrated a panoply of heroes and antiheroes from world history, mythology, film and pop culture. Thereafter followed numerous invitations from renowned art institutions to exhibit and perform there, among them the Tate Modern London, MoMA PS1 New York, Kestnergesellschaft Hannover, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Magasin Grenoble and Gemeentemuseum The Hague.

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