BASEL..Sometimes the largest paintings are the least known. The mural that Max Ernst painted in summer 1934 for the Dancing Mascotte in the Corso-Theatre on Zurichs Bellevue measures 415 x 531 cm. For decades Pétales et jardin de la nymphe Ancolie, with its flesh-red flowers on green leaves in a weightless space, provided pleasure as a background for dancing couples. Because of damage to the lower half of the painting the background was twice over painted with a muddy gray and entirely covered with varnish; later this feast of lush vegetation was removed, broken down into panels, and entrusted to the Kunsthaus Zürich.
This work, which is central to the oeuvre of Max Ernst (18911976), and not simply because of its size, is now finally being restored. Visitors to the exhibition will find a specially constructed exposed workshop where they can follow the metamorphosis of the individual panels from gray to light blue as their appearance is transformed. The restoration will also expose those parts that Max Ernst modeled on illustrations he found in a nineteenth-century botanical encyclopedia, though extremely enlarged and turned upside down. Also revealed are a womans naked leg in the lower right of the painting, which is the linear pendant of a hand and figure on the top level that suggest Max Ernsts alter ego: his incarnation as the bird Loplop. Lovers of gardens enter into a biomorphic event. Behind the flowers and leaves and a large, birdlike dancing element, they can make out the not yet awakened nymph Ancolie, whose Mel- Max Ernst nipped off in order to baptize her with a more life-affirming name.
Our thematic exhibition focuses on the re-born mural, on its central feature of mixing vegetal, animal, and human creatures. Additional paintings, collages, drawings, and rubbings (from the Histoire naturelle, for example) introduce the theme, while others reveal its echoes into his late work.
After the artists militant Dada phase in Cologne in the early 1920s and his move to Paris, the joie de vivre returned to his work, responding like a seismograph to the crises of wars and revolutions but also to the promises of Eros, the pleasure of love, peace, and the imperturbability of the history of the earth.
Paradises and Downfalls - From the time he decorated completely the house in Eaubonne where he lived with Paul and Gala Éluard (192324), Max Ernst began his search for the goddess Gradiva who inspired male fantasies from Sigmund Freud to André Breton. Before the chimeras, barbarians, and angels of death returned to his work prior to the Second World War, the artist took delight in the joys of nature, in vegetal harmony, the pleasures of seduction, the nirvana of devotion. All is magic, all joyous play, joie de vivre. Rarely has an artist been able to give free rein to his/her unconscious.
Soon, however, interlopers found their way into the idyll: carnivorous plants attack airplane parts (Jardin gobe-avions), and entire cities (Ville entière) are swallowed by rampantly grown forests.
Driven from the noonday sun of the Gardens of the Hesperides and the Joie de vivre, a Swampangel survives in the undergrowth; a great Chant du soir sings in the twilight; a deep, gloomy night is falling on the Rhine (Nuit rhénane, 1944). Thus Max Ernsts work, like his life, oscillated between metamorphoses of pleasure and the tragedy of European history; it explored associatively new experiential spaces of human existence.
First Large Exhibition in Switzerland since 1963 - Max Ernst was closely connected in many ways to Switzerland (from the Giacometti family to Meret Oppenheim and the Giedions) and its river in Basel: in his last large self-portrait he merges with Vater Rhein (1953, Kunstmuseum Basel). We shall also present this side of his life, and of course his diverse connections to Jean Tinguely, an admirer of the great Dadamax to whom he rendered homage.
Our presentation of a magician of innermost desires, the first in Switzerland in decades, was made possible by a number of works rarely lent, primarily from private collections but also from the Sprengel Museum Hannover, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Museum of Modern Art New York, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Kunsthaus Zürich, and the Kunstmuseum Basel. Above all, however, it is indebted to the aegis of Professor Werner Spies, the finest connoisseur of Ernsts work, who wrote the introductory essay for our catalog and contributed to the project in decisive ways. Other essays in the catalog are by Julia Drost, Jürgen Pech, and Ralph Ubl. Following her previous exhibitions Duchamp (2002) and Schwitters (2004), Annja Müller-Alsbach at the Museum Tinguely was in charge of this exquisite project, with support from Guido Magnaguagno.
Starting out from the large mural and a single theme, the exhibition opens up an oeuvre whose mysterious beauty, stimulating charm, and enraptured realities are like nectar.
The restoration of Pétales et jardin de la nymphe Ancolie by Max Ernst, a permanent loan from the Kunsthaus Zürich to the Museum Tinguely, is supported by the Museum Tinguely, a cultural commitment of Roche, and the Foundation BNP Paribas Switzerland.
The project will be documented on the Web site in three steps: www.kunsthaus.ch. Direction: Hanspeter Marty. Restorers: Kerstin Mürer, Françoise Michel.