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.
Against repression - It was thanks to the CoBrA movement that art in post-war Holland, where rather conservative taste heldsway, 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.
The exhibition - 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.