Kunsthaus Zürich opens 'Smoke and mirrors. The Roaring Twenties'

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Kunsthaus Zürich opens 'Smoke and mirrors. The Roaring Twenties'
Exhibition view of Smoke and Mirrors. The Roaring Twenties‘ Kunsthaus Zürich, July 2020. Photo © Franca Candrian, Kunsthaus Zürich.

ZURICH.- From 3 July to 11 October 2020 the Kunsthaus Zürich presents a major themed exhibition on the 1920s: ‘Smoke and Mirrors. The Roaring Twenties’. For the first time since the 1970s, an art exhibition sets up a transnational dialogue between Bauhaus, Dada, New Objectivity and the design and architecture icons of modernism. Meanwhile, art practitioners from the 21st century revive the disruptive spirit of the inter-war years to produce surprising new works of their own.

The 1920s were a decade of both progression and backlash. A catastrophic world war followed by a pandemic with remarkable parallels to the current corona crisis awakened people’s thirst for life. At no time in the 20th century was the desire for change more intense.

Urban visions were created and cities grew at breakneck speed. Conventional role models in society and family were questioned and upended; disadvantaged and oppressed minorities made their voices heard in politics and culture. Improved conditions for workers went hand in hand with a growing leisure industry. The spirit of innovation in economic relationships and society fed through directly into the arts, with experimentation in all disciplines.

Styles emerged in architecture and design that are as fresh today, in the 21st century, as they were a hundred years ago. Having a closer look at Berlin, Paris, Vienna and Zurich, the exhibition covers all the prevalent media of the 1920s, from painting, sculpture and drawing to photography, film and collage, fashion and design. It was a decade that saw the creation of Chanel’s ‘little black dress’ and the celebrated club chair, a collaborative project involving Le Corbusier, Perriand and Jeanneret, as well as Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt kitchen. It also gave birth to what Moholy-Nagy termed the ‘New Vision’ in photography. What all have in common is that even a century on they look modern, even contemporary. A source of inspiration for myriad imitators and desirable objects in their own right, they are still cherished by design aficionados in the 21st century. Contemporary artists who explicitly engage with the formal language and themes of the 1920s bridge the gap to the present day.

Kunsthaus curator Cathérine Hug has selected some 80 artists from a wide range of disciplines for the exhibition: Josef Albers, Hans Arp, Kader Attia, Johannes Baargeld, Josephine Baker, Marc Bauer, Erwin Blumenfeld, Constantin Brancusi, André Breton, Marcel Breuer, Suse Byk, Andrea Büttner, Coco Chanel, Adolf Dietrich, Dodo, Theo van Doesburg, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Theodore Lux Feininger, Hans Finsler, Laura J Gerlach and Margarete Schütte-Lihotszky, Valeska Gert, Barthel Gilles, George Grosz, Raphael Hefti, Heinrich Hoerle, René Herbst, Hannah Höch, Karl Hubbuch, Pierre Jeanneret, Rashid Johnson, Wassily Kandinsky, Elisabeth Karlinsky, Paul Klee, Rudolf von Laban and Suzanne Perrottet, Laura J Gerlach, Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Jeanne Mammen, Elli Marcus, Fabian Marti, László Moholy-Nagy, Lucia Moholy, Piet Mondrian, Alexandra Navratil, Trevor Paglen, Gret Palucca, Nicolas Party, Charlotte Perriand, Paul Poiret, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Gerrit T. Rietveld, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Thomas Ruff, Christian Schad, Xanti Schawinsky, Wilhelm Schnarrenberger, Kurt Schwitters, Shirana Shahbazi, Veronika Spierenburg, Varvara Stepanova, Edward Steichen, Niklaus Stoecklin, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Rzn Torbey, My Ullmann, Félix Vallotton, Madeleine Vionnet, Rita Vitorelli and Nikolai Wassilieff.

Rather than being arranged chronologically or by genre, the works are grouped together around socio-cultural issues that were key to the ‘Golden Twenties’: moving on from the trauma of war, new role models, pluralist perspectives and the frenetic pulse of the body in movement. Plurality of expressive resources was a hallmark of this unsettling era. Today, with neoliberal politics nearing its limits, disruptive innovations challenging social and ethical standards, artists positioning themselves as activists and cultural pessimists embracing reactionary tendencies, the time is ripe to revisit the 1920s. For the accompanying programme, the Kunsthaus has chosen to highlight creative processes and open up debate on the social and economic issues of today.

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