Zentrum Paul Klee opens the exhibition 'Paul Klee. Humans Among Themselves'

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Zentrum Paul Klee opens the exhibition 'Paul Klee. Humans Among Themselves'
Paul Klee, D. Garten zur roten Sonnen blume, 1924, 12. Aquarell auf Papier auf Karton, 31,8 x 41,4 cm. Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Museumsstiftung für Kunst der Burgergemeinde Bern.

BERN.- What is the meaning of community, and what forms does it take? What are authority and power based on? Paul Klee is often perceived as an apolitical artist. The exhibition Paul Klee. Humans Among Themselves contradicts this perception and shows that a social or political dimension is often hidden behind the facade of his works. From the artist’s ‘superterrestrial’ perspective, Klee observes the human community, analyses its tensions and conflicts and depicts it in an ironically detached way, reduced to its essence. The exhibition is complemented by choreographies by the inclusive dance group BewegGrund.

With a zoological view

In Klee’s works human beings often look like an alien species that is yet to be explored. The artist observes them with an almost ‘zoological view’, he inquires into the essence of human society and analyses its behaviour in an ironic way. The exhibition Paul Klee. Humans among Themselves illuminates this particular aspect of Klee’s work in eight chapters. It shows his preoccupation with human nature, with the dynamics of social coexistence, with social and political power relations or the family as a tragi-comic community of fate. The exhibition also addresses Klee’s attitude towards the utopias and uprisings of his time. Special emphasis is placed on the illustrations on Voltaire’s social satire Candide, the still relatively unknown illustrations for Curt Corrinth’s Potsdamer Platz and the drawings from 1933 in which Klee subtly examines the social potential for violence unleashed by the National Socialists. The conclusion of the exhibition, which consists primarily of drawings, is a ‘garden cabinet’ featuring only works in colour, which establishes a connection between Voltaire’s Candide story and the many depictions of gardens in Klee’s work.

The search for community

Klee’s life and artistic career coincide with a period of dramatic political and social conflicts. He experienced two World Wars, revolutionary movements and the rise of fascism. Revolutionary and utopian ideas became highly influential in art. Many artists dedicated themselves to the utopian reordering of society. When a revolution was attempted in Munich in 1919, Klee joined an ‘action committee of revolutionary artists’, but never exercised his office and had to flee the city when it was defeated. For Klee, revolution meant the longing for a strong community of artists and the desire to help to shape society actively as an artist. In this context the Zentrum Paul Klee is showing Klee’s unique cycle of illustrations for the revolutionary novella Potsdamer Platz by Curt Corrinth (1920). In it, in ecstatic language, the author conjures a global sexual revolution which is also defeated. In his illustrations, which are influenced by the political upheavals, Klee converts the novel’s ‘all-engulfing stream of pleasure’ into a satire on revolution.

The 1933 drawings

War and violence are also reflected in a cycle of some 300 pencil drawings from 1933, when Klee, whom the authorities saw ‘as impossible and dispensable as a Jew and a teacher’ was dismissed from his post as professor at Düsseldorf Art Academy and moved to Bern. His art was reviled as ‘degenerate’, he lost his status and his income. The drawings form a group more closed in terms of style and content than anything seen before in Klee’s work. They show humans and animal-like creatures in situations of violence, militarism and persecution. While in National Socialist propaganda the installation of dictatorship is depicted as a national ‘renewal’ or ‘reconstruction’, Klee shows the events as the collapse of society, as a break with civilisation and a relapse into barbarism.

Illustrations for Voltaire’s Candide

Throughout his career, Klee appeared very seldom as an illustrator. Aside from the illustrations for the novella Potsdamer Platz, his simple, outlined pen-and-ink drawings for Voltaire’s satirical novel Candide are particularly significant. Klee was keen on Voltaire’s work: ‘wonderful to read, a quite phenomenal mind, wonderful language, simple, skilful, witty combinations, the supreme mind!’ he wrote in a letter to his wife Lily. The hero of the excitingly told, biting satire is credulous Candide who, expelled from the earthly paradise of the castle where he grew up over his love for the daughter of a German baron, finds himself on an odyssey through a world plagued by violence and catastrophes. His journey ends on a small farm, where as part of a small community he turns to gardening. Borrowing from the closing remark in Candide – that happiness and fulfilment lie mostly in the modesty of domestic work – one last room in the exhibition is devoted to Klee’s fascination with gardens and parks, in which only works in colour are included.

BewegGrund Collective

The exhibition is rounded off by a series of six dance pieces by BewegGrund, a Bern group of dancers with and without disabilities. These pieces, shown as screenings in the exhibition, were made in reaction to Klee’s drawings, and enter into a dialogue with the works. Over 30 dancers were involved in the project, which was directed by the choreographers Susanne Schneider and Lucia Baumgartner on the invitation of the Zentrum Paul Klee and developed with the participants. The work of BewegGrund is characterised by an experimental treatment of body, movement and dance and a reduction to the essential, which corresponds to the highly theatrical character and reduced lines of Klee’s works.

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