It occurs every day. And despite this, we find ourselves again and again under the spell of the setting sun. It is impossible to imagine art without this motif. But for all that, sunsets risk being branded as kitsch. In the exhibition Sunset (26 November 2022 to 2 April 2023), the Kunsthalle Bremen
is presenting around 120 prestigious works from the Romantic Period to the twenty-first century. The exhibition not only examines the motifs proximity to kitsch but also the subjects potential to address fundamental questions of humanity. As a result, the objects on display are diverse: Works by Caspar David Friedrich, J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet, Félix Vallotton, Max Ernst, Dieter Roth and Tacita Dean are moving, humorous and apocalyptic at times abstract and at times breathtakingly beautiful.
The term sunset is actually a misnomer since the sun never truly sets. The English word sunset is deceptive, although without the connotations of the German word Sonnenuntergang, the Dutch term zonsondergang or the Norwegian / Swedish words solnedgang / solnedgång, all of which have strong undertones of doom and decline. Nonetheless, or perhaps because of this, it has provided rich material for myths and legends, music and paintings from time immemorial. In this context, a work by Marikke Heinz-Hoek, among others, is the opening act at the Kunsthalle Bremen. Since 2015, Heinz-Hoek has been working on her Stardust series in which she draws landscapes on reworked NASA photographs of space, presenting them as large C-Prints. Her three-part work Stardust 6 suggests the view out of a window over a vast, flat landscape with trees bending in the wind. The sight of the horizon is awe- inspiring, when thinking of a future life in space since scientists agree that in several billion years the sun will truly go down forever.
Origins of the Myth
The source of the motifs popularity can be found in the mid-nineteenth century when photography and printing processes, and later film and the Internet, provided the means to widely distribute images of sunsets. The culmination was reached in the 1970s when the motif found its way into private homes in the form of photographic wallpaper. In art, however, the motif was quickly used for criticism. For example, since the 1960s the graphic artist and publisher Klaus Staeck has been creating political satire such as the poster Keine Freiheit ohne Verschwendung (No Freedom without Wastefulness) created in 1979 during the second oil crisis. It shows a sportscar and an airplane in front of a spectacular, dazzling sky. A happy couple stands between these two carbon emitters. The generation of this couples grandchildren would go on to coin the term flight shame. In this way, Staecks poster remains just as relevant as it was forty years ago.
Typical Sunset Dream Destinations
Typical dream destinations for sunsets in art and in everyday photography are mountains and the sea. The painting Calais Sands at Low Water (1830) by J.M.W. Turner is a wonderful example in this exhibition of an atmospheric evening seascape. The Kunsthalle Bremen collection also includes a magnificent illustration of the famous alpenglow: The large-scale painting The Loisachtal in the Bavarian Alps, 1871 by Bremen painter Johann Wilhelm Julius Köhnholz is on display in the third gallery. It was criticized by the Bremen press when it was first displayed in the Kunsthalle in 1884 as being too cliché and therefore inauthentic, described as having, illumination effects that are too strongly accented and therefore not believable. (Bremer Nachrichten). The acquisition was thereafter relegated to the basement. The painting has been brought out of storage for the first time in a hundred years for Sunset. It was extensively restored in 2015 and is the centre of attention in the show.
A Stage for Encountering the Self
Looking at sunsets inherently involves a degree of melancholy, wistfulness and self-reflection. In art we can find numerous examples of people gazing devotionally at the sun, such as in Woman in Front of the Setting Sun, c. 1818 by Caspar David Friedrich and the ten-metre-long painting by contemporary painter Heike Kati Barath. Or Christian Haake, who sees his own forehead in his video Horizantlitz (2017) and transforms it into a sunset in his photograph Artist as a Sundown. At the same time, this work equates the forehead, as the seat of enlightened artistic genius, with the sun.
Because sunsets depict the moment that day becomes night, they are particularly well-suited to evoking memories and thoughts of those who are absent. In her painting Grief, 1902, Danish artist Anna Ancher used a sunset to underscore a scene of two women mourning in front of a cross.
A Series of Sunsets
Sunsets experienced a revival in Pop Art. We find several of them in Ed Ruschas work, as in his monumental 1977 panorama painting The Back of Hollywood. In 1972, Andy Warhol was commissioned by a luxury hotel to create an entire sunset series. Four hundred seventy-two of the six hundred thirty-two sunset prints hung in hotel rooms. The works of Félix Vallotton are precursors to this. From 1910 to his death, Vallotton painted around forty sunsets never sunrises. Woodcuts played an important role in these works. In 1891, Vallotton, under the influence of Paul Gauguin and the flat decorative style of Japanese colour woodcuts, began an in-depth exploration of this technique, which forced him to record various shapes and fleeting images as clear lines and surfaces and to work with radical chiaroscuro effects.
The Great Made Small
Although sunsets are sublime and grand, artists have also taken a microscopic perspective. Instead of working with large gestures, the evening view of the horizon is shown in miniature. In his pastel series Sunset, Richard Hamilton devoted himself to portraying a soft evening seascape and used the same dedication to draw a pile of faeces. The imposing size of the small pile shines upon the dark strip of beach in the foreground, giving the image considerably more depth. The artist thereby combines two elements that lend themselves to consensus: one from the popular and beautiful category, and the other from the category of disgusting and taboo.
At the end of the 1960s, Dieter Roth came up with a literal deconstruction of the sunset motif. In an entire series of works, with titles such as Small Sunset or Big Sunset, he positioned a slice of sausage between two different coloured sheets so that it appears to be a sunset halfway below a horizon formed by the edge of the paper. The fat that seeped into the paper creates a cloudy appearance the colour of decomposition.
Our sensitivity to climate change has also changed our view of art history. A series of paintings of the British Parliament by Claude Monet is a frightfully beautiful example of this. In 1918, Monet enthused: Without the fog, London would not be beautiful. It is the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth. In contrast, from our current point of view, the special light conditions can be interpreted as proof of earlier pollution. From the view of atmosphere researchers, this and similar paintings contain elements that may potentially be considered as a proxy indicator for the Victorian smogs and atmospheric states they depict.
Art research, analytic approaches and reflections on media often involve demystification. In her 16mm film The Green Ray of 2001, Tacita Dean is able to maintain a balance between these. The green ray also called the green flash is a rare optical phenomenon that can occur during sunsets when a bright green spot appears at the upper edge of the sun. Obstructed visibility, smog and increasing light pollution everywhere mean that it is almost a miracle if we catch a glimpse of it today.
One Hundred Twenty Works in Ten Rooms and an Outside Installation
The exhibition Sunset: A Celebration of the Sinking Sun (26 November 2022 to 2 April 2023) will present a total of 120 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, videos, and installations in ten galleries, including works by Caspar David Friedrich, J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet, Anna Ancher, Félix Vallotton, Emil Nolde, Andy Warhol, Günther Uecker, Ed Ruscha, Wolfgang Tillmans, Norbert Schwontkowski, Tacita Dean and Heike Kati Barath.
An LED installation is on display inside and outside the museum: Created for this show, the work SW- 235° 16:16 h by Swiss light artist Daniel Hausig will glow every day starting at sunset. The animated light image composition is based on time lapse videos of sunsets, abstract sunset simulations and colour sequences. Colourful light scenes and sequences will move across the windows of the Kunsthalle. In addition, a neon work by Fiete Stolte can be seen in Café Sylvette during the exhibition.
The richly illustrated catalogue (in german only) is published by Hatje Cantz Verlag, 28 in the museum shop / 34 in bookstores, 256 pages. With essays by Ulrike Draesner, Annett Reckert, Angela Tietze, Friederike Quander, Uwe Schneede and Andreas Vogel. Including poems by Sylvia Geist, Arne Rautenberg, Mirko Bonné, Lisa Jeschke, Marcel Beyer, Cia Rinne, Jan Wagner and Anja Kampmann.
An atmospheric audio guide has been created for the exhibition. Artist and musician Janis E. Müller composed nine soundscapes for individual rooms. In addition, the audio guide includes eight poems created for the exhibition that correspond to an individual work of art. The audio texts are available for free from the Art Surfer app, which can be downloaded via the Kunsthalle BremensWiFi. http://artsurfer.kunsthalle-bremen.de
Photographs of sunsets:
Before the exhibition opens, the museum invited the public to submit their own photographs of sunsets for the show. The response was overwhelming: More than 6,000 photos were received. A selection will be presented in the exhibition in the form of a calendar with a new sunset each day during the show. Other photos will be used for a postcard, a poster exhibition in the cafeteria at the University of Bremen and for communication on social media, etc.
Tuesday, 20 December 2022, 7 p.m.: Artist Talk: Winter Suns: Daniel Hausig (Professor for Light and Intermedia, Hochschule für Bildende Künste Saar) in conversation with Andreas Vogel (Head of the Olbers-Planetarium, Bremen).
Wednesday, 21 December 2022, 2 to 5:30 p.m.: Double Tour: Winter Solstice: Event at the Olbers-Planetarium followed by a guided tour of the Sunset exhibition.
Tuesday, 24 January 2023, 7 p.m.: Talk: Caspar David Friedrich - Sunsets by Prof. Reinhard Zimmermann, Art Historian
Tuesday, 14 February 2023, 7 p.m.: Talk: What the Most Beautiful Sunsets Can Tell Us by Prof. Dr. Jürg Luterbacher, Director Science and Innovation and Chief Scientist at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
Tuesday, 28 February 2023, 7 p.m.: Artist Talk: When the Sky Turns Pink by Prof. Heike Kati Barath, Michael Weis and students at the University of the Arts Bremen, plus presentations of sunset animations by artists and students in the exhibition.
Tuesday, 7 March 2023, 5/ 6:30/ 8 p.m.: Art and Music: Sonne, weinest jeden Abend Dir die schönen Augen rot, wenn im Meeresspiegel badend Dich erreicht der frühe Tod. Sunsets with Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann and Hans Zimmer, Sinfonia Concertante.
Sunday, 2 April 2023, 3-5 p.m.: Literary Closing -- Sun Storming: Closing tour and reading with Ulrike Draesner.
All events are held in German.