September 19, 2010

La Boheme at Museum Ludwig Cologne - The Staging of Artists in photography of the 19th and 20th century

“La Bohème”. The Staging of Artists in photography of the 19th and 20th century
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
25 September 2010 - 9 January 2011

In his 1851 novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, the French author Henri Murger created the image of the artist as an outsider who, in the midst of the middle class era, lived in romantic poverty. Bohemian life, viewed through rose-tinted glasses and elevated to undying popularity by Puccini’s opera, constituted in Murger’s view a transitional stage: “Bohemia is the first stage in artistic life; it is the preface to the Academy, the hospital, or the Morgue.” The term became synonymous with the 19th century artist who was dependent on an anonymous market and, while free of constraints, had to sell the fruits of his labours without the patronage of the courts. In the middle of this period in which the legend of the Bohemian swelled to bolster the artists’ feelings of self-confidence, came the invention of photography. Just how far this colourful approach to life was mirrored in photographic stagings of artists are examined in this exhibition at Museum Ludwig. It traces out the idea of the Bohemian milieu in photographic portraits, scenes and stagings.

The span of the work covered here extends from the earliest Daguerreotypes to the striking portraits by Nadar and the opulent artists’ banquets of the 1920s. Thus for instance Louis Alphonse de Brébisson staged around 1842 a group of friends painting and playing instruments as the quintessence of a romantic artists’ association in Bohemia. Felix Tournachon, known as Nadar, was not only a leading member of the Parisian Bohemians, he also created legendary portraits of his friends and contemporaries. No less ingenious was the collaboration between David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, whose group photographs such as Edinburgh Ale aimed at positioning themselves close to the artistic Bohemia. Historical pageants and so-called tableaux vivants tell of the lengths people went to dress up, not least for the artists’ and academy balls in the 19th century. Also on show are numerous poetic stagings done after historical models by David Wilkie Wynfield, a Pre-Raphaelite photographer, and Julia Margaret Cameron.

Paris remained however the metropolis of art and artists, and so the self-stagings from around 1900 by the artists of Montmartre and Montparnasse, such as Modigliani and Picasso, testify to their will to style. Likewise the figure of the dandy rose up amid this milieu in 19th century France. Stunning examples of this include the self-representations of the Pictorialists, such as Alfred Stieglitz and Frank Eugene Smith. The outlandish costumes in which the author Pierre Loti dressed up and the studio scenarios created for instance by Alphonse Mucha were also directly imbued with typical French flair. A special highlight will be the photographs of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, in which self-staging was wed with deep psychological introspection. Opulent and fanciful were the artists’ parties of the 1920s; on show will be examples from the Malkasten Düsseldorf, from Cologne, Hamburg, and from the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, photographed by leading photographers such as August Sander and T. Lux Feininger.

The Museum Ludwig, Cologne

The Museum Ludwig is one of Germany’s most important museums for 20th century art and contemporary art. It was founded in 1976 when Peter and Irene Ludwig presented the City of Cologne with 350 works of modern art. These works predominantly consist of American Pop Art paintings, objects, and sculptures (e.g. by Lichtenstein, Rosenquist, Warhol, and Wesselmann). In this genre the Museum Ludwig boasts the most significant collection outside the USA. A collection of Russian Avant-garde art spanning the years between 1905 and 1935 (Gontcharova, Larionow, Exter, Popova, Malevich, Rodchenko) also came to the museum. In 1986 the Museum Ludwig, together with the Wallraf Richartz Museum, obtained a building of its own situated between Cologne Cathedral, the Rhine river and the central train station. Cologne architects Peter Bussmann and Godfrid Haberer designed the building, which also houses the Philharmonic Hall.

The collection of Cologne lawyer Dr. Josef Haubrich (1889-1961) became part of the Museum Ludwig as well. Immediately after World War II Haubrich had presented the City of Cologne with his collection of Expressionist paintings (Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, August Macke, Otto Mueller) and other exponents of Classical Modernism (Marc Chagall, Otto Dix).

In 1994 Peter and Irene Ludwig donated a significant part of their Picasso collection (90 works) to the City of Cologne which made it necessary for the Wallraff Richartz Museum to move to a building of its own. On 31 October 2001, on the occasion of its re-opening, Irene Ludwig donated a further 774 works by Picasso to the Museum Ludwig. Consequently the Museum Ludwig now owns the third largest Picasso collection worldwide, after Barcelona and Paris. It comprises a representative cross-section of all of the artist’s creative periods, covering all genres, materials, and techniques.

1977 saw the start of the photographic collection, very early on for a contemporary art museum. The museum managed to purchase around 1000 photographs from L.Fritz Gruber, the initiator of the photokina fairs. As a result, several icons of 20th century photography became part of the museum’s collection. In addition, important loans and donations were received, among them industrial photography by A. Renger-Patzsch and photographic works by Russian avant-garde artists. With the Agfa Collection the Museum Ludwig owns an internationally renowned collection on the history of 19th century photography.

Also in the 1970s, the Museum Ludwig began to collect video and film works. As early as 1974 the first 16mm films, among others by Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, Joan Jonas, and ten further artists were purchased. Since then the museum has continuously expanded its collection. Since 2000 the Museum Ludwig has made a special point of collecting and presenting works representing the technical media in the context of contemporary art. The substantial acquisitions, e.g. of works by Aernout Mik, Renee Green, and Mike Kelley can be seen in this context.