September 10, 2016

Human Animals: The Art of Cobra and Cobra: Contemporary Legacy

University Museum of Contemporary Art at University of Massachusetts Amherst
Pierre Alechinsky, (Belgian, b. 1927); Among Us (Parmi Nous), 1965. Acrylic on paper and canvas. NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, The Golda and Meyer Marks Cobra Collection; M-78.2.

CoBrA, an interdisciplinary and trans-national European avant-garde movement named after its home cities—Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam—caused a revolution in modern art in just three years (1948–51) of creative activity that continues to influence artists working today. Organized by NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale and guest-curated by UMass Amherst assistant professor Karen Kurczynski, a leading scholar of Danish Cobra artist Asger Jorn (1914–1973), who represents a new generation of art historians specializing in Cobra, the exhibition presents the history of Cobra through paintings, sculpture, prints, and primary documents by artists such as Asger Jorn, Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Constant, and Corneille.

The exhibition reexamines the unique meeting of a group of young painters and poets brought together by an optimistic determination to start over after the war and a shared interest in spontaneity and myth, as well as folk art and children’s art. Rejecting both naturalism and pure abstraction at the end of the Second World War, Cobra valued unbridled experimentation and creative freedom, manifested in brilliant, colorful paintings of distorted figures that provided a more symbolic and political European counterpoint to the roughly contemporary “action painting” of the Abstract Expressionists in the United States.

In keeping with the exhibition’s assertion that Cobra has particular resonance with contemporary art practice, the design of Human Animals: The Art of Cobra reflects the innovative installations of the first Cobra exhibitions that were designed by Dutch avant-garde architect Aldo van Eyck, with a re-working of the “Poet’s Cage” featured in the landmark 1949 Cobra exhibition in Amsterdam. This brings an additional layer of trans-historical dialogue to the project. All Cobra art in the exhibition is from the Golda and Meyer Marks Collection at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, the largest assembly of Cobra art work in a US museum.

Cobra: Contemporary Legacy, the simultaneous exhibition, organized by UMCA and curated by Kurczynski traces the impact and legacy of Cobra through the present day with a selection of contemporary work by artists such as Albert Oehlen (German), Jacqueline de Jong (Dutch), Tal R (Danish), Axel Heil (German), Nicole Eisenman (American), and Herbert Gentry (American). The relationship between the works in these two exhibitions will underscore the urgency of the reexamination of the Cobra movement’s groundbreaking experiments and ideas and their influence on the work of contemporary artists.

The one-day symposium The Legacy of Cobra coincides with the opening of the exhibitions Human Animals: The Art of Cobra and the concurrent show Cobra: Contemporary Legacy at the UMCA in September, 2016. A primary aim of the symposium is in presenting new perspectives on the history and legacy of postwar European art, the Cobra movement (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam, 1948–51), and its impact on later art from the Situationist International (1957–72) to today. Moreover, the conference creates new connections to the political and artistic context of today and generates new or unconventional approaches to the pedagogy of art and art history.

The symposium is organized by Karen Kurczynski.


Human Animals: The Art of Cobra and Cobra: Contemporary Legacy at University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst

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