‘Orientalism from Delacroix to Kandinsky’ at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich

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artwork: Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ - "The Dream of a Eunuch", 1874 - Oil on panel - 39.3 x 65.4 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Seventy-fifth anniversary gift of Mrs. Noah L. Butkin - © The Cleveland Museum of Art. On exhibit at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich as part of "Orientalism in Europe: from Delacroix to Kandinsky" until May 1st 2011.

Munich, Germany – With some 150 paintings and sculptures, the major exhibition ‘Orientalism in Europe: from Delacroix to Kandinsky’ presents the diverse interpretations of the Islamic Orient, North Africa and the Middle East by almost 100 western European artists. This survey starts with Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign (1798–1801) and continues through to the Modernism of the early 20th century. Masterpieces by Ingres, Delacroix, Gérôme, Renoir, Sargent, Klee and Kandinsky present Orientalism as a diverse artistic theme that transcends styles, artistic perspectives and national borders. Also awaiting discovery are magnificent works by lesser known artists like Lawrence Alma Tadema, Gustav Bauernfeind, Jaroslav Cermák, Henri Evenepoel, Fabio Fabbi, Osman Hamdi Bey, John Frederick Lewis, Alberto Pasini, Edward Poynter and José Villegas y Cordero. The exhibition runs until May 1st 2011.

Any exhibition that is dedicated to such multifaceted and complex subject matter is compelled to consider the social, political, ethnical and religious aspects in addition to the numerous artistic perspectives. Fascination with this geographical region, spanning three continents and ruled for a long time by the Ottoman Empire, has abounded in the western world for as long as knowledge of their cultures and trade with them has existed. However, during the 19th century, the situation changed dramatically. Until this point, orientalism as a courtly art form was largely expressed in so-called Turqueries or Chinoiseries, yet very few artists had actually travelled that far afield. Then Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign heralded a veritable “Egyptomania” all over Europe. The French army was accompanied by 167 scholars and artists who consequently gave rise not only to new scientific disciplines but also to a new orientalism in art. Many artists now started actually travelling to various locations as official emissaries of western governments or on their own initiative in order to document cultures that were considered to be unspoiled. Some of them even settled there permanently.

artwork: Jean-Léon Gerôme - "Harem Ladies in the Kiosk", circa 1870-1875 - Oil on canvas - 76.2 x 111.8 cm. Private Collection Najd © Private Collection Najd. On display at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung.

In turn, their paintings and photographs fostered further tourism and shaped a particular image of the Orient that was strongly influenced by colonial motivations. Some dreamt of sensual pleasures from the ‘Tales of 1,001 Nights’, which are reflected in the numerous depictions of drug and harem fantasies. Others were fascinated by the emotionality of a forbidding culture that had been considered ‘barbaric’ until then. During the 19th century, Islamic cities were rediscovered in southern Spain, thereby sparking off a great deal of curiosity for the Orient. For academic artists, the search for the roots of civilisation was of prime importance. This included not only the classical monuments but also those landscapes that were considered unchanged since the time of Jesus Christ, in order to represent historical and biblical paintings more realistically. The infinite expanse of the desert offered a unique artistic challenge, and the developing sciences of ethnography and anthropology were also reflected in art. The exhibition concludes with works by several modern artists who were equally unable to resist the allure of the Orient and who interpreted the topic with a new pictorial expression.

In the globalised world of the 21st century, the different moral concepts of east and west are still colliding and the original fascination with this foreign culture is sadly lacking in the discussions on burkas and minarets. Thus, an exhibition that documents the West’s view of the Orient not only presents magnificent works of art but also some of the history of the conflicts and projections. One successful aspect of the exhibition would be if it manages to uncover a wider diversity of facets on this topic, thereby leading to a greater understanding of today’s positions.

artwork: Sir Edward John Poynter - "Israel in Egypt", 1867 - Oil on canvas - 54" x 125". Private Collection. On display at the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich as part of "Orientalism in Europe: from Delacroix to Kandinsky" until May 1st 2011.

The ‘Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung’ (the Exhibition Gallery of the Hypo-Cultural Foundation) is the best known and most important entity of the Hypo-Cultural Foundation. This exhibition space on Munich’s Theatinerstraße, is located within the busy pedestrian zone in the very city centre. More than 80 exhibitions have been presented since the opening of the venue in 1985. In 2001, the Kunsthalle moved into new premises within the city block complex called ‘Fünf Höfe’ (the five courtyards), which has been designed by the renowned Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The exhibition space of some 1200 square meters is equipped with the latest technical, security, and climate-control requirements. High artistic quality and thematic variety have always been the guiding force in establishing the exhibition program, which has included art dating from 5,000 BC up to the present day. Themes addressing a broader cultural context, such as prehistoric or non-European civilizations, have been featured in exhibitions like “Sudan”, “Korea, The Ancient Kingdoms”, or “The Gold of the Scythians”. An interdisciplinary exhibition was first organised in 2005, and dealt with the subject of water. The heart of the exhibition program, however, is based on western art including works by Old Masters (“Madame de Pompadour” or “Frans Hals and Haarlem Painting”) and classical modern art, featuring artists like Chagall, Gauguin, Giacometti, Kirchner, Magritte, Munch, or Picasso. Some of the best visited exhibitions of the past years include “Monet and Modern Art” (237,000 visitors), followed by “Folkwang the First Museum of Modern Art”, as well as “Mark Rothko – Retrospective”. With an average of more than 300,000 visitors annually, the Kunsthalle has welcomed some 7 million art lovers since its inauguration in 1985. Visit the gallery’s website at … http://www.hypo-kunsthalle.de