Cobra, the interdisciplinary and trans-national European avant-garde movement named after its home cities — Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam – caused a revolution in modern art during just three years of creative activity (1948-1951) that continues to influence artists working today. A new exhibition at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale will examine Cobra artists’ innovative use of animal images and their expression of popular visual culture. Human Animals: The Art of Cobra is part of NSU Art Museum’s Regeneration series of exhibitions, and features works from the Museum’s celebrated Golda and Meyer Marks Cobra Collection, the largest Cobra art collection in America. The exhibition is on view from July 9 – September 10, 2017.
“Cobra has undergone considerable reevaluation in recent years as part of the art world’s general refocus on a broader and more inclusive narrative of the history of modern art,” notes Bonnie Clearwater, NSU Art Museum director and chief curator. “As the preeminent center for the exhibition and research of Cobra in America, this exhibition encourages a fresh look of Cobra on its own terms rather than as a parallel Abstract Expressionism.”
The exhibition presents a history of the Cobra movement through paintings, sculpture, prints and primary documents by artists such as Asger Jorn, Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Constant and Corneille, and reexamines the unique meeting of the group of young painters and poets brought together by an optimistic determination to start over after World War II, a shared interest in expressionism, myth, folk art and the art of children. Rejecting both naturalism and pure abstraction at the end of World War II, 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 the exhibition reflects the innovative installations of the first Cobra exhibitions designed by Dutch avant-garde architect Aldo van Eyck, with a reworking of the “Poet’s Cage” featured in the landmark 1949 Cobra exhibition in Amsterdam. South Florida poets will activate the poet’s cage during the exhibition’s opening reception on July 8. Poets will also engage with over 1,000 students during the course of the exhibition as part of educational field trips sponsored by Wells Fargo.
The exhibition is organized by NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale and guest curated by Karen Kurczynski a leading scholar who represents a new generation of art historians specializing in Cobra. Kurczynski is an assistant professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where the exhibition had its premiere at the University Museum of Contemporary Art from September through November 2016.