The Local View ? Neighbourhood Cinemas and Alternative Film Projects

Many small neighbourhood cinemas invested in the future. The digital options for showing films are opening up new vistas for alternative projects. Not all of them are legal.... more more

GoetheInstitute

21/07/2005

Goya's ghouls

Francisco de Goya foresaw the nightmares born of the Enlightenment. Claudia Schwartz dares to look them in the face at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin.

Things start off on an amiable note on the second floor of the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin; with tapestries, tapestry cartoons, court portraits and colourful genre scenes from the dying days of Rococo. Later on, having stared into the faces of madness and death, of war, of maltreated Spanish bulls, of witch-filled horror fantasies, of four-legged winged creatures of the night, having passed by "Shipwreck" (1793), "Interior of a prison" (1793) and "Inquisition Scene" (1804-14), you return to the feel-good section with the curator's advice ringing in your ears: "Don't forget the happiness of Goya!"

Francisco de Goya: The Parasol. 1777, Museo Nacional del PradoFrancisco de Goya: The Parasol. 1777, Museo Nacional del Prado
But the shadow from the youth's parasol, once intended only to protect the fair skin of a young girl's face, has grown longer, dark clouds and a tree bowing in the wind all point to a storm ("The Parasol", 1777); the noble carriage rapidly passes by the "The Crockery Vendor" (1778) as a young woman stares blindly into nothingness; cabinet paintings like "The Wounded Mason" (1786-87) or "Transport of a Quarry Stone" (1786 bis 1787) demonstrate a keen eye for the socially disadvantaged; and in the group portrait "The family of Charles IV" (1800-01) the figures are looking around in all directions as if they had completely forgotten how to pose with sovereignty. These are images of an epoch in decline; the desire to escape every bit as tangible as the fear of doing so.

Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes (1746 -1828) disliked working on commission, so in the work for his patrons, he uses the guise of folk art to paint subtle references to human ambiguities, the war of the sexes and hierarchical decline. Under the guidance of Goya expert Manuela Mena Marques, Berlin has presented an exhibition with the cheap and vacuous title of "Goya – Prophet of Modernism". Its course demands stamina, but the oeuvre of the Spanish master unfurls artlessly as a fascinating school of seeing. In his reportage-like narrative technique (used in the "Bull fighting cycle", 1824-25) and his filmic horror effects ("Here Comes The Bogey-Man", Caprichos 3, 1797-98) so much seems uncannily contemporary.

The Berlin show came about in co-operation with the Museo Nacional del Prado (as principle lender) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. With around 80 paintings, 40 drawings and 20 lithographs, this is the most comprehensive exhibition of Spain's greatest master, alongside Velasquez, ever seen in a German-speaking country. Even if Berlin cannot replace a visit to the Prado, because icons such as the historical painting for May 2nd and 3rd 1808 are missing, this is still an impressive art experience. The rooms of the Alte Nationalgalerie and Goya's paintings blend harmoniously, as if they were meant for one another.

A tour through the show starts off in the large halls with prodigious examples of Goya's commissioned works and court paintings, only to fork off in the surrounding cabinet paintings into the gloomy world of the dissident and critic, into a range of pictures about absolutism and superstition, masquerades, violence, inquisition and war. The opposing forces which pull the artistic genius between official commissions on the one hand and mistrust of any form of salvation on the other, break out into an allegorical cosmos full of elemental forces.

xxxxFrancisco de Goya: Flight of the Witches. 1797/98, Museo Nacional del Prado
Goya's modernity, if you want to call it that, is expressed in the Berlin show less in a formal renunciation of the artistic conventions of his time than in the deeply felt insight that the modern does not necessarily imply progress or improvement. The rationality of the Enlightenment also brings with it all the doubts which make a person increasingly alien. Even Goya's still lives are stamped by ambivalence, the breath-taking series of paintings of killed animals for example ("Golden Bream", "Hares", "Woodcocks", "Plucked Turkey", 1808-12) which were done during the Napoleonic occupation, and tell of mourning and dying.

Existential hazards start to take on increasingly human characteristics, such as in the small oil painting "Flight of the Witches" (1797-98) in which one figure runs away, protecting himself from the light of recognition by holding a cloth over his head. Here man has long since fallen prey to his own imagination. And above all the monsters and nightmares in the "Caprichos" (1797/99), "The Disasters of War" (1810/ 15) as well as the final series of the "Disparates" (1815-24), watches that famous image, in which a maelstrom of monstrosities grow out of a man's head ("The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters", 1797-98).

It remains unclear whether the demons appear because reason is sleeping or whether it is reason itself which first conjures up the evil dream images. The art is driven between the light of reason and the darkness of imaginative powers.

"Goya - Prophet of Modernism" is in Berlin's Alte Nationalgalerie until October 3, 2005.


*

This article originally appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on July 15, 2005.

Claudia Schwartz is a cultural journalist at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

translation: lp.

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

When soft power fails the acid test

Wednesday 14 March, 2012

Western museums are opening their halls for huge state exhibitions in collaboration with non-democratic regimes. The British Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on the Hajj which is funded by Saudi Arabia and reflects the royal family's position on the ritual. Should an institution dedicated to secular learning accommodate such religiously doctrinaire exhibitions? Yes, says Malise Ruthven in the New York Review of Books blog, who evidently believes in the conciliatory effects of such cultural politics. Tagesspiegel author Nicola Kuhn sees the new "Roads of Arabia" exhibition in Berlin's Pergamon Museum more critically. Image © National Museum, Riyadh
read more

Art in circles

Wednesday 7 March, 2012

TeaserPicFrankfurt's Städelmuseum has just opened its new subterranean contemporary art extension, the culmination of a radical overhaul of the building and its collections. Hans-Joachim Müller ventures down below the surreal domed lawn and is left to meander through a refreshingly idiosyncratic retrospective that turns its back on received ideas about the progress of art. (Image:exterior view of Städel extension by Norbert Miguletz)
read more

Hokusai and the quest for perfection

Tuesday 20 September, 2011

The Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin is currently hosting Germany's first major retrospective of the legendary Japanese artist Hokusai, featuring over 430 exhibits, many of which have never left Japan before. It is hard to believe that such incredible diversity could stem from the hand of just one artist, but it is the product of a lifetime's dedication. By Katrin Wittneven. Image: "Onikojima Yataro and Saihoin Akabozu"© Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art
read more

Who's afraid of Ai Weiwei?

Tuesday 12 April 2011

German museum director Martin Roth, who has just organised the exhibition "The Art of Enlightenment" in Beijing, belittles the attention focused on Ai Weiwei. His response to the arrest of the Chinese artist is alarming and clearly shows how marketing takes precedence over ethics in the world of culture. A commentary by Rüdiger Schaper.
read more

Protected by pictures

Friday 6 November, 2009

TeaserPicAi Weiwei - the modest megalomaniac, the relaxed rebel. Hanno Rauterberg met China's most interviewed man in the cellar of Munich's Haus der Kunst, where the artist was preparing to turn the place into a battlefield.
read more

The aesthetics of notation

Monday 4 May, 2009

TeaserPicAn exhibition in ZKM Karlsruhe explores the enormous range of artistic processes that exist between the moment of conception and finished work. By Kathrin Peters
Image: Dieter Appelt "Partitur" © 2009 ZKM
read more

Inflated phrases

Wednesday 28 May, 2008

When matter leads to immateriality and transcends the actuality of the object, we are reading a text about art. Notes on the crisis of criticism by Christian Demand
read more

Coincidence and illumination

Wednesday 19 September, 2007

Cologne Cathedral looks back at a long and eventful history. The inauguration of Gerhard Richter's stained glass window for the South Transept adds a new chapter, bright with 72-colour, frame-breaking abstraction. By Petra Kipphoff
read more

Poison in the air

Thursday 19 July, 2007

Now, as the last eye witnesses are dying out, totalitarianism is tempting a new generation to warm their hands in its fire. From Bernd Eichinger, Jonathan Meese and now Tom Cruise, is there no letting go of the Führer? By Georg Diez
read more

Summer of political art

Thursday 21 June, 2007

Both the Venice Biennale and the Documenta in Kassel have taken the dark side of modernity as their theme. Looking at how the two mega-exhibitons do battle, Hanno Rauterberg prefers Kassel's investigation of evil to Venice's concession to it. (Untitled, from the series Spring-Sow-Plum-Scene, 1996, mask 6, 2003. © Aoki Ryoko)
read more

Art on the cutting edge?

Thursday 14 June, 2007

Is today's art no more than the fashion of the day? Are there only niches in art, each with its own cutting edge? Brigitte Werneburg asks what contemporariness means in a world where the lines are blurred between fashionable art and artistic fashion.
read more

Art to the rescue

Wednesday 6 June, 2007

In a disused dockyard in Rostock, the "Art goes Heiligendamm" initiative has put the final touches to its G8 intervention. The preferred topic among the artworks is borders and overcoming them. Aside from that they deal anything that's good: information, documentation, irony, utopia, anti-consumerism. By Irene Grüter
read more

The unofficial documenta list

Thursday 3 May, 2007

Probable, silent, public, inofficial - there are many categories of participant in this year's documenta. What's lacking are the official ones. Because the exhibition organisers are keeping tight-lipped about what artists have been invited, we are left to guess, speculate, hope and dismay. By Ludwig Seyfarth
read more

Wurm holes everywhere

Wednesday 11 April 2007

Dada is back. Erwin Wurm is the great grandson of the Surrealists. The hilarity and hidden meanings of his stagings and sculptures unsettle and get under your skin. To coincide with a major retrospective in Hamburg's Deichtorhallen, Werner Spies visited the artist in his studio in Vienna.
read more

Smiles permitted, grins less welcome

Thursday 29 March, 2007

The art of glimmer and of deception. Seminal works show the roots and origins of the Op Art movement in an exhibition at Frankfurt's Schirn Kunsthalle. The dynamic of black and white fields meets snuffling electric motors. And a bachelor machine makes jokes and winks. By Ulf Erdmann Ziegler
read more