In collaboration with Musée dOrsay, Paris and NY Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen through June 7, 2009 Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt
is showcasing the exhibition Masks. Metamorphoses of the Face from Rodin to Picasso. For the first time ever this comprehensive themed exhibition places the focus squarely on masks as the subject and motif of art. In the historical exhibition building on the Mathildenhöhe significant loans from throughout Europe first and foremost masterpieces by Arnold Böcklin, Jean Carriès, Jean Cocteau, Paul Gauguin, Emil Nolde and Auguste Rodin together with numerous new discoveries will document the heyday of mask art between 1860 and 1930, while also looking back as far as antiquity.
"Not only has the mask been a fascinating object in cult and theater since living memory. It is simultaneously the founding element of modern sculpture in Rodin and helped to give birth to modern painting in Picasso. For the first time this exhibition examines an exciting chapter of art and cultural history," explains Dr. Ralf Beil, Director of the Mathildenhöhe Institute.
As an object that veils and transforms the face, the mask plays a key role in almost every culture: in rites, customs and theater. To date, however, there has been only scant research on the mask as a subject matter of art. Two hundred exhibits from all categories of art not only create a gallery of real portrait pictures but also imaginary faces, which reveal the radical nature of the subject as well as formal and material experiments in the late 19th and early 20th century. Major film presentation of these years completes the fascinating panorama of mask art.
Because it discloses through disguise and disguises by disclosing, the mask touches the very roots of mankind and life itself. While in the cultures of antiquity it was of major importance as a cult object and a theater requisite since the mid-19th century the mask experienced a remarkable renaissance in Europe: Its »disconcerting strangeness« is experienced as extraordinary enrichment and aesthetic revival.
Conceived by Édouard Papet for Paris and enlarged by Ralf Beil for the Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, the exhibition examines the previously little explored enthusiasm many artists around 1900 had for the metamorphosis of the human face. The masks on show and their interactions in sculpture, painting, graphic art, film and photography demonstrate the special features of a visual grammar, which can push both illusionist obsession and hypnotic symbolism to the limit.
Around 1900 the suggestive power of masks, their capacity to reflect the whole individual or even create him anew inspired numerous artists, sculptors and photographers. Though the memory of their classical role remains vivid increasingly ancient archetypes such as the gorgons head of Medusa or Christian topoi such as the severed head of John the Baptist are ousted by contemporary influences, say from Japanese art. And the mask is inseparably linked with the principle of fragmentation, which gave sculpture fundamental new impulses around the turn of the century. Art nouveau embellishment breathes new life into the old decorative element, the gargoyle. In the early 20th century when the so-called primitive masks from Africa and Oceania acquired incredible popularity, the artistic exploration of the mask took a highly individual and eminently modern turn