• James Lee Byars
    The Unicorn Horn in the White Circle, 1984
    Tisch, weisse Fliegerseide, Narwalhorn | table, white parachute silk, narwhal horn
    ca. 100 x 244 x 122 cm
    Courtesy Kewenig Galerie, Köln

The Sublime is Now!

The sublime includes all that is only accessible through extraordinary sensitivity. As an aesthetic category, it encompasses anything perceivable that has a touch of grandeur, even holiness, and therefore exceeds the usual notion of the beautiful. The sublime is associated with the feeling of the unattainable and the immeasurable, it evokes astonishment, awe, sometimes horror – and has been a perennial preoccupation of art.

The exhibition examines the approach to the sublime in our times by presenting outstanding artistic positions such as Barnett Newman‘s – whose influential essay from 1948 gives this show its title – and major works by Mark Rothko, the light artist James Turrell, James Lee Byars, and Anish Kapoor. A central issue is the problem and paradox of depicting the undepictable, of finding manifestation for the immaterial.

The different ways of depicting the sublime run the whole gamut. It spans from the egg as a symbol of life (Karin Sander shows a polished raw egg whose shiny surface reflects all the surrounding works of art) and the ultimate image the Argonauts were searching for, which is the topic in Heribert C. Ottersbach’s painting, to the terrible image this search yielded in present days: the overwhelming light of a nuclear explosion which Robert Longo tries to capture in a charcoal drawing. The works by Wolfgang Tillmans, David Claerbout and Mariele Neudecker are related in that they deal with the metaphor of the landscape’s aura, the diffuse and the ethereal. The aspect of »delightful horror« that reverberates in the notion of the sublime is a topic in the works by Gregor Schneider, Michael Raedecker and Martin Creed, who show the familiar and homey as a place of eerie spirituality. Sylvie Fleury gold-plates a shopping cart, thereby elevating it into a fetish of a consumerist ersatz religion. Three videos by Christian Jankowski show how mysticism exists in a world of media, and Natascha Borowsky transcends found objects into iconic contemporary relics.

22 internationally renowned artists from nine countries pursue the sublime in painting, sculpture, photography, (light) installations and videos; some of the works were produced exclusively for this show (e.g. those by Jahanguir).

These works enter into a dialogue with the puristic aesthetics of the museum and with the art of Franz Gertsch. A special exhibition room shows monumental woodcuts by Swiss artist Franz Gertsch that represent the topic of nature.

An exhibition catalogue published by Benteli Verlag includes contributions by Joseph Imorde, Elke Kania, Peter J. Schneemann, Reinhard Spieler, as well as historical texts by Barnett Newman and Friedrich Schiller. (in German and English, 112 pages, CHF 38.-./€ 25.-)

The Sublime is Now!