Reanimation - Hermann Gerber

Exhibition view Reanimation 2004

Exhibition view Reanimation 2004

Exhibition view Reanimation 2004

24. September – 21. November 2004


The point of departure for the "Reanimation" exhibition is the oeuvre of the Swiss artist Hermann Gerber (1902-1979), which remained unknown during his lifetime. Gerber produced more than 2,500 drawings of unusual beauty. His subjects were masterpieces of the fine arts. The comprehensive selection of Gerber’s drawings on show here represents the result of an extremely intense, perhaps even obsessive effort on the part of the artist. His motifs are grouped approximately in chronological order: the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance followed by the Italian High Renaissance and Flemish art, etc. – the musée imaginaire of an outsider imbued with a passionate love of art.

Hermann Gerber grew up in Zurich and in his early years travelled to Munich and Berlin to study art. He lived in Paris in the 1920s where he worked as a creator and illustrator of fashion. Back in Switzerland, he was mainly active as a graphic artist. In 1951 Hermann Gerber moved to Aeschi near Spiez in the Bernese Oberland, where he remained until his death in 1979. He led a secluded life and almost no one knew anything about his artistic work. After his death, his heirs discovered his extensive drawings which they later donated to the Print Collection of the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich. This exhibition in Thun is the first time Gerber’s oeuvre is being presented to a broader public.

"Reanimation" places Hermann Gerber in a contemporary and international context. Since the 1970s, that strategy of taking up and appropriating existing artworks has been known in contemporary art as Appropriation Art. In recent years in particular, new exciting positions have been added, some of which are presented here. This encounter is intended to promote the fundamental debate about authorship, artistic independence and originality.

Tom Hunter presents his reception of motifs from the history of art. He combines Albrecht Dürer’s Praying Hands and Hare in a vigorously sketched figure, without any intention of taking on the Übervater of German art. Rolf Winnewisser’s approach to his model is both serious and poetic; he encompasses Caravaggio’s painting The Palmist almost analytically. Tom Hunter reinterprets works of Vermeer’s by restaging them in photographs. The models are from a community of squatters known to the artist. Vaclav Pozarek allocates the names of famous artists to photographs of anonymous people. These "fake" artists’ portraits raise questions to do with authenticity and authorship. Berclaz de Sierre’s exploration begins with the artist’s name. He photographs and films people who have the same names as famous artists: suddenly we are introduced to Ferdinand Hodler, Paul Klee or Leonardo da Vinci as unobtrusive contemporaries; the icon status of the name is relativised. At the centre of Markus Schwander’s work is the artist’s signature – a label for authenticity and legitimation. He presents his own name written each time by another person. The true artist’s Ego dissipates, becoming a construct in which the influence of the model is inseparably interwoven with the self. Juan Araujo cites the works of other artists by means of art catalogues. He copies either whole pages from these publications or just the covers, thus addressing the theme of the limited access which a young artists from Latin America has to the western art canon because the works which set the global standards are only available to him through books. Christine Streuli’s paintings are the fruits of her fascination with the still-life artist Sébastien Stoskopf from Alsace. In her "painting after painting" she attempts to translate a 17th century work into the present using the respective artistic technique. In his engagement with a work by Paul Signac Bertrand Lavier undertakes a change of material. He transposes the pointillist painting into a mosaic, thereby creating a kind of archaic pixel image. David Godbold cites and recontextualises pictorial worlds from the history of art which he ironically links with banal word and image fragments. Godbold dares to connect "high" and "low", cultural heritage and contemporary popular culture. For his part, Vik Muniz subjects Claude Monet’s Haystack to a shift of medium and so provokes a whole new view. The artist reconstructs Monet’s original using sample slips of paper in the Pantone colour range. Matthew Antezzo examines the reception and dissemination of artworks by taking up motifs from art magazines. He deliberately exposes this context by integrating both the page layout and the caption into his painting. During the "Reanimation" exhibition, Heinrich Gartentor will take an immediate stand by making a copy of the presentation as a whole and thus continuing the circle from the original to the copy which is in turn an original. Valentin Carron commissioned an artist to transfer images by Fernand Léger onto framed animal hides. The icons of Cubism are integrated into a popular context and have to stand up to the kitschy archaism of their re-materialisation. The masterpieces become the art collector’s hunt trophies.

Many of the issues raised by Gerber’s oeuvre are relevant to contemporary art, even though Gerber’s working context differed entirely from that of the contemporary artists taking part in the "Reanimation" exhibition. By inviting a statement, a criticism, or a continuation of the debate, Hermann Gerber’s works open up a discussion about art which is being continued and "reanimated" in the works of other artists. What Hermann Gerber shares with these contemporary positions is the knowledge that repetition always leads somewhere else.

Participating artists
Hermann Gerber (CH 1902-1979)
Matthew Antezzo (USA *1962), Juan Araujo (Venezuela *1971), Berclaz de Sierre (CH *1961), Valentin Carron (CH *1977), Heinrich Gartentor (CH *1965), David Godbold (GB *1961), Tom Hunter (GB *1965), Bertrand Lavier (F *1949), Vik Muniz (Brazil *1961), Vaclav Pozarek (Czechoslovakia *1940), Thomas Schütte (D *1954), Markus Schwander (CH *1960), Christine Streuli (CH *1975), Rolf Winnewisser (CH *1949)

Catalogue, edited by Madeleine Schuppli, Kunstmuseum Thun, and Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Grafiksammlung, ISBN 3-906537-16-1, Price: CHF 28.–