CoBrA: thousand-headed serpent

Entrance to one of the halls for temporary exhibitions.

My favorite museum in Mexico City is definitely the MAM or Museum of Modern Art, especially for the temporary samples that it exhibits.

This time, I went with my dear friend Lili to show her the permanent collection that includes the most important artists from the country, but the hall was in a renovation stage, thus, we went to one of the two halls for temporary exhibitions and we had a wonderful surprise, it was a really amazing exhibition we encountered (totally expressionist! what I love the most!).

This inspiring sample is called CoBrA, serpiente de mil cabezas or CoBrA, thousand-headed serpent and it will be open until April 2020, so if you happen to visit Mexico’s City during this period, get the chance to know more about the CoBrA movement.

Asger Jorn (Denmark), Joseph Noiret and Christian Dotremont (Belgium), Karel Appel, Corneille and Constant (Netherlands) wrote and signed a manifest in Paris on November 8th of 1948 stating the political motivation of the signers. This movement was known as CoBrA, the name of the magazine that they published together. CoBrA is the acronym of the words Copenhaguen – Brussels – Amsterdam and also referred to as the poisonous serpent.

Photograph of the group at an exhibition held in 1948.

What is extremely interesting about this collective is that:

1) the members included artists and poets from different European countries;

2) they countered the terrible facts of World War II with vivacious expressions of artistic freedom and spontaneity;

3) they found inspiration in children’s drawings, prehistoric artifacts, non-western art, comics and expressions of folk culture.

Paintings of Egill Jacobsen.
Red and gold, oil on canvas by Egill Jacobsen, 1944.
White mask, oil on canvas by Egill Jacobsen, 1946.

“This form of new art encouraged the masses to expand their own creative potential and to free themselves from the ruling classes. The movement was mainly associated with colorful, expressionists and spontaneous paintings that had great influence a time after the partitioning of the movement”.

I think that my favorite painting was the one created by Carl-Henning Pedersen in 1942, which is titled Fairy Tale Landscape (Eventyrets Landskab). This expressionist artwork really talks for itself.

Fairy Tale Landscape, oil on canvas by Carl-Henning Pedersen, 1942.
Close-up of the painting Fairy Tale Landscape.
Nocturne Fest, oil on canvas by Corneille, 1946.
Close-up of the painting Nocturne Fest.
The People of the Sun (Les Gens du Soleil), oil on canvas by Anton Rooskens, 1945.
Reflection of Asger Jorn.
Labyrismen, Lithography (11 pages) by Constant, 1962.

Constant collaborated several times for CoBrA magazine. In 1949, he wrote a manifest where he expressed his desire to break old habits. He believed that people’s creative potential was constantly restringed by the elite’s rules.

During the differences of the members of the group, there was a moment when Jorn and Dotremont created their peintures-mots (paintings-words), in which the painter and poet worked together over the same surface. Then Dotremont invited Constant to continue the experiment that he and Jorn had started. He saw a strong affinity between the Danish, the Dutch and Belgians who were eager to experiment with a «living art», away from abstraction and geometric theorization.

The tipped over heart (Le Coeur Renversé), oil on canvas by Pierre Alechinsky, 1949.
The mechanic (Le Garagiste), ink on paper by Pierre Alechinsky, 1948.

Alechinsky discovered CoBrA in 1949 when he attended an exhibition. He helped Christian Dotremont with the organization and coordination of the exhibitions, and along with his wife Mickey was responsible for the publication of CoBrA magazine. Alechinsky established Atelier du Marais in Brussels, and this collective studio became the international meeting point of CoBrA.

Women, Children, Animals (Femmes, Enfants, Animaux), oil on jute canvas by Karel Appel, 1951.
My friend Lili admiring the painting.
Detail of the painting.
The White Sun (Den Hvide Sol), oil on canvas by Carl-Henning Pedersen, 1950.
Textures of the painting.
Bordering, sculpted and painted conglomerate by Zoltan Kemeny, 1947.
Willem Sandberg. Edition of the municipality of Amstelveen and the CoBrA Museum of Modern Art, 1999.
Around the MAM.
Strong Breeze, oil on canvas by Erik Ortvad, 1947.
Detail of the painting.
Another angle from the painting.
White Tree, oil on canvas by William Gear, 1949.
Photograph in one of the gatherings.
Untitled, gouache on paper by Jan Elburg, 1952.
God with us (Gott mit uns), ink on paper by Lucebert, 1952.

Artists like Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Constant, Corneille, Asger Jorn, and Carl-Henning Pedersen reached international fame after the dissolution of CoBrA.

I hope you enjoyed this gallery and for sure, if you visit Mexico City while this magnificent exhibition is open, just go, because it is really worthy.


Esta publicación está dedicada in memoriam de la Mtra. Manuelita María González.

Página de arte Jonathan Nuño

Fotografía MEVM

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