Kurcynski's New Book Examines How European Artists Redefined Expression after Trauma of WWII
Friday, August 21, 2020
Friday, August 21, 2020
Karen Kurczynski, associate professor in the history of art and architecture department, recently published The Cobra Movement in Postwar Europe: Reanimating Art (Routledge), which takes a fresh look at the European Cobra movement, a group of artists primarily from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam who set out to redefine artistic experiment and expression after the trauma of the Second World War. Although the name of the movement stood for the organizers’ home cities, the Cobra artists hailed from countries in Europe, Africa, and the United States.
The Cobra Movement in Postwar Europe: Reanimating Art investigates how a group of struggling young artists attempted to reinvent the international avant-garde after the devastation of the Second World War, to create artistic experiments capable of facing the challenges of postwar society. It reexamines both major artists like Dutch painter Karel Appel, Danish artist Asger Jorn, and Belgian photographer Serge Vandercam, as well as artists pushed to the edges of the movement's history due to the politics of the art world and issues of gender and race. Such artists include the Japanese-American artist Shinkichi Tajiri, the black South African painter Ernest Mancoba, and his Danish wife Sonja Ferlov Mancoba, whose sculpture has recently received a landmark retrospective in Copenhagen's National Gallery. According to Professor Kurczynski, most art historians interested the Cobra movement have examined it only as an art movement and think of Cobra as a painting "style." In contrast, Kurczynski considers the movement to be a, "wide-ranging approach to spontaneous and popular creativity that also critiques the way European high culture was attempting to rebuild in an elitist way after WWII."
Prof. Kurczynski believes that the Cobra movement's influence permeates art and the way artists work today. "[Cobra] artists responded to a precarious and/or traumatic experiences during and after the war in a way that made use of common materials, connected traditions of popular art to new methods of painting and poetry, and worked together across the disciplines to reimagine society," she says. "For example, several of the artists were put into internment camps as 'enemy aliens' in France (Ernest Mancoba) or the U.S. (Shikichi Tajiri)," Prof. Kurczynski points out, "and after the war they made art that both playfully critiques military culture and embodied their ideals of a more egalitarian global humanity based on everyone's spontaneous creativity."
"These themes are all major aspects of 'socially engaged art' today," Kurczynski explains, referencing a recent article that claims artists' have a unique ability to respond creatively to the current political, economic, and health crises and threats of austerity, "just as Cobra did."