Exhibition – ‘Beauty as the Imprint of the cosmos’August 14, 2013
‘Beauty as the Imprint of the cosmos’: the metaphysical in art
An exhibition of drawings, graphic art and printed books
25 September 2013 – 23 May 2014
Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, Amsterdam
‘Beauty is the imprint of the cosmos … in a physical earthly being’, is a statement by Rudolf Steiner* which pinpoints why art acquired a higher dimension for certain groups of artists in the early 20th century. In the first decades of the twentieth century, theosophy offered an alternative culture to which artists could turn for a radically different perception of the world and man’s place in it. Especially the open invitation to respond to what was perceived as the purely ‘materialistic’ progress of the sciences proved to be fertile ground for artists. As Kandinsky, who together with Mondrian is regarded as the founder of modern abstract art, wrote: ‘Art is a force and a work of art springs from the artist’s soul in a mysterious and secret way.’ The recognition by the theosophical movement that an ‘indivisible being’ lies at the root of all life, the awareness also that all art must essentially be interpreted metaphysically, as formulated by the German Expressionist artist Franz Marc, stimulated abstract artists to produce new and innovating work which, they hoped, might serve to inaugurate a new ‘aeon’. In the vision of the theosophical and anthroposophical movements, the arts played a central and pioneering role in this new aeon. The visual and applied arts, painting, literature, music and the theatre were no longer regarded as distinct disciplines. Together with architecture, later also photography, they formed a Gesamtkunstwerk, able to lift human existence to a higher level of spirituality.
The exhibition consists of two parts.
Part I, ‘Aeon’, shows some of the printed works of theosophy and anthroposophy that have inspired artists in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Part II, ‘Aenigma’, concentrates on the anthroposophical artists’ group Aenigma. This group was founded in 1918 in Munich, the Bavarian capital which at the time was still a centre of modernism and occultism.
This exhibition has been put together on the occasion of the international conference on Enchanted Modernities. Theosophy and the Arts in the Modern World taking place in Amsterdam from 25-27 September 2013. A visit to The Ritman Library’s exhibition is part of the programme. “Enchanted Modernities” is also the name of a recently established international network for the research into theosophy, Modernism and the arts. The conference has been organized by Marco Pasi of the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy of the University of Amsterdam.
Part I of the exhibition, which is based on the holdings of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, has been put together by Cis van Heertum and José Bouman; the concept for part II has been supplied by Reinhold J. Fäth, who is also one of the speakers at the conference.
*In: ‘Damit der Mensch ganz Mensch werde. Die Bedeutung der Anthroposophie im Geistesleben der Gegenwart’, 1922 (= GA 82, p. 88v.)