The Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt will be the first museum in Germany in almost thirty years to present a survey of works by Georges Seurat. Barbara Luik, Marketing Hatje Cantz, spoke with Katharina Dohm, Curator at the Schirn Kunsthalle.
The exhibition at the Schirn has been produced in cooperation with the Kunsthaus in Zurich, where audiences were quite enthusiastic. Now it’s coming to Frankfurt. Will the same works be shown? How will the works be presented at the Schirn?
Many of the works seen in Zurich will also be on display at the Schirn. That shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially as far as the extremely fragile drawings are concerned, and we are very grateful to the lenders for trusting the Schirn enough to allow their treasures to remain on loan for another four months. The architecture for the show at the Schirn is, of course, very different from that in Zurich, but still, the works will be hung according to a concept. The tour begins with the early works and ends with the late period, at least as far as one can speak of a “late” period, since Seurat died at the age of 31. A few groups of works, such as the “lake paintings” will be shown together in one gallery.
The exhibition’s title is "The Figure in Space". Can you explain this aspect of the show a little bit?
If we look at his drawings, studies in oil, and paintings, it’s very easy to imagine the way that Seurat dealt with the “figure in space.” Seurat’s classical education is almost palpable in the early drawings—he attended a state school for drawing in Paris, and also studied for a short while at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. However, Seurat soon developed his own characteristic style, distancing himself from naturalism. The reflection of urban life in the metropolis of Paris was one of his main themes: we see flaneurs, chamber maids, and laborers, although in Seurat’s paintings and drawings, they do not appear animated and lively in the way that one might expect, but instead, it seems as if they have been stopped in their tracks. Seurat had ceased to think of a painting as a recording of a moment in time; rather, he considered it a completely composed arrangement. In the drawings, in particular, one can be seen how he uses light and dark hatching to develop the figures out of the space. In the Pointillist “lake paintings” we miss the figures—at least, the human figure. In these paintings, a lighthouse or a dominant cliff takes on the role of the figure in space.
It must have been a complicated task to organize the exhibition. Would you allow us a glimpse “behind the scenes?”
The paintings and drawings come from some of the most famous museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute in Chicago, the National Gallery in London, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and the National Museum in Stockholm, but there are also works on loan from many private collections. In terms of logistics and finances, an exhibition like this is a very complex undertaking. Besides the directors, both institutions have teams of specialists behind the scenes, which contribute to the success of a show: restorers, archivists, technicians, and not least, security personnel, make sure that the installation of the show runs smoothly.
Which memories, in particular, should a visitor take away from the show?
Thanks to the many loans from important national and international collections, visitors will have a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in Seurat’s world, to experience Paris through his eyes. And they will be able to familiarize themselves with Seurat as an extraordinarily interesting hand at drawing. The exhibition has been organized by the Kunsthaus in Zurich, in cooperation with the Schirn Kunstalle in Frankfurt. Curator: Christoph Becker (Kunsthaus, Zurich), with Julia Burckhardt Bild (co-curator of the show at the Kunsthaus, Zurich), and Katharina Dohm (Curator, Schirn Kunsthalle).
February 9, 2010