Outstanding! The Relief from Rodin to Picasso
24 May – 17 September 2023
Exhibition Annex
Press Preview: 23 May 2023, 11:00 am

Rodin, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso, Jean Arp, Yves Klein… They all created outstanding art in the truest sense of the word—reliefs. This summer, the Städel Museum is presenting a major exhibition on the relief from 1800 to the 1960s. Is it painting or sculpture, surface or space? Hardly any artistic medium challenges our sense of sight like the relief. And that is what has always made it so appealing for the most famous artists. From 24 May to 17 September 2023, the exhibition will present prominent works spanning some 160 years by Bertel Thorvaldsen, Jules Dalou, Auguste Rodin, Medardo Rosso, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Archipenko, Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Yves Klein, Louise Nevelson, Lee Bontecou and others. For the exhibition, the Städel Museum collaborated with the Hamburger Kunsthalle to bring together works from their own collections and leading European museums, among them the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Picasso and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. The show will also feature rarely exhibited works from private collections.

“Outstanding! The Relief from Rodin to Picasso” is being carried out with support from the Gemeinnützige Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain GmbH and the Städelscher Museumsverein e. V. with the Städelfreunde 1815. Additional support for the exhibition comes from the Georg und Franziska Speyer’sche Hochschulstiftung.

Städel director Philipp Demandt on the exhibition: “This summer, our visitors will have the opportunity to encounter an exciting artistic medium—the relief: an art form between painting and sculpture that literally breaks through the confines of the frame and bursts the boundaries of our sense of sight! We are devoting a major exhibition to this sometimes underacknowledged medium. The show will be a unique chance to experience some 140 prominent works by nearly 100 groundbreaking artists of the nineteenth century, Classical Modernism and international post-war art right here in Frankfurt and to appreciate the relief for what it is: an expression of great art.”

“The relief is one of humankind’s oldest pictorial mediums. As a hybrid it not only occupies a place between painting and sculpture, but also—in the viewer’s perception—a sensory realm between sight and touch. Our exhibition is devoted to the special possibilities and opportunities offered by the relief in art from Neoclassicism to the 1960s. The period around 1800, with its reorientation towards classical antiquity, represents a distinct break in the meaning and aesthetic of the relief. In the 1960s, on the other hand, the “departure from painting” and the associated transfer of sculptural into spatial concepts mark yet another pivotal point. Rather than providing a comprehensive history of this art form, our exhibition will shed light on the meanwhile somewhat obscure discourse revolving around the art of the relief,” the exhibition curators Alexander Eiling and Eva Mongi-Vollmer add.

From antiquity, we are familiar with the relief primarily as architectural decoration. In the Renaissance it played an important role in the competition between painters and sculptors over which medium best imitates reality. When the relief began to figure increasingly in art-theory debates around 1800, it was referred to as an intermediate medium among the arts. In the zone between the second and third dimension, however, it remained a primarily sculptural endeavour. As time went on, a new artistic interest in overcoming the traditional boundaries between the mediums took hold. Painters made sculptures; sculptors preoccupied themselves with painting. In that context, the relief became a laboratory for experimentation with new forms, materials and techniques. Reliefs were no longer made primarily of the classical materials—that is, stone, clay, plaster or bronze. Artists began using everyday and found objects to open surfaces out into the third dimension. Whether glued or nailed, made with natural sponges or a soup ladle, the relief took on entirely new manifestations. Its significance for society grew with the cataclysmic changes of the early twentieth century: the relief became a place of utopias and a mirror of the departure for a new world.

An exhibition of the Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Curators: Dr. Alexander Eiling (Head of Modern Art, Städel Museum) and Dr. Eva Mongi-Vollmer (Curator for Special Projects, Städel Museum)
Project director: Dr. Friederike Schütt
Sponsored by: Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain gGmbH, Städelfreunde 1815 – Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.
With support from: Georg und Franziska Speyer'sche Hochschulstiftung
Media partners: Süddeutsche Zeitung, ARTE, Verkehrsgesellschaft Frankfurt am Main Cultural partner: hr2-kultur

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