From September 9 until October 17, Blum & Poe presents the exhibition “The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up: Cobra and Its Legacy”, a two-part exhibition taking place in New York and Los Angeles.
About Cobra and the Exhibition
“The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up” will offer a broad and critical reassessment of Cobra—an essential postwar European movement named for the home cities Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. Named after a seminal work by Cobra founder Asger Jorn (Danish, 1914-73), “The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up” pays tribute to Jorn’s catalyzing role and to the movement’s enduring aesthetic and conceptual influence on artists working today.
The exhibition’s first part at Blum & Poe, New York will begin with the nexus of experimental practices and political activities of a group of Danish modernist artists during the Nazi occupation and will continue with the emergence of Cobra in the late 1940s. It will reexamine the artist collective “Helhesten (The Hell Horse), the precursor to Cobra, founded by Jorn in 1941 in the midst of Nazi-occupied Denmark. This group of politically committed, progressive artists seized the Nordic mythical figure of the “hell horse” as their emblem. Jorn, along with artists such as Sonja Ferlov Mancoba, Henry Heerup, Egill Jacobsen, and Carl-Henning Pedersen among others, shared an interest in an exploration of ancient folk art, populist art forms, and the legacy of Surrealism in defiance of their anti-Modernist German occupiers. With Jorn’s federating charisma, the Helhesten group spawned the formal seeds that would later animate Cobra. The second half of the exhibition at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles will trace the impact and legacy of Cobra in the art of the 1950s and 60s through the present day by juxtaposing historical work with a selection of contemporary practices. Independent curator and art historian Alison M. Gingeras has organized both exhibitions.
Cobra is frequently remembered as a style of Northern European painting—merging figuration and abstraction—that emerged in the traumatic wake of World War II. In an American academic context, Cobra’s importance is often measured through the narrow filter of their eponymous journal, which featured the writings of Constant, Asger Jorn, Christian Dotremont, and other members. The exhibition seeks to rectify these reductive understandings of the movement in the United States by exposing a layered and multi-tentacled avant-garde movement, spanning three decades and many more countries than just Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
As part of the run of the New York exhibition, there will be several events, including a book launch for the new monograph Shinkichi Tajiri: Universal Paradoxes (University of Chicago Press, 2015), as well as a book launch and discussion with Jacqueline de Jong, an artist, publisher, and founding member of the Situationist International. Her forthcoming artist book The Aesthetic Satyr was a collaboration with her romantic partner Asger Jorn.