Previous Exhibitions - Cobra – Museum of modern art

Two major Cobra exhibitions: Amsterdam 1949 and Liège 1951

During its brief existence two major CoBrA exhibitions took place - one in Amsterdam in 1949 and the other in Liège in 1951.

In Amsterdam the then director of the Stedelijk Museum, Willem Sandberg, made seven rooms available to artists from ten different countries. Sandberg was an extremely progressive man and was keen to show work of new artists. Most of the paintings were small as the artists had little money to spare, so Sandberg decided to give them an advance in order to buy materials. In the week preparing for the show Appel, Constant, Corneille and Brands found time to make a few large canvases. Appel even produced two, while Corneille made a cube instead of a painting on a flat canvas.

The exhibition was designed by Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck, who was extremely enthusiastic about the spontaneous way in which the Dutch CoBrA artists worked. He did this in a highly unconventional manner. He hung the canvases at different heights, sometimes three metres off the ground. He set up a few works against the skirting-board of a wall. For the work of the Dutch poets in the group he made a large cage of black slats and placed this against the wall of a small room painted black. Between the slats he hung word paintings, poetry anthologies and individual slogans. Poems by others not considered ‘good’ by the exhibiting poets were stuck onto the wall and marked with a huge cross. The Dutch experimental poets wanted to scrap these altogether. Visitors to the exhibition heard African drum rolls in the background. There was an outcry in the papers about the exhibition. The art critic of Het Vrije Volk wrote about “daubs, splodges and bunkum in the Stedelijk Museum”. Appel, Constant and Corneille were branded as “messpots, daubers and charlatans”.

The Liège exhibition was much bigger but was to be the last CoBrA manifestation. Opinions among its members had become divided and they were not meeting each other as frequently. After the exhibition each went their separate way.

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