Eindhoven has a major collection of art works from the first half of the 20th century. This has been carefully built up and extended by the Van Abbemuseum since the collection’s inception in 1936. How do we look at and value these works today? What meaning do they have for us? This exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to look at these works in a fresh manner and to discover the importance they still have for us even to this day.
How did artists perceive the world about them in the early 20th century? What was their view on the artistic and cultural developments of the day? Where did they stand on what was taking place in society? How did they express these views in their work? ‘Stories from Europe’ seeks to find an answer to these questions based on a selection of work from the museum’s collection. The title refers not only to the stories told by individual artists but also to those told about the collection, expressed in the choice of individual works and the manner in which they are presented. The collection may be seen as our memory, in which both the views of the artists and those of the museum are stored. This memory constantly brings forth new stories and interpretations which are inspired by the present.
During the first half of the 20th century immense social and technological changes took place. Moreover, Europe found itself engaged in two world wars. High hopes for the future and a belief in progress went hand in hand with fear, tension, threats and war. At the time Paris was the centre of the art world and drew artists from all over Europe. International contacts were important; artists meeting each other from diverse cultural backgrounds. In the exhibition such developments are expressed according to several themes. In contrast to art works celebrating modern life and in which artists experiment with form and colour, there are works depicting nature and the simple life in restrained earthy colours. In contrast to paintings faithfully rendering reality are works that reveal a Surrealistic dreamworld. A special place has been created for the way in which people themselves were depicted during this period.
As Christiane Berndes, curator for the museum collection, explains: “This exhibition reveals how the visions of these artists greatly differed from each other, how individual were their viewpoints. Yet you also notice that many of these artists were very curious about each other’s work. They travelled huge distances to meet each other, also at times when travelling wasn’t easy. They exchanged ideas and inspired each other. In fact, you realise how important freedom was to them”.