From 10-09-2023 to 07-01-2024, an exhibition from Dürer to Warhol.
The Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, founded in 1867 as a University Collection for study and teaching purposes, is one of the most important Swiss institutions for prints and drawings from the 15th century to the present day. With the exhibition “From Albrecht Dürer to Andy Warhol. Masterpieces from the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich.” the MASI Lugano presents for the first time to the public 300 masterpieces of European art history: from Albrecht Dürer to Rembrandt van Rijn from Francisco de Goya to Maria Sibylla Merian, Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch to works by living artists such as John M Armleder, Olivier Mosset, Candida Höfer, Susan Hefuna, Shirana Shahbazi or Christiane Baumgartner.
The exhibition opens with self-portraits or portraits of female artists: from the intense gaze of the etching by Rembrandt in the self-portrait with his wife Saskia, to the more celebratory ones of Anton van Dyck or Maria Sibylla Merian, from the black and white self-portrait photographs of Urs Lüthi or by Fischli/Weiss to Max von Moos ‘s self-portrait or, again, to Meret Oppenheim ‘s simple mouth in Markus Raetz‘s engraving.
The exhibition continues chronologically with the presentation of historical works from the Collection from the late 15th century to the present day. Photography had not yet been invented and therefore by the 16th century the so-called “translation engraving“, which reproduced paintings and works of art, was a key means of introducing masterpieces to a wide audience, masterpieces that, through the press, were also reinterpreted: the Caricature of the copy of the Laooconte by Niccolò Boldrini is an example of how a venetian print of the 16th century could adapt an ancient motif, turning it into a new and irreverent image, with the ancient figures replaced by monkeys.
Printing was also used as a tool for scientific and naturalistic representation, as evidenced in the exhibition by Albrecht Dürer‘s well-known woodcut Rhinocerus. Although the artist had never seen the exotic animal, he made a depiction of it that was long considered realistic and thus reprinted in multiple editions.
Born from the careful observation of insects in Surinam in South America, the volume Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium published in 1705 by Maria Sibylla Merian, among the leading insect scholars of her time and the first artist to portray the different stages of development of an insect, along with the plants that served as its food.
The exhibition presents an excursus of the engraving techniques over time and the different working methods of the artists, as in the two versions of the engraving Ecce Homo by Rembrandt, from which it emerges how the artist retouched and perfected his works continuously, thanks in part to the drypoint technique, which allowed the plate to be etched with a sharp needle-shaped steel instrument, operated freely like a pencil. Over time, this technique will often be taken up and revisited, for example by a contemporary artist such as Miriam Cahn who, in her Soldaten, Frauen + Tiere series of 1995, intervenes directly on the plate with gloves covered with frosted paper, creating faces, looks and physiognomies of great expressive power with the movements of the hand.
The transmission of iconographic subjects over the centuries recurs in art and reaches into more recent times, as in the dramatic depictions of bullfighting in 1816 by Francisco de Goya, a theme taken up in Pablo Picasso ‘s figures in his aquatint Salto con la Garrocha (Jumping with the Pike) from the series La tauromachia and in Bernhard Luginbühl‘s woodcut on cotton fabric. The representation of the figure and the body is also a theme that emerges through the exhibition, especially in the work of the Expressionists, as in the prints of Edvard Munch and Käthe Kollwitz and the filigree drawings of Egon Schiele and Ferdinand Hodler.
The woodcuts of Félix Vallotton‘s Intimités series (1891) is an interesting example of the evolution of the dissemination of art prints, which saw, in the late nineteenth century, the introduction of the limited edition, a successful business model. In Vallotton’s series, for example, after the printing process was finished, all the wooden matrices used by the artist were cut into small parts and printed on an additional sheet to give the buyer assurance that no further editions would be made. Several examples in the exhibition testify to the evolution of printmaking even as graphic art in the second half of the twentieth century, such as the series of diptychs composed of image and text made in 1999 by artist Louise Bourgeois. Through the question“What is the shape of this problem?” placed on the title page, the artist stimulates the viewer’s reasoning through possible answers and counter-questions, trying to give visual form to emotions.
In the striking resographs with a vintage feel Camping The Two, Shirana Shahbazi instead investigates the classic genre of travel photography by capturing passing moments of everyday situations, just as the image of the Campbell’s Soup by Andy Warhol, on display in a silkscreen print from the well-known series made by Warhol in 1968.