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Museum Wurth Presents Forest Fascination

Museum Würth in Künzelsau presents Forest fascination an exhibition on view to 15 April 2012. Encompassing about 150 works from the Würth Collection from Cranach to Hockney, the exhibition invites visitors to enjoy a stroll through the incessantly changing attitudes of artists to the myth of the forest.

Joan Costa, White Wood

The fascinations of the forest! Hardly another subject in art history can match the forest for expressive potential and a concomitant multiplicity of meanings. As a favourite setting for fairy tales, forests formed an essential projection screen during childhood. The mostly young heroes and heroines went astray there, encountered unusual creatures, were transformed, enchanted, or gobbled up, only to prevail in the end. The phantasmagorical ideas of Romantic painters, writers, and composers still move us in the twenty-first century and have become embedded in our feeling and thinking. Doesn’t a stroll in the woods still hold the promise of time to think and recuperate from humdrum life?

In the course of the nineteenth century, Romantic ideas spread so rapidly and widely that something known as the “scientific forest aesthetic” emerged. Woods developed from “untamed wilderness” to sites for an enjoyment of nature and finally into “suburban recreation areas” or even city parks designed to soothe the eye with subtle gradations of green, in foliage, water, and mosses.

The Kunsthalle Würth addresses the multifarious art-historical aspects of the (German) awareness of nature and forests. The range of works on view extends from various myths of creation, such as “the tree of know­ledge” (represented in a painting by Lucas Cranach) through essentially German ideas of the “sacred grove” as the original myth of the Teutons (established, by way of Tacitus, by the victorious Battle of the Teutoburg Forest), from the pantheistic view of nature in Romanticism through the romance of the forest in the Biedermeier period, down to notions of forests as gloomy haunts of outsiders in early industrial society, conveyed by German fairy tales.
The conception of the city park, which owed to what Baudelaire termed modernité, is taken account of in the exhibition, as is the Expressionists’ ur-forest that transcended external reality, and the forest metamorphosed into an enigmatic, impenetrable locale in Surrealism. In the late nineteen-twenties the Surrealists located their “antagonist” in the German forest—clairvoyantly anticipating what Martin Heidegger, looking back on the horrifying recent past in 1951, would term the Holzwege, the woodland paths that had led to disorientation and destruction.

As a subject of art, the edifying forest temporarily became a no-go area at that period. Not until the middle of the nineteen-seventies, when dying forests were much-debated, did they re-emerge from the emotionally charged taboo zone into the light of day. The German word “Waldsterben” was even adopted in English. Terms and sayings like carved of good wood, a chip off the old block, a man like an oak, something’s in the bush, to be firmly rooted in something are still current. In their German versions, these reflect a great, uninterrupted degree of identification with the country’s stands of trees which, as Elias Canetti noted, fill “the German heart with deep and secret joy.” –

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