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July 2005

Wet Your Appetite... Munich’s watery exhibition

Water is arguably the most important element in the world. Yet most of us rarely reflect on its necessity—we just turn on the tap and out it flows. Munich’s Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, however, aims to remind us of the significance of water with its latest exhibition: “Water in Myth and Nature.”

The exhibition, put together by curators Christiane Lange and Susann Waldmann, includes 70 paintings from all over the world, which offer a cultural and historical perspective on the importance of water from the 16th century to the present day. Among the wide range of artists included in the exhibition are Arnold Böcklin, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Caspar David Friedrich, David Hockney and Gerhard Richter.

The exhibition is divided into five sections, namely “The Fountain of Life”; “Divine Power—Power of Nature”; “And Ye Shall Subdue the Waters”; “Elixir of Yearnings”; and, finally, “Water Pleasures.”

In the first section, “The Fountain of Life,” works focus on how water is a symbol both of birth and death in religions across the world. Paintings show baptism scenes from the 16th century, and a video by American artist Bill Viola offers a contemporary exploration of the idea of reincarnation.

“Divine Power—Power of Nature” looks at the natural threat posed by water. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the element was often thought of as a manifestation of God—think of biblical subjects such as the Flood and the crossing of the Red Sea. This was followed by a period in which many paintings featuring water concentrated on shipwrecks.

The second section is rounded off with a presentation from the research department of the reinsurance company Munich Re, which shows the risks involved in an abundance or scarcity of water in modern times.

The third section of the exhibition, “And Ye Shall Subdue the Waters,” explores the theme of water and technology. It looks at sophisticated water systems, such as canals, leverage and pumps, without which the artificial fountains and lakes found in a typical Baroque garden would not be possible. Highlights of this section include exhibits from Munich’s Deutsches Museum, which demonstrate the development of water-related technology throughout modern history.

The fourth section, “Elixir of Yearnings,” focuses on man’s desire to live in harmony with nature. This is represented in the waterfalls, coastal bays and serene lakes found in the Morgenstern and Dhal Romantic landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.

The exhibition continues with paintings illustrating symbolism art, including Eros and death. The section also features paintings associating women with water, such as the mermaids and nymphs of Arnold Böcklin, Max Klinger and Franz von Stuck.

Visitors will notice a stark contrast between the Romantic scenes on display and those in the next room of the exhibition, which confront the problems of providing drinking water on a global scale. Professor Peter Wilderer, winner of the Nobel prize equivalent for water, designed this particular part of the exhibition.

It was not until the 19th century that people started swimming for fitness and fun and water became thought of as a leisure activity. In the final section of the exhibition, entitled “Water Pleasures,” bathers wearing swimsuits and bathing caps are depicted in masterpieces by Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, Sigmar Polke and David Hockney.

A presentation by the Bavarian Water Authority explores the theme further, with models of the River Isar in the past, present and future.

The “Water in Myth and Nature” exhibition runs from June 3 until August 21 and is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue published by Hirmer Verlag, Munich, comprising 168 pages, with color photographs of all exhibits. The catalogue can be purchased at the Kunsthalle for € 25. <<<

Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung,
Theatinerstrasse 8
Tel. 37 82 81 62
Open daily 10 am–8 pm.

Entrance fee: € 6; Groups of 10 people or more, € 5 per person; Mondays (not including public holidays), half-price admission.
Guided tours: Guided tours are available in English, as well as other languages. Private tours are also available, but by previous arrangement only.

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