A special exhibition to celebrate half a century of von Bartha

Curator Beat Wismer introduces our anniversary show, The Backward Glance can be a Glimpse into the Future, featuring 79 works by 40 agenda-setting artists

Curator Beat Wismer introduces our anniversary show, The Backward Glance can be a Glimpse into the Future, featuring 79 works by 40 agenda-setting artists

by Beat Wismer

A hundred years ago the young artists Lajos Kassák and Sándor Bortnyik, who had emigrated from Hungary, developed the concept of a non-objective image architecture. Around the same time in 1920, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was becoming a constructivist artist in Berlin. Fifty years ago, in 1970, the young Hungarian Miklos von Bartha opened his first gallery in Basel together with his Swedish wife Margareta. Although the coincidence of the two anniversaries is purely a matter of chance, it seems to have been beautifully directed by a purposeful hand. It’s hardly a surprise then that an early, legendary exhibition in the gallery’s program, which focused on contemporary art from the very beginning, was devoted to the Hungarian avant-garde. It was the first in a series of exhibitions of museum quality and ambition that featured artists of the international avant-garde. In addition to a general curiosity about contemporary practices, constructivist approaches in the broadest sense have shaped von Bartha’s program and image over the decades.

The fiftieth birthday exhibition (in Basel from 5 September-7 November 2020, and online) draws on the gallery’s history without trying to recount it. By sensually staging outstanding works from the past hundred years, it instead reflects on the moment and the position the gallery wants to take today: after half a century of successful gallery history, Galerie von Bartha is transitioning from the founding generation to the next. The exhibition title points out just this decisive moment.

Sándor Bortnyik
Bildarchitektur, 1924
Oil on canvas
54 x 74 cm (unframed)
70 x 89.5 cm (framed)
Marina Adams
Dancing Barefoot, 2020
Acrylic on linen
224 x 198 cm

The arc of the exhibition is not chronologically ordered but nonetheless far-reaching: from contemporary, rigorously conceptual works and freely autonomous painterly positions back to the pioneers of international and South American Constructivism from the half century before the gallery’s founding—but also, vice versa, from works that seem incredibly young, though factually older, to today’s positions, which for their part have benefited from and developed the potentials of classical modernism, minimalistically strict or playfully free, geometrically abstract or figurative, but always reflected and respectful.

The spectacular gallery space in a former garage plays an important role in the staging. The exhibition architecture draws on this as well as the various strands that make up the exhibition’s polyphonic narrative: paintings, sculptures, objects, photographs, videos, and text works. The exhibition is built around the idea of the symposium: on one hand, in its contemporary sense of a conference—disparate intelligent voices from various directions participating in an open artistic conversation through a wide variety of languages—on the other, the well-considered composition of the exhibition also evokes the symposium’s original meaning, i.e. a convivial gathering appropriate to the festive anniversary occasion. That is the goal of the staging: it offers carefully selected works from the most diverse directions within a casual but stimulating framework for an intelligent conversation about art, about what it was, what has become of its modern ideas and which paths it could take—especially now, in this very extraordinary time.

The works on display are by some 40 artists with whom von Bartha has worked with over the past decades or is currently working with. Furthermore the gallery owner and the curator also invited a few other artists, whose works make an attractive contribution to the discourse outlined above.

Beat Wismer, curator of the 50 year anniversary exhibition of von Bartha ‘The Backward Glance can be a Glimpse into the Future’ 

Exhibition view 'The Backward Glance can be a Glimpse into the Future'
- Gyula Kosice, Estructura luminica Madí A4, 1946, Neon, 58 x 43 x 18cm
- Carmelo Arden Quin, Coplanal, 1945, Lacquer on panel, H: 55cm
- Marina Adams, Open the Next Sky, 2020, Acrylic on linen, 249 x 198cm

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