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Exhibition: Miriam Cahn

Madrid, 7 February 2003

“I draw laying down, crawling, crouching, with black chalk… I dance on white paper and then I wash up to get the dust off myself,” Miriam Cahn (Basle, 1949) began her art career in the 1960’s with a series of black and white sketches, confirming from the outset her conception of drawings as works in themselves, not just sketches for later oil paintings. Her works are now present in dozens of museums around the world. The guest country for this year’s ARCO ’03 is Switzerland, and ”la Caixa” Foundation follows suit by presenting in its Sala de Exposiciones in Madrid some 200 sketches, oils and photographs by this Swiss artist, whose work has never been shown in Spain. The inferno of war, silence, bodies subjected to violence, intimate relationships between the essences of nature and humanity, animals and women are among the constant themes of her work, with colours (oranges, loud yellows, ghostly blues, bright greens) that evoke a TV broadcast of a bomb blast. It is no coincidence that her figures, almost always portrayed “from a bombardier’s-eye view”, seem to have emerged from a nuclear holocaust. “The job of ‘art’ is better than the job of ‘war’,” Cahn has stated in the aftermath of the Gulf, Balkans and Rwanda wars. This show, conceived and designed entirely by the artist herself, reflects the key phases of her career. She has not ordered them chronologically; they are interrelated to achieve the effect of a single, global unit.

The Miriam Cahn exhibition can be visited at the Sala de Exposiciones of ”la Caixa” Foundation in Madrid (Serrano, 60), from 11 February to 20 April, 2003.

Miriam Cahn has “occupied” the central exhibition space of the Sala de Exposiciones of ”la Caixa” Foundation in Madrid with chalk sketches done between 1981 and 1990. The layout obliges visitors to move about the works themselves, losing sight of the whole. Feminine Ship is the largest drawing (6.50 m x 4.75 m), configuring the rest of the exhibition space, rounded out with a bed and a series showing women and children, plants, landscapes, the World Trade Center, an offshore oil rig, etc. This takes spectators into a second, narrow and low-ceilinged ambit entitled Sarajevo, offering small chalk, pencil, charcoal and dye sketches from the time of the Balkans War. Following this area is End of Sketching, the final space, where a number of sketches from 1996 are shown, chronologically ordered by months.

Cahn’s work always offers us the same images: women, men, children, animals, plants, landscapes, objects, buildings and war weaponry, all portrayed from a bird’s-eye, or as she calls it, “bombardier’s-eye view”. Subjects appear to surface from a nuclear holocaust. A major turning point in Cahn’s artistic career can be seen in the exhibition. Before January, 1991 the motifs heavily imbued with masculinity appeared in her work separated from feminine ones. But Cahn saw the Gulf War as “A New World Disorder”, and it triggered works with a convergence of masculine and feminine content, where doubt is nurtured, and confusion sought: she-warriors stand side by side with male soldiers; men’s bodies are given faces with female features. Monkeys become the intelligent animal and humans are interpreted from a purely vegetable point of view.

Be that as it may, women are still one of her predominant themes: shown as a soldier or a casualty; laying down, running, crying… always surrounded by something of a halo of light resulting from the glow of the bombs. These images are marked by their gorgeous bright colours, despite their ghost-like feel, exposed genitals, huge breasts and an empty expression. Together with the rest of the human figures, portraits, landscapes and animals, the three ambits of the exhibition make up something of an installation with a feminine bent. “I concentrate on analysing myself, and I’m a woman,” states Miriam Cahn.

“Painting is still the same thing as drawing: a one-time thing. I’m not interested in ‘touching up’ and improving, just a short-lived concentration,” These are the words of Cahn, whose work has sometimes been labelled as “unfinished”. Beyond the criticism, the artist has managed to elide the gender barrier: sketches and drawings are no longer lesser, but greater works. Cahn has gone about it “backwards”: instead of moving from sketches to paintings, now the sketch (or drawing) acquires the status of a complete work of art. In recent years, Miriam Cahn has incorporated photography into her work, combining it with different techniques, often using blurry images. The end result is neither oil painting nor photography; it is something that generates a tension between the two. And it is all shown in this exhibition.

Miriam Cahn

Sala de Exposiciones of ”la Caixa” Foundation
Calle Serrano, 60

Monday to Saturday, 11 am to 8 pm
Sundays and holidays, 11 am to 2:30 pm
Tuesdays, closed

Free admission


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