press release

The exhibition Restless Gestures: Works from the Hubert Looser Collection explores how widely differing attitudes towards the artists gesture have contributed to forming Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, minimalism, and more recent, idea-based forms of abstraction.

The exhibition is based on the collection of the Swiss entrepreneur and philanthropist Hubert Looser. Over a period of 40 years, Looser has built up an extraordinary collection with an emphasis on Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, minimalism and Arte Povera. Large parts of the collection have been donated as a long term loan to Kunsthaus Zürich, where it will be accessible to the public from 2020. In this exhibition The Looser Collection is supplemented with a handful of Norwegian works selected from the National Museum’s collection.

Organised in four chapters, it begins with Surrealism, exploring the movement’s primary method for expressing an inner reality: automatism. Inspired by the automatic writing of spiritualist mediums and Freud’s emphasis on chance, Breton described the phenomenon in the first Surrealist Manifesto in 1924. At about the same time André Masson experimented with doodled automatism, which was evoked by supressing all thoughts and letting the hand move unchecked across the paper. Among the Surrealists in the Looser Collection, it is primarily David Smith who experimented with automatic drawing. His practice is here linked to Norwegian Surrealists like Bjarne Rise and Anna-Eva Bergman.

In the early 1940s André Breton and a number of other Surrealists arrived in New York. Via numerous exhibitions and lectures, automatism’s expression and theory were spread among the city’s artists. The techniques of automatism were further developed within Abstract Expressionism. While the Surrealists saw automatism as a path to the sub-conscious, many Abstract Expressionists perceived the artistic medium as a place where the artist’s feelings and temperament were expressed. Willem de Kooning is a central figure in this section of the exhibition, together with David Smith, John Chamberlain and Philip Guston.

By the mid 1960s minimalism presented a challenge to Abstract Expressionism. While Ellsworth Kelly and later minimalists sought to eradicate all visible traces of the artist’s hand, others were more interested in toning down gesture to the point where it took on new meaning. One of them was Agnes Martin, who applied paint with small gestures that quivers with rhythm and life. This section of the exhibition explores works by Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Ryman, Jacob Schmidt, Sean Scully and Richard Serra.

With the emergence of performance and conceptual art, and Roland Barthes’ ideas about the death of the artist persona during the 1960s, the understanding of the artist’s gestures underwent a radical change. Visible traces of the artist’s physical working of the medium was no longer perceived as an expression of the artist persona, but as a sign that referred to ideas, everyday experiences, etc. Among the generation of American artists who distanced themselves from the New York School’s gesture painting, Cy Twombly is an important figure. When he exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1960, the critic and painter Fairfiled Porter commented that Twombly’s paintings looked like public walls full of unintelligible dirty jokes. Filled with doodles, letters, graphs and drawings, these pictures erased the distinction between text and image. Other artists in this section is Cy Twombly's favorite Al Taylor and Fredrik Værslev.

Artists from the Hubert Looser Collection
Serge Brignoni, Anthony Caro, John Chamberlain, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Rebecca Horn, Roni Horn, Ellsworth Kelly, Lenz Klotz, Willem de Kooning, Yayoi Kusama, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, Kurt Seligmann, Sean Scully, David Smith, Richard Serra, Al Taylor, Cy Twombly, Fabienne Verdier.

Artists from the National Museum's Collection
Anna-Eva Bergman, Bjarne Rise, Jacob Schmidt, Fredrik Værslev, Jakob Weidemann

Restless Gestures. Works from the Hubert Looser Collection is the first of many exhibitions the Department of Contemporary Art is showing in the National Gallery before the opening of the new National Museum in 2020.