Swiss painter Miriam Cahn’s travelling retrospective explores being human
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Swiss painter Miriam Cahn’s travelling retrospective explores being human

Miriam Cahn’s exhibition I AS HUMAN, at Haus der Kunst in Munich, represents the key phases of her artistic career, provoking discussion about humanity today, through painting.

by Sukanya Garg Sep 25, 2019

Celebrated Swiss artist Miriam Cahn’s (b. 1949 Basel) exhibition I AS HUMAN revolves around the artist’s deliberate and implicit commitment toward humanistic principles and the question of what comprises humanity at present.

Curated by Kathleen Bühler, the exhibition was on display at the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland till June 16, 2019, and is now on display at the Haus der Kunst in Munich till October 27, 2019. It will subsequently travel to the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw between November 29, 2019 to February 23, 2020. In addition, Cahn will have another solo show at the Reina Sofia in Madrid, in 2019 itself.

Miriam Cahn, BLUE and hands-high, 2019, exhibition view / installation view Haus der Kunst | I AS HUMAN | Miriam Cahn | STIRworld
Miriam Cahn, BLUE and hands-high, 2019, exhibition view / installation view, Haus der Kunst Image Credit: Jens Weber, Munich

With more than 150 works from all creative periods, the exhibition which is currently on display at the Haus der Kunst, honours Cahn’s artistic career, which has spanned more than five decades. Her work provokes a discussion about new images of the body and humanity today, through painting.

Having studied at the School of Applied Arts in Basel, not only did she become well-versed with the more traditional techniques like painting and graphic arts, but also indulged in the knowledge of performance and video art. The exhibition brings together key works from all phases of Cahn’s artistic career - from the early Super 8 films, sculptures, larger-than-life chalk drawings and water colours, to the oil paintings which constitute her main body of work. Many works have been created especially for the exhibition or are key works in the possession of the artist.

Miriam Cahn, l'origine du monde looks back, 16. + 21.12.17 + 20.1.18, oil and pastel on wood, 90 x 180 cm, courtesy of Miriam Cahn, Gallery Meyer Riegger and Gallery Jocelyn Wolff | I AS HUMAN | Miriam Cahn | STIRworld
Miriam Cahn, l'origine du monde looks back, 16. + 21.12.17 + 20.1.18, oil and pastel on wood, 90 x 180 cm, courtesy of Miriam Cahn, Gallery Meyer Riegger and Gallery Jocelyn Wolff Image Credit: Markus Mühlheim

In her pictorial worlds, Cahn counters the traditional representation of the female and gender-specific roles. Through her works, she has repeatedly questioned the conditionings and standardisation of society, and since early 1970s, she was publicly vocal against patriarchal systems, hierarchies and representations, advocating for a larger role for women in the public realm.

Miriam Cahn, meat picture / family picture, 29.11. + 06.12.2017, oil on canvas, 185 x 135 cm, courtesy of Miriam Cahn, Galerie Meyer Riegger and Galerie Jocelyn Wolff | I AS HUMAN | Miriam Cahn | STIRworld
Miriam Cahn, meat picture / family picture, 29.11. + 06.12.2017, oil on canvas, 185 x 135 cm, courtesy of Miriam Cahn, Galerie Meyer Riegger and Galerie Jocelyn Wolff Image Credit: Markus Mühlheim

Cahn’s approach has constantly focused on the human body, the works in the exhibition then exploring both the internal and external processes and what it actually means to be human. She says, “We do not really know what skin is or where the boundary between the outside and the inside lies.” Her depiction of the human body is often devoid of an emphasis on gender per se and the works from the later part of her art practice and life resonate with a destruction of identity and a process of depersonalisation.

Miriam Cahn, BLUE, 21.7.17, 2017, oil on canvas, 225 x 280 cm (88 1/2 x 110 1/8 in.), Cahn_17_63-4388, courtesy the artist, Jocelyn Wolff Gallery, Paris and Meyer Riegger Berlin, Karlsruhe | I AS HUMAN | Miriam Cahn | STIRworld
Miriam Cahn, BLUE, 21.7.17, 2017, oil on canvas, 225 x 280 cm (88 1/2 x 110 1/8 in.), Cahn_17_63-4388, courtesy the artist, Jocelyn Wolff Gallery, Paris and Meyer Riegger Berlin, Karlsruhe Image Credit: François Doury

According to Kathleen Bühler, the curator of Kunstmuseum Bern, “The exhibition title, I AS HUMAN, is programmatic. Miriam Cahn strives not only to see things from the perspective of an artist, but to view the world as a human being who in our age and time should act humanely among fellow humans. She has always adhered to this ethical principle in her art.”

Miriam Cahn, oT, 8.7.18, pastel and fabric on paper, 28 x 32 cm, courtesy of Miriam Cahn, Meyer Riegger Gallery and Galerie Jocelyn Wolff | I AS HUMAN | Miriam Cahn | STIRworld
Miriam Cahn, oT, 8.7.18, pastel and fabric on paper, 28 x 32 cm, courtesy of Miriam Cahn, Meyer Riegger Gallery and Galerie Jocelyn Wolff Image Credit: Markus Mühlheim

Winner of the 1998 Käthe Kollwitz Prize, awarded by the Academy of Arts, Berlin, Cahn is a major figure in the art of her generation. Her most recent powerful demonstration of this was her showing of works at documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel (2017). This is reason enough to introduce, to a broad audience, her diverse oeuvre and her resolute, radical artistic approach.

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About Author

Sukanya Garg

Sukanya Garg

Garg is an artist and writer with a Masters degree in Public Policy from Duke University, USA. She has been involved in research, planning and execution of gallery exhibitions and external projects in collaboration with curators. Her writing has been published in several art magazines, journals and as part of curatorial notes and catalogues, and her work has been showcased in multiple exhibitions.

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