Ulla von Brandenburg ‘A Color Notation’ au Musée Jenisch

German artist Ulla von Brandenburg brings into Vevey a unique installation conceived in honour of Fanny Jenisch, founder of the Musée Jenisch where history, décor, costume and societal codes merge to produce a complete, conceptual work of art.

Nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp in 2016 and shortlisted for the Daniel and Florence Guerlain Contemporary Art Foundation’s 2013 Drawing Prize, Paris-based von Brandenburg is known for her internationally-acclaimed installation and film work. For this carte blanche invitation however, the artist has presented around 80 small and large-scale drawings, mostly watercolour of which around fifty have been created exclusively for the Vevey show.

Favouring historical locations to showcase her work – Singspiel (2009) was set at Le Corbusier’s iconic Villa Savoye – her symbolic connection to the museum’s founder with whom she shares the same hometown of Hamburg (also the town where she had her first exhibition) justifies the Musée Jenisch as the perfect host for displaying her lesser-known drawings on paper. A short film shot in the Jenisch House and Park in Hamburg accompanies the main exhibition reinforcing the past link to Fanny Jenisch and this notable Swiss town on the eastern shores of Lake Geneva.

2© Ulla von Brandenburg, A Color Notation, Musée Jenisch, Photo oneARTlover/ARTEEZ 

In von Brandenburg’s artistic arena, the audience, since this is what we become, is introduced to a legion of eclectic characters and beings from the many visual corners of her mind. Whether phantom, human, animal, plant or other living organism, each individual work is bound with a creative spirituality, questioning the different states of consciousness. Here, life challenges death, reality challenges illusion, past challenges present. Many themes are addressed – theatre and carnival, animals and the circus, dance, magic and spiritism, the underwater world and historical heroines from days gone by and Fanny Jenisch appears in a series of watercolour portraits honouring notable female figures from the past. So too, German writer Hedwig Dohm, Irish astronomer and scientist Margaret Lindsay Huggins and French writer and woman of letters Colette all take their place in this alternative gallery of celebrated women.

3.jpg© Ulla von Brandenburg, A Color Notation, Musée Jenisch, Photo oneARTlover/ARTEEZ 

Six colour-coded rooms modulate the distinctly-themed spaces and curtains hung as contrasting backdrops – evoking the artist’s background in scenography – simultaneously highlight the artworks while symbolically concealing what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. In certain places are traces of works that once were, revealed by the contrast in faded fabric against original colour underneath, these imaginary showpieces now noticeable only for their absence. On show, we come face-to-face with life-size performers, a dancer and her Harlequins, striking athletic poses in brightly-stitched entertainer costumes. But the bravado expressions are deceived by von Brandenburg’s spontaneous, dripping watercolours, their imperfections hinting at a pensive melancholy reflecting the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ ephemerality of the entertainment world.

Some of the subjects filling the rooms – bears, monkeys, aquatic creatures and other animals – are reminiscent of Fanny Jenisch’s original mandate to fund an encyclopedic museum combining art and science. The scientific collections were subsequently transferred to the Cantonal museum of zoology in Lausanne, but here we see revenant species delighting the crowds once again, albeit with a slightly uneasy feeling amongst our modern-day morality.

Ulla von Brandenburg, Le montreur d'ours.jpgLe montreur d’ours I, 2016, Watercolour on ancient paper 153 x 123 cm, Private collection © Ulla von Brandenburg, Photo Claire Dom

Von Brandenburg’s bold, artistic style, where liberal contrast of colour defines the compositions, draws echoes from past painters. One might recognise an early twentieth-century Fauvist flair – think Jean Metzinger’s chromatic c.1906 work ‘La danse, Bacchante’, or the tones of Manguin’s ‘Woman Bather’ from the same year. One too might be reminded of the work of Robert and Sonia Delaunay where depth and tone of saturated colour are allowed to take centre stage – abstract echoes of Sonia Delaunay’s 1916 Flamenco singer come to mind. Or indeed the vivid shades of František Kupka, where it is not line and shade but tonal planes of colour that expose the subject.

The deliberate choice of ancient paper formed into yellowing patchworks further enhances the visual illusion, as though each piece has returned from a distant place to become part of a collective, creative effort for the purpose of this show. Similarly, von Brandenburg’s presentation, where fragile works are leaned against walls or placed on low floor platforms, without frame or protection reinforces the notion of vulnerability where the passage of time brings about a state of natural decline.

What’s crystal clear is that von Brandenburg’s clever imagination creates a thread through time, passing in and out from past to the present and vice versa, via artists, animals or material mediums.

Once this mystical menagerie packs up and the caravan departs, the ensuing quiet will no doubt ring loud within the walls of the Musée Jenisch but the legacy will be lasting, as the presences from the past will forever perpetuate the generous gift of Mme Fanny Jenisch.

Ulla von Brandenburg “A Color Notation” at the Musée Jenisch, Vevey, Switzerland until 27 May 2018.

5.jpg© Ulla von Brandenburg, A Color Notation, Musée Jenisch, Photo oneARTlover/ARTEEZ 

6.jpgUlla von Brandenburg, A Color Notation, Musée Jenisch, Photo oneARTlover/ARTEEZ 

8.jpg© Ulla von Brandenburg , A Color Notation/Musée Jenisch , Photo oneARTlover/ARTEEZ 

9.jpg© Ulla von Brandenburg, A Color Notation, Musée Jenisch  Photo oneARTlover/ARTEEZ 

Octopus 1 & 2 (diptych), 2015, Watercolour on ancient card 140 x 110 cm, Musée Jenisch, Vevey, Collection d’art Nestlé © Ulla von Brandenburg, Photos Peter Sander

11.jpg© Ulla von Brandenburg , A Color Notation, Musée Jenisch, Photo oneARTlover/ARTEEZ

A Color Notation
Musée Jenisch, Vevey, Switzerland
Until 27 May 2018

Toute reproduction interdite
© www.arteez.ch 2018