Apropos Hodler – Aktuelle Blicke auf eine Ikone – Kunsthaus CH-Zürich

The Kunsthaus Zürich examines the contemporary relevance of Switzerland’s ‘national artist’, Ferdinand Hodler. ‘Apropos Hodler’ counters one-sided interpretations with the rich diversity of the painter’s formal, cultural and political impact, and sets out to view the old and familiar with new eyes. Works by more than 30 contemporary artists are juxtaposed with some 60 paintings by the Swiss icon.

Scandalous artist and national icon: forgotten and rediscovered

The reception of Hodler’s work has ebbed and flowed. His ‘scandalous’ participation in the Secession exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna around 1900 marked him out as one of the most progressive artists of his time. Yet Hodler’s success was hard-earned, given his upbringing in a family with little money and time for education. That background, and his early preference for subjects drawn from the lives of craftspeople and workers, initially drew the approval of socialists such as Hans Mühlestein (1887–1969). When he died in 1918, Hodler was honoured as a great Swiss artist, yet his reputation faded after the Second World War. It was not until the 1980s that he came to be appreciated again in Switzerland. Although recognized by art historians as an innovator, Hodler has come to be seen by the public at large as symbolizing traditional values. For the Kunsthaus, that altering reception is an opportunity to present Ferdinand Hodler alongside and in conjunction with international contemporary artists. The exhibition concept was developed by Kunsthaus curators Sandra Gianfreda and Cathérine Hug as part of a collective, which also chose the approximately 30 invited artists. This advisory collective included artists Sabian Baumann (b. 1962), Ishita Chakraborty (b. 1989) and RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co; since 1983). They reacted to a list of Hodler paintings which was also drawn up collectively. The exhibition was designed in association with the artist Nicolas Party (b. 1980).