Three hundred masterpieces from Zurich's Graphische Sammlung on display at MASI, from Dürer to Warhol

MASI in Lugano presents three hundred masterpieces from the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, from Albrecht Dürer to Andy Warhol, on display from September 10, 2023 to January 7, 2024.

From September 10, 2023 to January 7, 2024, MASI - Museo d’arte della Svizzera italiana in Lugano presents the exhibition Da Albrecht Dürer a Andy Warhol. Masterpieces from the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, curated by the Director of the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich Linda Schädler, through which the Swiss museum venue aims to offer the public an opportunity to discover three hundred masterpieces from one of the most important Swiss collections of graphic art.

The exhibition itinerary is developed chronologically, in a comparison of Old Masters and contemporary artists: works by masters of European art history, from Albrecht Dürer to Rembrandt van Rijn from Francisco de Goya to Maria Sibylla Merian, Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch, are presented alongside the works of living artists such as John M Armleder, Olivier Mosset, Candida Höfer, Susan Hefuna, Shirana Shahbazi or Christiane Baumgartner.

Common themes such as the process of creating the work of art, the relationship between copy and original, the transmission of motifs and iconographies, and also the collaboration between different professions in the artistic field are intended to emerge from this comparison. In addition to highlighting the wide variety of graphic techniques, from woodcut and burin engraving to etching and silkscreen printing, the exhibition also features drawings, photographs and multiples. The exhibition project also offers information and curiosities about the origins, functions and importance of the works through the centuries.

“The Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, founded in 1867 as a University Collection for the purpose of study and teaching, is one of the most important Swiss institutions for prints and drawings from the 15th century to the present day,” says Joël Mesot, President ETH Zürich. “Every time I visit it, I am very impressed by the quality and topicality of the works. I am therefore very happy that several masterpieces from this extraordinary Collection can be presented to a wide audience for the first time at MASI Lugano.”

The exhibition opens with a large wall on which, in the “Petersburg style,” self-portraits or portraits of female artists are hung. In this overview, spanning different eras, visitors to the exhibition will come face to face with centuries of art history: from the intense gaze of Rembrandt’s etching in the self-portrait with his wife Saskia, to the more celebratory ones of Antoon van Dyck or Maria Sibylla Merian; from the black-and-white self-portrait photographs of Urs Lüthi or Fischli/ Weiss to the synthetic self-portrait, of just a few lines, of Max von Moos or, again, to the simple mouth of Meret Oppenheim in Markus Raetz’s etching, to name but a few.

The exhibition will continue with the presentation of historical works in the Collection from the late 15th century to the present day, in chronological order. At a time when photography had not yet been invented, by the 16th century the so-called “translation engraving,” which reproduced paintings and works of art, was a fundamental means of making masterpieces known to a wide audience. Masterpieces that, through printing, were also reinterpreted: in the exhibition, Niccolò Boldrini’s Caricature of the copy of the Laooconte is an example of how a 16th-century Venetian print could adapt an ancient motif, transforming it into a new image: the ancient figures were in fact replaced with monkeys. The print was also used as a tool for scientific and naturalistic representation, as evidenced by the well-known woodcut Rhinocerus by Albrecht Dürer on display in the exhibition. Although the artist had never seen the exotic animal, he made a depiction of it that was long considered realistic and thus reprinted in multiple editions.

The Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium volume published in 1705 by Maria Sibylla Merian grew out of her careful observation of the insects of Surinam in South America. An entrepreneur and teacher, Merian was considered among the leading insect scholars of her time and was also the first artist to depict the different stages of development of an insect, along with the plants that served as its food.

It is also possible to observe the transmission of engraving techniques over time, but also the different working methods of the artists. In Rembrandt, this aspect is evident in the two versions of the engraving Ecce Homo, from which it is clear that the artist retouched and perfected his works continuously. This was also possible thanks to the drypoint technique, which allowed the plate to be engraved with a steel tool in the shape of a sharp needle, freely maneuvered just like a pencil. Over time, the drypoint technique would often be taken up and revisited, for example by a contemporary artist such as Miriam Cahn, who in her 1995 series soldaten, frauen + tiere intervenes directly on the plate with gloves covered with frosted paper, creating faces, looks and physiognomies of great expressive power with the movements of her hand.

The transmission of iconographic subjects over the centuries recurs in so many examples, and reaches all the way to the most recent epochs, as in Francisco de Goya’s dramatic depictions of bullfighting in 1816, a theme taken up in Pablo Picasso’s figures in his aquatint Salto con la Garrocha (Jumping with the Pike) from the series La tauromachia and in a more plastic and stylized manner in Bernhard Luginbühl’s woodcut on cotton fabric. The representation of the figure and thus the body is also a theme that emerges throughout the exhibition, particularly condensed at the turn of the 20th century in the Expressionists, the prints of Edvard Munch and Käthe Kollwitz, and the filigree drawings of Egon Schiele and Ferdinand Hodler.

The relationship between man and woman is intimately presented in the woodcuts of Félix Vallotton’s Intimités series (1891): an example of the evolution of the dissemination of art prints, which saw, at the end of the nineteenth century, the introduction of the limited edition, a successful business model. In the case of Vallotton’s series, for example, after finishing the printing process, all the wooden plates used by the artist were cut into small parts and printed on an additional sheet to give the buyer the assurance that no further editions would be made. Several examples in the exhibition testify to the evolution of printmaking even as art graphics in the second half of the twentieth century, such as the series of diptychs composed of image and text made in 1999 by artist Louise Bourgeois. Through the question What is the shape of this problem?, placed on the title page, the artist stimulates the viewer’s reasoning through possible answers and counter-questions, seeking to give visual form to emotions. In the risographs Camping The Two, Shirana Shahbazi instead investigates the classic genre of travel photography, leaving out the documentary character to capture passing moments of everyday situations.

Even the image of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup was born from an inspiration drawn from everyday life. An emblem of pop culture and pop art, the red and white can of the most famous canned soup in the history of art is immortalized, in the exhibition, in a silkscreen print from the well-known series created by Warhol in 1968.

A catalog in three separate editions (Italian, English and German) published by Scheidegger&Spiess and Edizioni Casagrande with an introductory essay by Linda Schädler, fact sheets on a selection of works by Linda Schädler and Patrizia Keller and texts by John M Armleder, Stephanie Buck, Andreas Fichtner, Pia Fries, Candida Höfer, Jane Munro, Nadine M. Orenstein, Philip Ursprung, Lenny Winkel, as well as a glossary of graphic techniques by Saskia Goldschmid.

Image: Albrecht Dürer, Rhinocerus (The Rhinoceros) (1515; woodcut and letterpress; Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich)

Three hundred masterpieces from Zurich's Graphische Sammlung on display at MASI, from Dürer to Warhol
Three hundred masterpieces from Zurich's Graphische Sammlung on display at MASI, from Dürer to Warhol

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