The Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen, Amsterdam Region, the Netherlands is thé centre of expertise on the Cobra movement. Cobra (1948-1951) was a breakthrough in modern art that continues to influence art theory and artistic expression to the present day. The Cobra Museum ensures that the legacy of the international Cobra movement remains in the public eye and that the intellectual heritage of the artists is kept alive.
The museum has at its core the Cobra collection, comprised of artworks and documentary material and mostly build from the estates of the Cobra artists. From this collection a wide range of presentations are created, such as exhibitions on individual
member artists, Cobra-era peers and related movements. Recently for example, a Paul Klee & Cobra and a Miró & Cobra show were realized at the Cobra Museum. The museum also presents contemporary art by showing contemporary works related to Cobra. At the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, modern and contemporary art are harmoniously intertwined with one another.
Cobra is collected worldwide and other famous art institutions such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York (USA), the Tate (London, UK) and the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, NL) also have acquired many CoBrA works for their collection.
Cobra was founded in Paris (France) in 1948 and lasted until 1951: approximately 1000 days. The beginning of Cobra is not long after the end of World War II, a very depressing period in Europe. Cobra was clearly a response to the experiences during the war years, but an optimistic response: one of positive change through art and collaboration.
CoBrA is an acronym for the three capital cities where the artists lived and worked: Copenhagen (Denmark), Brussels (Belgium) and Amsterdam (the Netherlands). As their motto, they chose the ancient symbol of the snake. The Cobra artists all strove to create a new, free and expressive art, rooted in experiment. For inspiration, they looked at children’s drawings, mythological figures and stories, and indigenous, folk and tribal art. The artists didn’t only make paintings, they also created fabric, ceramics and sculptures, using many different materials that allowed them to create freely.
After two world wars, Europe was a very sad place. Paris was and stayed the artistic center of Europe and it is no coincidence that the Cobra members met in the French capital. They were inspired by each other as well the musicians and philopsophers that roamed the Parisian streets. The Cobra artists all lived together in a smelly house on Rue Santeuil, a former leatherfactory, and were very poor at the time. It was then and there that the basis for Cobra was laid.
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One of the things the artists struggled with was Surrealism, a very prominent art form at the time. During a conference on Surrealism, they decided they had enough of academic art and the suppressive rules it entailed: they walked out in protest, went to café Notre Dame and founded Cobra, bringing together various avant-garde movements from Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. They call for freedom in artistic expression. Constant calls for a new “people’s art”, an art that transcends national, cultural, and intellectual boundaries, a universal artistic language that embraces people with art rather than excludes them; a new folk art for and by everyone. Two quotes from the manifesto that was written are printed on the wall.
The group starts publishing magazines, where they explain their vision on their new way of creating art (you can find some examples in the showcases). In 1949, the first Cobra group exhibition is held at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The conservative press and viewers were by no means charmed by the richly imaginative and childlike spontaneity of the new Cobra art. They believed art should be classical and realistic, and were beyond shocked by this art.
1951 was Cobra’s third and final year. After having achieved the radical break with the beauty ideals of the past, the group falls apart, with its individual members heading off in their own artistic and geographic directions. The end of Cobra is marked with one final group exhibition, held at the Palace of Fine Arts in Liège, Belgium.
Today, more than 65 years after the founding of Cobra, this exciting movement has not lost any of its power or meaning. The legacy of Cobra lives on in the collections of many renowned museums, such as Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Tate (London) and Guggenheim (NY, USA). All of the Cobra artists, except for Pierre Alechinksy, have passed away.
Numerous European artists, writers and poets joined the Cobra group.
Denmark: Asger Jorn, Carl-Henning Pedersen, Egill Jacobsen, Ejler Bille, Else Alfelt, Henry Heerup, Sonja Ferlov, Erik Ortvad, Erik Thommesen and Svavar Gudnason (Iceland).
Belgium and France: Christian Dotremont, Pierre Alechinsky, Joseph Noiret, Marcel Havrenne, Reinhoud d’Haese, Serge Vandercam, Jean Raine, Luc de Heusch, Hugo Claus, Jean-Michel Atlan, Jacques Doucet, Édouard Jaguer and Michel Ragon.
The Netherlands: Karel Appel, Eugène Brands, Constant (Constant Nieuwenhuys), Corneille (Guillaume Beverloo), Jan G. Elburg, Gerrit Kouwenaar, Lucebert (Lubertus Swaanswijk), Jan Nieuwenhuijs, Anton Rooskens, Shinkichi Tajiri, Theo Wolvecamp and – closely associated with the group, although never actually a member – Lotti van der Gaag.
Other countries: William Gear (UK), Stephen Gilbert (UK), Karl Otto Götz (Germany), Carl-Otto Hultén (Sweden), Joseph Istler (Czechoslovakia) , Zoltan and Madeleine Kemeny (Hungary), Ernest Mancoba (SA), Anders Österlin (Sweden) and Max Walter Svanberg (Sweden).