Proof of Life / Lebenszeichen

19 May 2017 – 24 July 2018

Weserburg Museum
Teerhof 20

The construction of the Tower of Babel as a massacre. The artist as a dead revolutionary. A stained-glass window made from butterfly wings. Proof of Life brings together 100 paintings, sculptures and photographic works that investigate existential questions in a both palpable and profound manner. Their aesthetic impact inevitably draws the viewer into its spell. What these works bring to view is linked to a tradition of influential pictures, some of which go far back in time. The presented works simultaneously quote, seduce, irritate, provoke and thematise concepts of moral values. This includes a summons not only to situate in historical terms what is being seen, but also to relate it quite concretely to the present. The works come from a private collection that has never before been publicly presented in this form. Proof of Life presents a precise selection of in some cases space-encompassing but always impressive works by international artistic stars such as Louise Bourgeois, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Anton Corbijn, Tracey Emin, Nadav Kander, Damien Hirst and Daniel Richter.

A central work of this exhibition is the Death of Marat restaged as a life-sized sculpture in the round. In an impressive manner, the British artist Gavin Turk combines the well-known picture by Jacques-Louis David from 1793 with his own self-portrait. Whereas David was concerned with presenting Marat as a martyr and exalting revolutionary virtues and ideals, with his self-portrait Turk connects the current significance of art with the failure of the ideals of the Enlightenment and of freedom.

Proof of Life raises the question as to whether and why such images anchored in our memory are still relevant today. The exhibition shows how striking pictorial models are updated in a surprising manner and transformed into new visual inventions. The artistic results are simultaneously fascinating and shocking; the aesthetic experiences they make possible are complex and revelatory. They become documents and symbols of our present era and thus vital signs of contemporary culture.

"The exhibition derives its strength from the impact of the pictures, which in no way excludes deeper insights but instead fosters them. The works don’t immobilise us in wordless veneration but cause astonishment, questioning and doubt which we relate directly to the present. Fundamental questions raised by this exhibition are how art possesses this capability and why certain age-old motifs don’t become petrified manifestations in a museum but instead remain extremely lively." - Peter Friese, Director of the Weserburg

Several works on display further investigate these issues in a sometimes nightmarish manner. Jake and Dinos Chapman use the Biblical account of the building of the Tower of Babel as a parable for the disintegration of all shared cultural values. In the form of a model with countless, frighteningly violent figures, they present the Biblical construction project as a massacre. For his part, Damien Hirst contributes a monumental church window to the exhibition. But instead of lead-framed, colored glass, he made use of thousands of brightly shining, fluorescent butterfly wings. How is pain transformed into beauty, evanescence into permanence? How is matter ushered into the realm of spirit, how does the lowly butterfly become a symbol of the soul? John Isaacs presents a 1:1 adaptation and reformulation of the famous Pietà by Michelangelo made of Carrara marble. But the world-famous motif, the Madonna with the dead body of Jesus on her lap, is covered by a thin silk cloth and withdrawn from our view.

"The artists featured in this exhibition continue the exploration of art- and cultural-historical contexts in an intelligent, previously unseen manner. They neither imitate nor romanticise models. They bring new life to familiar perspectives regardless of whether these come from figural or abstract art." - Peter Friese, Director of the Weserburg

Exhibiting Artists: Hilary Berseth, Louise Bourgeois, Berlinde de Bruyckere, Patrick van Caeckenbergh, Jake & Dinos Chapman, George Condo, Anton Corbijn, Thierry de Cordier, Danny Devos, Tracey Emin, Tom Friedman, Line Gulsett, Damien Hirst, Roni Horn, Thomas Houseago, John Isaacs, Sergej Jensen, Nadav Kander, Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven, Anselm Kiefer, Esther Kläs, Wolfe von Lenkiewicz, Alastair Mackie, Christian Marclay, Kate MccGwire, Richard Prince, Leopold Rabus, Daniel Richter, Terry Rodgers, Sterling Ruby, Richard Serra, Andres Serrano, Stephen Shanabrook, Mircea Suciu, Gavin Turk, Jonathan Wateridge.