Innovation and belief in progress have shaped Western societies throughout the ages. Until the twentieth century, artists were also driven by a positive and constructive notion of utopia, which was, however, fundamentally called into question by the Nazis’ betrayal of civilization. Since the emergence of postmodernism in the late 1960s, questions have arisen about the power and possibilities of current technologies, to which the discourse on the shaping of our future is also linked. In the current presentation of works, various positions reflect these questions.

The Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) is considered one of the pioneers of abstract art. He liberated the line from its contouring function and created a new pictorial grammar based on the equivalence of line and color. In addition to his painterly interests, Kandinsky’s work is determined by the symbolic meanings of individual pictorial elements, as well as by philosophical and spiritual concerns. The sense of taste and touch, as well as temperature perception and kinesthetics, are activated in the sense of a dynamic grasp of the pictorial structure of tension. “Harmony” and “contradiction” or “opposition” are the key terms Kandinsky used to convey his pictorial intentions to an audience still distant from abstract art, as demonstrated by the painting Composition X (1939), with its constellations of geometric elements.

In contrast to this position, which is characterized by optimism, the English artist Ed Atkins (b. 1982) adopts an attitude marked by fundamental skepticism. He is considered a pioneer of a young generation of artists who reflect on the profound changes in the reality of our lives brought about by the rapid development of digital media. His work deals with the omnipresence of new media, as well as with profound changes in perception. From the tension between sophisticated technical means and human characteristics, the computer-generated protagonists appear hyperrealistic and artificial at the same time. The animations question the promises, potentials, and ideologies of the technologies he uses and deal with existential themes such as love, death, and illness, as well as desire, melancholy, and transience.

Komposition X, 1939

Öl auf Leinwand, 130 x 195 cm
Photo: Walter Klein, Düsseldorf