Alchemists and artists alike are highly ingenious, transforming materials and creating their own worlds and realities. A Berlin show now throws some light on how they have mutually inspired each other over centuries.
In a way, they are artists. That's the topic explored by the large-scale exhibition "Alchemy. The Great Art," which runs from April 6 to July 23, 2017, in Berlin's Kulturforum.
The foreword of the exhibition's program explains that alchemy is a creation myth and therefore intimately related to artistic practice. Berlin's Kulturforum can be seen as predestined location for such a show, as the Berlin state museums and the Berlin state library contain a myriad of items representing 3,000 years of art and cultural history. The exhibition was also supplemented by loans from international institutions.
From Ancient Egypt to Joseph Beuys
On show are 200 exhibits, ranging from items of Ancient Egyptian temples and writings of the early modern era to works of contemporary artists including Anselm Kiefer, Yves Klein and Joseph Beuys. As the permanent transformation of materials is part of Beuys' work, he actually sees himself as part of the alchemist tradition.
Alchemy, the art of metallurgy
For thousands of years, alchemists have searched for the stone of the wise, a technique for transforming raw metals into precious ones, particularly gold.
According to a legend, the deity Hermes Trismegistos engraved the formula for the creation of the stone of the wise into an emerald panel 2,500 years ago. According to that formula, the legendary stone of the wise was to be created by combining the four basic elements - namely fire, water, earth and air - with quicksilver, sulfur and salt.
The term "alchemy" itself originated in Ancient Greece and signified something like "metal casting." During the Middle Ages, alchemy was referred to as "Ars Magna" in Europe. Not surprisingly therefore, the "great art" was also seen as serving artistic endeavors. The mysterious stories surrounding alchemists portray them either as cranky and crazy, or as wise and omniscient.
Even if nowadays they are much ridiculed for their superstitious spirituality, alchemists were once the precursors of modern chemistry and pharmacology.
Creation, creator and creature
The exhibition "Alchemy. The Great Art" is divided in three sections showing how alchemists and artists have mutually influenced and enriched each other.
The section "Creation" focuses on the origins of alchemy, as well as the influence of alchemist techniques on art. The section "Creator" illustrates the influence of alchemists, and their pursuit of creative power. The section "Creature" presents the successful transformation of raw materials into precious materials, as well as the creation of artworks.
Click through the gallery above to see a selection of the works on show at the exhibition.