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Wilderness: The call of the wild in art

Heike Mund db
November 2, 2018

More than half of the animal kingdom has been wiped out since 1970, according to the WWF. A timely exhibition in Frankfurt — "Wilderness" — features art works that celebrates the wild, untamed and unculivated.

Ausstellung Wildnis in der Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt
Image: DW/H. Mund

In the 21st century, wilderness is more mythical than real, with very few blank spots left on world maps that have not been disturbed by human civilization.

In response, Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt has dedicated an entire exhibition to the increasingly obsolete notion of "Wilderness," with a display of works spanning more than a century that include paintings, photography and computer simulations.

Read more2018 wildlife photography winners highlight nature's beauty

Seemingly natural

Much of the artwork on show originates at the peak of industrialization when there was an increased longing for untouched wilderness. According to Schirn Kunsthalle director Philipp Demandt, pristine nature has long been held up in contrast to humankind's "overly controlled" world.

Russland Wald
Experts say more than 70 percent of the world's last untouched wilderness lies in just five countriesImage: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Kadobnov

Yet the term wilderness has also long had held negative connotations. According the Demandt, it has long been associated with "darkness and danger," for example, with artists often portraying towering mountains, precipitous rock formations, dark forests and waterfalls, even into the Romance period in the late 19th century when the beauty of and mankind's longing for nature had become the focus.

The museum's curator Esther Schlicht travelled to the US, Africa and across Europe to find the 34 works of widely varying artists now presented at Schirn Kunsthalle. The works span a period of more than 100 years.

Read moreKing of the Animals: the Willhem Kuhnert retrospective

International perspectives

Contemporary artists often take a different point of view to impressionistic landscape painters of the past, for instance, with an approach much more critical of civilization, sometimes taking a clear political stand.

man with a chained monkey sits on a car
Pieter Hugo's Abu Kikan with Fraya, Nigeria (2007) typifies an increasingly disillusioned artistic view of nature Image: DW/H. Mund

Many artists deliberately left their studios to paint in the wild, others were inspired during their travels by nature left untouched.

The unique thematic exhi­bi­tion presents works of art from 1900 to the present, with the 30 artists on show inlcuding Tacita Dean, Mark Dion, Jean Dubuf­fet, Max Ernst, Asger Jorn, Geor­gia O’Keeffe, Gerhard Richter, Frank Stella, Thomas Struth, Henri Rous­seau und Carle­ton E. Watkins. 

Click on the picture gallery for a selection of works by some of these revered international artists.

"Wilderness" runs November 2 through February 3, 2019.