The SCHIRN reopened with KING OF THE ANIMALS on October 25, 2018. Director Philipp Demandt reveals what fascinates him about Wilhelm Kuhnert and which exhibitions to expect in 2019.

Mr. Demandt, you have been director of the SCHIRN for two years now, and this fall will see the opening of your first exhibition in Frankfurt, “King of the Animals”, which you curated together with Ilka Voermann. You’ve been following the work of Wilhelm Kuhnert for a long time now, how did this come about?

I’ve always been interested in artists who were highly celebrated during their lifetimes and remain popular among private collectors, yet have disappeared from the canon of museum art history. Kuhnert is such an artist. When he died in 1926, he was one of the best known nature and landscape painters in Germany. However, art museums have long ignored his oeuvre, and his name is likewise left out of the discourse on 20th century German painting.

And what motivated you to present Kuhnert’s works in the SCHIRN now?  

Kuhnert marks a fascinating line between free art and illustration, between art and natural history, and his work is closely associated with the history of German colonialism – which all adds up to challenging themes, ones the Schirn is perfectly placed to tackle. Above all this, however, stands the artist: After all, Kuhnert was not only a gifted painter and illustrator, but also shaped people’s image of Africa like no other painter, with an impact that partly endures to this day.

Challenging themes, ones the Schirn is perfectly placed to tackle.

Philipp Demandt

Kuhnert’s works are spread around the world and many are in the hands of private collectors. How did you convince the owners to hand over the works for the duration of the exhibition?

We had almost no refusals, which is pretty rare! But it also shows how many collectors want to see a rediscovery of the painter even though we are presenting the “whole picture”, the “complete Kuhnert”, with all his contradictions.

The exhibition “Wilderness” is being shown in parallel to “King of the Animals”. Is there a link between the two exhibitions?

Definitely. To a certain extent, “Wilderness” picks up where Kuhnert leaves off. Compare Wilhelm Kuhnert to Henri Rousseau: They are worlds apart. But is that really the case? “Wilderness” reconsiders the topic and takes a broader perspective: It’s about the connections between wilderness and art, from Modernism to the present day. Wilderness as a cultural concept is put up for discussion here, as a concept that has always been used as a projection surface for what is different, alien, for antitheses and fantasies of longing beyond the boundaries of a self-proclaimed civilization.   

And what will be on the agenda for the Schirn in the spring? Can you give us an insight yet?

We will be presenting the monumental, eccentric  works by Austrian artist Bruno Gironcoli – one of the most important sculptors of his generation, whose aesthetic of excess and opulence has inspired countless young artists. Parallel to this we will be presenting the first major overview exhibition by the Swedish artist couple Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg. Both develop fantastic worlds, which affect you profoundly both physically and psychologically and address the major questions of humanity: love, power, death, eroticism, and all forms of interpersonal relations.