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On the Sublime

Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, James Turrell
July 07 - October 07, 2001



The sublime is an experience with something so boundless, grand, or dangerous that it inspires awe, fear, or veneration. Historically, artists and writers viewed magnificent landscapes, hazy yet luminous seascapes, and vast regional vistas, or representations of them, as prime catalysts for this transcendental response. On the Sublime - on view at the Deutsche Guggenheim from July 7 to October 7, 2001 - explores concepts of the sublime as manifested in the work of Mark Rothko, Yves Klein, and James Turrell. Rather than using the representational models of nineteenth-century Romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, and J.M.W. Turner, Rothko, Klein, and Turrell create sublime experiences for the viewer through seemingly simple combinations of abstracted color, light, and space.

Although the concept of the sublime is most often identified with nineteenth-century Romanticism, the first century CE philosopher Longinus is credited with one of the earliest discussions. In On the Sublime, Longinus defines the sublime as an "expression of a great spirit" that has the power to provoke "ecstasy." However, the topic only gained prominence with the 1757 publication of Edmund Burke's Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas on the Sublime and Beautiful. According to Burke, terror and pain are the source of the sublime. He contrasts this idea with that of beauty, rather than associating the sublime as part of the beautiful. Burke also associates the sublime with immense objects or places. In his highly influential Critique of Judgment (1790), Emmanuel Kant outlines the sublime as a notion that can apply only to the mind, rather than to the object which induces these emotions. However, Kant argues that an object that attempts to represent the boundlessness of an experience may also be considered sublime.

Many critics have hailed Rothko's work as transcendental, creating spiritual work for secular times. Rothko canvases of the 1950s and 1960s engender a sense of sublimity through their size, space, and light. Painted with thin layers of paint that allow the color beneath to show, the saturated canvases seem to radiate from an inner light source. Rothko's floating rectangles vacillate between figure and ground, focused and hazy, creating a tension within in the composition and perhaps within the viewer.

Like Rothko, Klein used color to create a sense of infinite space. However, Klein refused to paint with multiple colors because he did not want to create tension within the composition. Dissatisfied with the lackluster quality of available materials, Klein created International Klein Blue, a deep ultramarine pigment suspended in synthetic resin. This color is often associated with the sea and sky, which are usually perceived as limitless to the human eye. Klein, interested in the viewer's emotional response to his "Monochrome Adventure," hoped viewers would be able to experience the "Void" through a uniformly painted color field.

Turrell's installations also confound our perceptions by using light to create ambiguous and otherworldly spaces. Space, in the work of both Klein and Turrell, often seems boundless and awesome, but the subject and medium of Turrell's works is light. In early works such as Afrum I, Turrell projects light in corners, creating seemingly three-dimensional shapes. However, these hovering objects flatten and dissolve, depending on which angle they are viewed from. The viewer must allow the eyes and mind to grapple with the spatial uncertainties and vacillation between two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms. Rather than creating a representation of the sublime, Turrell engenders a sublime experience for the viewer.

The works of these three artists have greatly impacted our understanding of the sublime by expanding its visual definitions over the course of the twentieth century. By investigating space, color, light, and vision, these works encourage us to reconsider our relationship to the outside world and to examine our inner selves.

The exhibition was organised by Tracey Bashkoff, Assistant Curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It is accompanied by a catalogue featuring illustrations of all the exhibits, as well as essays in German and English by Tracey Bashkoff, Thomas McEvilley, Frances Richard and Robert Rosenblum. The catalogue costs EURO 25,05/ DM 49.-

The Yves Klein Shirt - Edition No. 16 - has been created to mark the exhibition "On the Sublime". In 1948 Yves Klein created a furor on Capri with this summer shirt that he designed and painted himself. With the generous support of the Yves Klein Archives in Paris, it has been possible to create a reproduction of this natural linen shirt in a limited edition of 250 copies. The Yves Klein Shirt is now available exclusively in the MuseumsShop of the Deutsche Guggenheim for EURO 250/ DM 488,96.

The program accompanying the exhibition will be inaugurated by the 10th Berlin Long Museum Night: on Saturday, August 25, 2001 the exhibition will remain open until 2 a.m. A music and dance presentation in the Atrium entitled "On the sublime" will provide a thematic complement to the exhibition.

On Thursday, September 6, 2001 at 7 p.m. the architect Oliver Kühn of Gewers Kühn & Kühn will deliver a lecture entitled "The Alchemy of Art and Architecture", in which he presents the projects James Turrell created for specific locations.

In 1998 Raoul Schrott published his volume of poems "Tropen - über das Erhabene" On Thursday, September 13, 2001 at 8 p.m. the author will present a reading whose theme is the majesty and chaos of nature and art - and their unification in the sublime.

On September 20/21, 2001 at 8 p.m., in co-operation with the Theater am Hallesischen Ufer, the Deutsche Guggenheim will present a solo dance performance by choreographer Anna Huber entitled "unsichbarst", in the Atrium of the Deutsche Bank.
The traditional family brunch for young and old will take place on Sunday, 26 September 2001 at 11:30 a.m.

On Wednesday, September 26, 2001 at 7 p.m Professor Dr. Werner Busch of the Free University of Berlin will deliver a lecture entitled "Gewaltig leer: Zum Erhabenen in Kunst und Theorie im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert", which will consider the historical dimension of the exhibition.

Within the framework of the ".kunstherbst-nacht" under the motto "art in motion", on Saturday, October 6, 2001 all Berlin institutions specializing in contemporary art will keep their doors open until 9 p.m.

Deutsche Guggenheim is a partner of .kunstherbst Berlin

Press Preview: Friday, July 6, 2001, 11 a.m.


Images of the exhibition

are available online at www.photo-files.de/guggenheim in a 300 dpi quality.

Further information at

Manager: Svenja Gräfin von Reichenbach
Press: Sara Bernshausen
Phone: +49-30-202093-14
Fax: +49-30-202093-20
email: berlin.guggenheim@db.com
Internet: www.deutsche-guggenheim.de