Max Ernst in the Garden of Nymph Ancolie
October 31, 2008 – February 15, 2009
Organized by the Museum Tinguely, Basel, and supplemented in Houston by work from the Menil Collection, Max Ernst in the Garden of Nymph Ancolie, is conceived around the mural, Pétales et jardin de la nymphe Ancolie. The surrealist work, with a bird-like figure emerging from monumental curling red flower petals, was painted by German-born artist Max Ernst (1891–1976) in 1934 for the wall of a Zürich night club, the Dancing Mascotte, part of the Kunsthaus Zürich. It is the only existing mural by the artist that has survived in its entirety. On view in Basel, it was undergoing conservation until the end of the summer of 2008. The Menil Collection is the first venue to showcase the mural in its fully restored state.
Approximately 75 important and rarely exhibited paintings, drawings, and sculptures by Ernst from the early 1930s to the late 1940s are shown—coming from some of the most eminent private and public collections in Europe and the United States—along with other works from the Menil Collection. Within this timeframe, Ernst explores themes of Eros, and nature’s relationship with culture and technology, in strange and surreal landscapes of dense foliage. Coming out of a post-war culture in Europe, it is deeply telling of a social anxiety that underscores the deceptively seductive and magical “joie de vivre” spirit of the mural. In many ways, the work reflects modern art’s response to an increasingly hostile political climate at the brink of World War II. For instance, in one series of paintings in the exhibition, “Jardin gobe-avions,” patristic clusters of colorful vegetation consume airplane parts.
Another key aspect of the exhibition’s narrative is Ernst’s multifaceted technical acumen. As one of the most important innovators in the history of modern art, the artist’s complex oeuvre is unified by a delight in manipulating meaning through formal experimentations and adaptations of traditional and existing artistic techniques, as can be seen in the mural. The autonomist and chance-based techniques that Ernst invented in this period—including collage, decalcomania, grattage, and frottage—will be presented through works on paper, sculptures, and paintings.
Considered to be the most significant collection of work by Ernst in the country, the Menil Collection is a fitting host for this exhibition. The same year Ernst completed the mural, the artist met John and Dominique de Menil in Paris. Beginning a close friendship that lasted through the artist’s lifetime, the couple went on to host his first museum exhibition in the United States at the Contemporary Art Association, Houston in 1952, and a 1971 retrospective exhibition in Paris.
The exhibition is generously supported by The Brown Foundation, Inc.; The Eleanor and Frank Freed Foundation; the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany at Houston; The Taub Foundation; Marilyn Oshman; the Texan-French Alliance for the Arts and the Consulate General of France; Fayez Sarofim & Company; HOK; Morgan Stanley; and the City of Houston.