| 9.sep.2010

SPECIAL EXHIBITION. Frames. State of the Art

The great spring exhibition at Statens Museum for Kunst directs the spotlight to the oft-overlooked picture frame. Presenting an exclusive selection of more that 270 picture frames, with and without paintings, the exhibition invites visitors to take a pleasant stroll through the history of the European picture frame from medieval times to the belle époque. The first of its kind, the exhibition draws on splendid examples from Denmark and abroad to outline the development of the picture frame while also elucidating the added layers of meaning, even narrative, that arise in the interplay between frame and painting.

State of the Art.Statens Museum for Kunst
8 March – 15 March 2009

Stepping out of the shadows
The frame has always served as an intermediary between the painting and the room in which it finds itself. It is a marker, reliably pointing out where everyday life stops and art begins. In addition to its practical functions, protecting and stabilising the painting, the frame also heightens awareness of the painting itself and acts as a barrier, blocking of the visual noise around it. The frame calls for attention, creates focus, and invites reflection.

The frame has always seemed fated to be appreciated for its function rather than for high visibility. Thus, it is small wonder that up until now, it has led a quiet life on the peripheries of not just the painting itself, but also of art history in general. The exhibition at Statens Museum for Kunst tell the much-overlooked tale of the sheer variety of the picture frame, which comes in myriad styles, often in themselves picture-perfect in their beauty. A tale of an art form which repeatedly bests itself with grand fluted columns, tympana, and sgrafitto, with elaborate decorative carvings created using everything from glowingly dark ebony to the more mundane pinewood, and with an almost alchemical affinity for gilding in all its many forms. 

From the Middle Ages to the Belle Époque
The exhibition presents an abundance of picture frames, from 14th century medieval altarpieces to the frames created by early 20th century artists to supplement their paintings. During this time span, frames underwent significant changes in the wake of changing movements within art and design – and of changing political and social trends in Europe. The history of the picture frame is unfolded chronologically through the five rooms occupied by the exhibition. The presentation is carefully staged with a view to emphasising and accentuating the unique qualities of the different styles and periods as they emerge in the visual and functional aspects of the frame. From the symbiotic relationship between medieval frames and the works they contain to the more architecturally stringent Renaissance frames onwards to the flamboyant, sometimes extravagantly decorative frames of the Baroque and the Rococo; and up to the artist-designed frames and their return to a full synthesis with the painted surface. Particular attention is also paid to the Empire-style frames created by the famous frame-maker Peder Christian Damborg, whose work had considerable impact on the Golden Age of Danish painting around 1850.

With and without paintings
The exhibition also presents many examples of pieces where the frame remains attached to its painting, as one of the purposes of the exhibition is to shed light on the often subtle interplay between the artist’s intention, the image presented in the picture, and the frame surrounding it. For example, the exhibition presents how Henri Matisse used and built on old renaissance frames, often with strikingly original results, and also demonstrates how the beautiful frames created by Harald Slott-Møller and Niels Larsen Stevns are inextricable parts of the overall experience of their paintings. 

The exhibition takes Statens Museum for Kunst’s rich collection of picture frames as its point of departure, but also presents a wide variety of important loans from Denmark and abroad, including significant contributions from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, and from the Danish royal castles of Frederiksborg and Rosenborg. The exhibition also marks the first opportunity in 350 years to see, on Danish soil again, the lovely Baroque picture frames from the Danish royal collections, taken as spoils of war during the Dano-Swedish wars and left in a state of hibernation in the cellars of the Skokloster castle north of Stockholm. 

The exhibition was curated by Henrik Bjerre, head of the Jørn Rubow Center for Bevaring, and Jannie Henriette Linnemann, architect and art historian. 

Companion book
Frames. State of the Art.

The exhibition has a companion piece in the form of a weighty tome, published by Statens Museum for Kunst, which provides a multi-faceted account and investigation of the history of the picture frame within culture, art, and the history of ideas – both in Denmark and abroad.Introduction and main essay by Henrik Bjerre. Contributions by Mogens Bencard, Beate Knuth Federspiel, Jannie Henriette Linnemann, Karsten Ohrt, Morten Søndergaard, Jakob Thage, and Carsten Thau.The volume also includes a new translation of an excerpt on the concept of frames taken from the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset’s important essay ”Notes on Art and Philosophy”.Circa 250 pages, lavishly illustrated. The book is available in Danish and English.Price: DKK 299. The book is available from the museum bookshop from mid-April. ISBN: 9788792023117

The book was sponsored by the New Carlsberg Foundation

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