Why was this exhibition put on? Was it just because it’s by Bob Dylan?
As the curator responsible for the exhibition, I have been asked this question on numerous occasions. It deserves an answer; after all, most people know Bob Dylan as a songwriter, singer, and musician.
H. C. Andersen
In my reply I will begin by referring to an entirely different artist who also had a significant impact within different veins of art: The writer Hans Christian Andersen. He is best known for his fairytales, but he also created paper cuttings and collages. Within the latter field he was actually a pioneering artist, not just in a Danish context, but internationally. Several international volumes on the history of collage in the 20th century begin by addressing Hans Christian Andersen. If someone were to ask whether it matters that these collages were created by him, my reply would be: Yes, very much so! For they help deepen and expand our perception of his wide-ranging artistic talent.
August Strindberg, Yoko Ono, Per Kirkeby...
Something similar applies to the major Swedish playwright and writer August Strindberg, who was also an outstanding painter. His paintings strongly contribute to a nuanced perception of his creative talent. Yoko Ono was known as a Fluxus artist long before she began making music with John Lennon. Per Kirkeby, too, should not only be regarded as a painter and sculptor; he is also a poet and essay writer. And there are many others on the long list of artists working across conventional art genres.
Let us go back to the opening question: Is it relevant that the paintings from The Brazil Series are by Bob Dylan? Yes, very much so! They offer insights into an entirely new aspect of his multi-faceted artistic gifts.
If I could...
The paintings of The Brazil Series are very different from Bob Dylan’s songs. He puts it in plain terms himself:
”If I could have expressed the same in a song, I would have written a song instead”.
One should not, then, look for parallels to the songs in his images.
Scenes from Brazil
What you can do, however, is explore the very varied worlds conjured up by Dylan in the paintings. He is keenly interested in telling stories, and so his pictures provide a motley impression of life in Brazil. There are scenes from everyday life as well as more dramatic narratives infused with powerful emotions or carried on a tide of violent events.
40 complete new paintings
All the paintings featured at the exhibition were created specifically for the National Gallery of Denmark. Over the course of roughly one year the artist has painted around 50 new paintings, 40 of which will be on display at the Gallery alongside eight drawings. Dylan has been greatly involved in the exhibition, offering his thoughts and ideas on the structure of the exhibition as well as on the exhibition catalogue. During the preparations I had the opportunity to meet with Dylan twice. In a few cases he would comment on the narratives presented in the images, but he usually leaves all interpretation up to the spectators.