Plants, women and ornaments entwine in Alphonse Mucha’s (1860–1939) beautiful imagery. The Czech-born Art Nouveau artist made a strong impression on the city of Paris around 1900 with his celebrations of beauty – based on a desire to improve mankind and the world.
ARKEN’s large-scale exhibition presents and unfolds the full scope of Mucha’s art, from posters and advertisements to photographs, design objects and jewellery. It also shows examples of 1960s and 1970s album covers and concert posters from the psychedelic music scene, which drew inspiration from Mucha’s sensuous, utopian universe.
Beauty therapy in the city
Mucha is a key figure of the Art Nouveau, a movement that washed across major European cities between 1890 and 1910. The style had a strong impact on many fields: applied arts, graphic arts, design, architecture, even dance. In 1887, when Mucha arrived in Paris to study art, the atmosphere of the city was infused by modernisation and change. Mass production was on the rise, and new technologies such as colour printing joined older techniques like lithography, woodcut and etching in the applied arts industry. Salons, theatres, cafés and shopping arcades shot up rapidly in the French capital, which acted as a magnet for artists and creatives.
ARKEN’s exhibition takes its starting point in this dual spirit of optimism and hectic city life.
The young Art Nouveau generation embraced new technology, but at the same time they celebrated beauty, nature and craftsmanship. Mucha wanted the spirituality of nature to be integrated into the new, mechanised everyday existence – the power of beauty should be spread out into every corner of the city, every cell of every human being. A kind of beauty therapy for city dwellers.
Revolutionizing poster art
ARKEN’s exhibition puts special emphasis on a particular medium – one that held a key position within Mucha’s production and defined the epoch: poster art. Mucha got his great breakthrough with a life-sized poster depicting the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Gismonda. On New Year’s Day 1895 the people of Paris rose to find the posters of the diva everywhere in the city. Mucha became famous overnight.
After this, the artist was showered with commissions from publishers and printers, and his distinctive style appeared on everything from decorative wallpapers and posters to postcards, magazines, jewellery, champagne and biscuit tins – all of which were goods associated with the new style of consumption. Everything had to radiate exclusivity, luxury and a poetic sensibility.
Reborn on acid
ARKEN’s exhibition lets you explore the combination of the commercial and the spiritual that made Mucha’s work massively popular – in his own day and up through subsequent history. The exhibition invites you to enter Mucha’s own sensuous visual universe, but it also jumps ahead to the 1960s to show how the utopian impulses and spiritual force of the Art Nouveau resonated with the hippie generation and their flower-power revolt.
At the exhibition you will find a selection of album covers and concert posters featuring the rock musicians who celebrated the visual vitality of Mucha, including Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Some of them use Mucha’s motifs directly, while others use elements that we recognise from his art: the enchantment of nature, organic lines and erotic female figures meet and merge in an acid trip of bold colour combinations, patterns and modes of expression.
From Paris to ARKEN
Muchas’s universe remains relevant today. Partly because the sensuous images still have the power to seduce, but also because the fusion of aesthetics and nature is as topical as ever. Today, aesthetics and design permeate all aspects of our everyday lives, and at the same time this age of maximum efficiency, productivity and digitisation prompts us to increasingly look to nature again.
In other words, we live in an age where ecology, aesthetics, spirituality and consumption once again go hand in hand. In this world, Mucha introduces a touch of something that is simultaneously exotic and familiar.