Louis Soutter (1871-1942), Lasse-tête/Les caillots/Dernières perles, ca. 1937-42 Finger painting in oils on paper, 44 x 58 cm (detail)

Body – Gesture – Space
Works from Hilti Art Foundation

Naturalistic as well as stylised representations of the body, both human and animal, go back to the earliest prehistory of Homo sapiens and include sculptural, drafted, and painterly means. From time immemorial, the human body in the fine arts has been an uninterrupted constant of existential self-observation, self-reassurance, and self-orientation.

The representation of the human body naturally includes the representation of human gestures. These replace the spoken word in the traditional genres of the fine arts. The repertoire of motifs in body language varies with both epoch and context. Wherever gesture and affect make a deliberate appearance in painting or sculpture, they do not merely attest to non-verbal communication. Such gestures also embed it in space, actively and organically.

The representation of the body and its gestures has not always been related to the representation of space. The ‘conquest’ of the latter ensued much later. The transition from a picture as surface, embellishing a wall, a cave, or a burial chamber, to illusionist perspective calls for technical skills and a different intellectual approach to the world. Early on, the body was not simply perceived as an outline or a two-dimensional plane, but it was only much later that it was related to the empirical perception of depth in nature and in space. 

At the end of the 19th century, the mimetic representation of the visible world underwent substantial change, not least in response to new expressive needs. Expressionism, Cubism and Futurism no longer cultivated the illusionist depiction of body and space. Instead, under the impression of radical change brought about by science and technology, these movements rendered the world in stylised, symbolic, or formulaic terms. This tendency goes hand-in-hand with increasingly tangible emphasis on the means of artistic expression, that is, the emancipation of material and colour from their function as tools of depiction. 

This process has led, since the 1950s, to entirely new forms of art, initiated by fundamental enquiry into both the nature of reality and traditional art genres. The growing complexity of scientific worldviews and the crisis of ideological ones contributed to the direct use of empirical facts, such as material, surface, pigment, light, space, time and gravity. Everything was scrutinised and subjected to re-evaluation, even the human body itself as a work material, treated at times with a physical radicality that transcends borders.

The exhibition is curated by Uwe Wieczorek, curator of the Hilti Art Foundation.

Download the visitor’s booklet of the exhibition as PDF


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© 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich, for works of:
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