Modern Art for Oman: Colours of Cobra
January 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Photo - supplied

I am sitting in a café with Paul Doubleday, General Manager of Bait al Zubair and two guests from the Cobra Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen, a city near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. We've been talking about the exhibition, titled Colours of CoBrA Art that the Cobra Museum is bringing to Bait Al Zubair this coming March.

Check out more pictures of the museum here

Art for Oman
The Executive Director of the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Els Ottenhof, has been travelling the region with the Museum's Project Manager, Nienke van der Wal, for almost a month in order to make connections for suitable venues. They have chosen Muscat as the first stop for Cobra's travelling exhibition. Ms Ottenhof explains why:

"The Cobra collection is highly relevant to the art scene in Oman since the visual arts in Oman are relatively young with many self-taught artists who have not had the benefit of studies in a local or overseas college of art."
Els Ottenhof's observation is apt, because, in fact, there is currently a burgeoning interest among Oman's artists in experimenting with contemporary styles, including Abstract Expressionism. The Cobra collection offers works by a group of artists who forged new directions in Modern Art in Post-World War I Europe – directions that have much in common with trends in today's global contemporary art, which has important roots in the work of Cobra artists and allied or similar groups in Europe and America.

Setting the Art World Ablaze
The international artists who founded the Cobra (Co-Br-A) movement in 1947 were from Copenhagen ('Co'), Brussels ('Br') and Amsterdam ('A'). In 1947, what is known as 'Modern Art' was already more than eighty years old and the Cobra artists felt it had become stale and that radical new styles were needed to give visual expression to the character and concerns of Europe's rapidly changing postwar societies.

Young, energetic and on the cutting edge, the founding Cobra artists wanted to create 'art for the people' - and set the art world ablaze. For inspiration, they looked to children›s art, the art created by patients in psychiatric hospitals, folk art; and art from ancient cultures in Africa and Melanesia which was seen as «primitive». Very quickly they became high profile radical expressionist painters.

Among the most prominent Cobra artists were Cornelis van Beverloo ('Corneille'); Asger Jorn; Constant Nieuwenhuys ('Constant'); Karel Appel; Pierre Alechinsky, and, Christian Dotremont. Constant characterised the group in a memorable statement: «We were poor but enthusiastic, and we didn›t care if the public laughed at us".

Els Ottenhof related the early history of the Cobra artists. "In the post war climate, they felt the time was right to introduce 'a new art for a new world'. The Cobra Movement was not just about the visual arts; it also included music and poetry. After an explosive start in Amsterdam where Karel Appel placed a huge painting in the centre of town, an act to which there were many vociferous, almost violent objections, he and his colleagues went to Paris where the atmosphere was more conducive to expression of their ideas.

"In Paris they all lived together in a large house that had been a butchery and apparently still smelled like one! They publically denounced the Surrealists with a declaration in a café. More importantly, the Cobra artists soon discovered the work of Paul Klee and Joan Miro which they found tremendously stimulating."

Off to the USA and into the 21st Century
As Paris began to lose its influence in the art world, the Cobra group disbanded and a key member of the group, Karel Appel went off to New York, a move that had a strong impact on the development of his work. This was at a time when brilliant new abstract expressionists, such as Ja

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