The metaphor of the angel forms the central theme of the exhibition “Angel, Angel: Legends of the Present.” Despite the fact that this notion traditionally evokes a connection with an other-worldly and timeless sphere of being, the concept of this exhibition relates to wholly specific and “earthly” experience which modern-day society sees as an important point of reflection. The exhibition was arranged by the Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna and the Galerie Rudolfinum in Prague.
The exhibition features the work of more than 50 contemporary artists from various countries in Europe and form the United States. It begins in a symbolic way with works by several key artists of the 20th century (such as Louise Bourgeois, Nancy Spero, and Yves Klein), and then continues with a number of contemporary artists (including Christian Boltanski, Bruce Nauman, Gary Hill, Tony Oursler, Annette Messager, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Richard Billingham, Andres Serrano, David Wojnarowicz, Mike Kelley, Helen Chadwick, Kiki Smith, Rosemarie Trockel, Javier Peréz, Sophie Calle, Mona Hatoum, and Beverly Semmes). It is a telling feature that installations, objects, photography, and videos predominate. The work of several of the exhibitors is uncompromising in its account of the state of society and represents a direct testament about society, revealing spheres of an associational, subversive, and deviant world and telling of feelings of frustration and the difficulties of social communication.
At the opposite pole of this harsh experience is the world of romantic longing, intangible visions, and angelic apparitions that open up the possibility of paths “elsewhere.” The metaphor of the angel is a very attractive theme for the modern age, since it creates space for a vision. The angel represents a being which comes from “elsewhere.” (The Greek work abgelos means a messenger, similar to the Hebrew malekh and the Arabic malek). The angel spans the divide between heaven and earth, evoking a feeling of the reachability of “the world beyond” and is a guarantor of contact with the spheres of the universe” (Andrei Gabrial Plesu). The notion of the angel is understood as a metaphorical expression of the spiritual. It can also be an image symbolizing the imaginative capability of man.
The overall concept of the exhibition stems from this approach. The primary motivation of the concept is not the perception of formal or aesthetic-qualitative values of a work of art but above all the exploration of its philosophical function. The exhibition presents works of art as an instrument of social and psychological analysis (it is no coincidence, for example, that the curator of the exhibition, Cathrin Pichler, originally worked as a psychologist and sociologist). Through the multifaceted symbol of the angel, the exhibition deals with the question of identity. How can we define ourselves, where is our individual position in society, what is our social role, and how should we present ourselves? The immediacy of these questions makes them unavoidable, although it is far from simple to respond to them. In deciding to be the solitary master of our own fates we find ourselves in a trap of our own making. The loss of faith in the possibility of finding a path out of a dense jungle that has begun growing out of our control often has serious social consequences.
Until recently, revealing the underside of society was taboo, and its appearance in art was considered an indignity. ln such a situation, the artist can only find his or her role with great difficulty. The presence of the angel, however, fills the situation with new hope. The mission of the angel is identified with the r0le 0f the artist, who, although he or she forms part of human society, also has a certain privileged right to stand outside it. 0r, in the words of Carol Beckel the artist should be the creator of a work “which will attempt to reach out to an audience greater than just the art world and will not see it as enough to mirror the fragmentation, banality, and destructiveness of this society and its physical environment, without offering some vision for developing a less alienated future.”
– lvona Raimanovii (translated by Richard Drury)