In 1914, Paul Klee went to Tunisia and discovered that he was a painter. The same year, Ivan Aguéli embarked on his third sojourn in Egypt, the country that shaped his ideas about life and art. A painter, anarchist, Sufi and traveller, Aguéli’s life story is a novel in itself. Klee and Aguéli never met, but they are presented together here, in an exhibition about the two artists and their relationship to the fundaments of visual art: the choice of subject matter, the creative act, and the qualities of the image.
The painters Paul Klee (1879–1940, Switzerland) and Ivan Aguéli (1869–1917, Sweden) lived and worked in a time when the Western modern society was beginning to take shape. While trains and machines of all kinds speeded up life and travel, these two artists preferred to linger with their gaze, in search of the “fourth dimension” (Aguéli), or “another possible world” (Klee), by being in touch with nature and the objects in their immediate surroundings.
The works featured in this exhibition – altogether 86 paintings and drawings – could be summarised with the key words creation, form, angel, sign and garden. The astonishing phenomenon of something sprouting out of the soil fascinated both artists. So completely ordinary and mundane, and yet mystical and divine.
Klee and Aguéli could be mistaken for reactionaries, eccentrics or recluses. But this is wrong. They maintained a close dialogue with modern society: both were well-read intellectuals and critics, Aguéli published magazines and Klee taught at the Bauhaus school of architecture and arts. Their travels, their observations of nature, the intimacy of their small paintings, and their slow contrariness were not motivated by escapism or nostalgia, but by their views on how, and with what values, mankind should address the present and meet the future.
In a world that was to be marked by two world wars, Paul Klee sought to “achieve a happy association between [his] vision of life and pure artistic craftsmanship” and to attain the greatest possible freedom through contemplation, imagination and play. Ivan Aguéli sought to merge art, religion and reality, to find an alternative to the Western “sordid age”. His early fascination for anti-totalitarian anarchism and Swedenborg’s mysticism inspired long sojourns in Cairo, his subsequent conversion to Islam in 1898, and intense studies of Sufism – the most spiritual path of Islam, which emphasises love and closeness to God.
It makes no difference if we call this spirituality, imagination or play. When the two artists make contact with reality through the rhythmic movement of the brush against the background, what takes place is not depiction but a metamorphosis from object to immateriality. The exhibition Klee/Aguéli is about how a painting of a garden or a grove of palm trees may constitute an act of resistance. In our own turbulent era, it is a reminder of the great poetic and political potential that can be embedded in a small painted picture.
Curator: Fredrik Liew
Video introduction to the exhibition and the artists. With curator Fredrik Liew.
The exhibition is accompanied by a text-based publication, where the artist’s own words alternate with the esoteric writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and Jalal al-din Rumi, poetry by Nelly Sachs and Jesper Svenbro, reflections on orientalism and exoticism, essays on horticultural history, child pedagogy, and philosophical contemplations on subjects such as dreams and history.