Class Society

Everyday Life as Seen by Dutch Masters. With Lars Eidinger and Stefan Marx
Pieter de Hooch (1629 - 1684) Der Liebesbote, 1670 © Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk Foto: Elke Walford

Press information

In Class Society the Hamburger Kunsthalle takes an in-depth look at one chapter of an extraordinarily multifaceted epoch of European art history: Dutch and Flemish art in the seventeenth century and its most renowned protagonists. As a special feature, the two contemporary artists Lars Eidinger and Stefan Marx reflect on the themes and motifs of the Old Masters in new works. The starting point for this large-scale show of some 150 works is a group of distinguished genre paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters that form the core of the Hamburger Kunsthalle’s Old Masters collection. The paintings will be accompanied by works on paper from the Kunsthalle’s Department of Prints and Drawings as well as around 50 important works on loan from major European museums, including the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza Madrid, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, the Nationalmuseum Stockholm, the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen Munich. A third group of the works on display will be contributed by the artist Stefan Marx, who is creating text-based images especially for the exhibition, and by Lars Eidinger, who will present photographs and video works.

The economic boom in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century brought with it a great upsurge in painting. Genre painting was held in high esteem by wealthy citizens and merchants for its true-to-life quality. Among these painted scenes of everyday life, the elegant, atmospheric interiors and family scenes of the refined Delft painters around Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) and Pieter de Hooch (1629–1684) were just as popular as the exaggerated and satirical depictions of peasants and the dissolute pastimes of the common folk by Jan Steen (1626–1679) and David Teniers (1610–1690). In eight chapters, the exhibition traces a circuit leading from renderings of women and the motif of writing and receiving letters, through peasants seen celebrating, drinking and smoking as well as soldiers in their guardrooms and the theme of games and pastimes and on to scientists and quacks as well as winter scenes. The show concludes with a juxtaposition of images of society then and now. Interwoven among the Old Masters are photographs and video works by Lars Eidinger (b. 1976) and text-based pictures by Stefan Marx (b. 1979). Eidinger has a true penchant for the art of the Old Masters, which he has already engaged with in theatre pieces and other media. His photographic snapshots predominantly reflect everyday observations. The works of Stefan Marx vary between the comic and the grotesque. His trademark is pointed black-and-white paintings based on texts.

In order to rebut the frequent prejudice that the art of the Old Masters and the context in which it originated have little to do with the complex issues of today, Class Society explores connections between pictures from the seventeenth century and the urgent social issues of the twenty-first century. Important points of reference in terms of themes and motifs are the staged representations of the Dutch bourgeoisie in the seventeenth century and how they were communicated: here, it can be seen that today’s motivations for staged scenes of society and the associated expectations have hardly changed at all. The unusual juxtaposition in the exhibition of the seemingly quite disparate artistic positions of Stefan Marx and Lars Eidinger opens up a broader context and an exciting dialogue that offers new ways of looking at the art of the Old Masters. Class Society thus spans a novel arc from the seventeenth century to the present day, uncovering surprising parallels and stimulating discussion of controversial issues.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue featuring a number of essays by renowned experts as well as extensive interviews with Lars Eidinger and Stefan Marx. A booklet will be offered to visitors to the Hamburger Kunsthalle, for the first time in the form of a graphic novel. An audio guide will provide historical, social and political background information at around 30 stations, as well as details about the origins of selected works, provenances and references to art-technological peculiarities. In addition, an animated film will be produced that will be offer insights into the exhibition as well as introducing the artists in short portraits, embedding them within the larger historical context of their time.

Supported by:
 Ministry of Culture and Media Hamburg, Hubertus Wald Stiftung, Dorit & Alexander Otto Stiftung, Kulturstiftung der Länder, Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Media partner of the exhibition: ARTE

Cultural partner: NDRKultur

Mobility partner: MOIA