The Project

The Wunderkammer – or cabinets of curiosities – appeared in Europe in the Renaissance, are at the origin of art museums and natural history. Real collectors’ rooms, there were curiosities of all kinds, with a taste for the strange and unpublished. It included works of art, antique or symbolic objects but also objects of natural history such as stuffed animals, rare insects or skeletons. Going with the major projects of universal classification dear to the humanists of the time, illustrated catalogs often made an inventory of these collections for the most heterogeneous. This made it possible to disseminate the content to scientists from all over Europe.These cabinets of curiosities, though full of popular legends and beliefs – for it was not uncommon to find traces of mythical animals such as dragon blood or horns of unicorns – played a fundamental role. in the rise of modern science before dying out in the course of the nineteenth century, giving way to official institutions. The exhibition Wunderkammer, a contemporary cabinet of curiosities, brings together more than 20 visual artists. They also have this in common that they create, through their art, imaginary worlds. The meeting of their works evokes the singular and mysterious atmosphere, always on the border between science and belief, the cabinet of curiosity reborn.

In this journey of initiation, the visitor will have the opportunity to discover a Wunderkammer – literally room of wonders – with resolutely contemporary accents. To do this, the artists willingly lent themselves to the exercise of style, leaving aside the refined spaces that traditionally put their works in value for the benefit of an accumulation scenography, inspired by the cabinets of yesteryear.

In conjunction with the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale, in the prestigious seventeenth-century setting of Palazzo Widmann, the Rond Point des Arts is pleased to present the exhibition entitled WUNDERKAMMER – Camera delle meraviglie contemporanea. Set up in the heart of the Serenissima, a few steps from the Rialto Bridge and Palazzo Grassi, the Wunderkammer exhibition will be open to the public from June 1st to September 29th, after a special preview opening on 29-30-31 May. The exhibition of the success achieved in the Belgian capital at the Museum of Botany in Brussels, the particular exhibition offers a refined selection of more than 20 artists who will give life to a “Chamber of wonders” in a contemporary key,The visitor will be able to be abducted by a disturbing collection of works that will guide him to the discovery of a world that alternates and mixes artifice with truth, reality with fantasy, creativity with scientific evidence. Imagination will be the beacon that will help him to orient himself in the meanders of the unknown, among the folds of the mystery, in the deep ravines of an initiatic journey made of magic and amazement. Thanks to the soft lighting and a soave as mesmerizing background music, we find the same atmosphere of the old Renaissance Wunderkammer: a collection of art objects, sculptures, installations, photographs, paintings with which the artists involved have fun to interpret the link between Naturalia and Artificialia,

The leading artists will give life, thanks to their talent, to works that are on the border between the pseudo-scientific phenomenological representation and the pure expression of fantasy, with the sole aim of returning to the boyish pleasure of the dream and of discovery.

The story of the curiosity cabinet can be traced back to the pharmacists and people of culture living in all four corners of Europe in the midst of the 16th century. These learned people were eager to build up huge collections of rare or curious objects evoking images of uncharted territories. These collections of objects are akin to the treasures to be found in temples dating back to ancient times or churches built in the middle ages. Booties plundered in far-off lands or the relics of saints offering evidence of other worlds, representing a symbolic and political capital of great importance.Curiosity cabinets act as a showcase for the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms, while incidentally holding a mirror up to human achievements. The pharmacist Ferrante Imperato published a catalogue of his collection in Naples back in 1599. His ‘Dell’historia natural’ featured all manner of items, including salamanders, crocodiles, books and remains, often offering interpretations that are surprisingly accurate and astoundingly wrong in equal measure, such as: “a genuine unicorn horn, a jar of dragon’s blood.” After all, once the scientific and intellectual arguments had been disposed of, whatever justification could there be for creating curiosity cabinets, apart from creating a dream world from authentic objects collected on markets and conjuring up unfamiliar worlds?

Over the centuries, the curiosity cabinet has set about revealing tenuous links, key relationships, between remote realities and kingdoms symbolised by hybrids. Accordingly, the collector provides the layperson with a true revelation, an environment for showcasing the secrets of reality. Athanase Kircher, a German Jesuit scholar from the 17th century, who spent most of his life in Rome at the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, was hailed as one of the greatest scholars of his age. The following was painted on the ceiling of his museum: “Whosoever recognises the chain linking the underworld to the overworld shall discover the mysteries of nature and create miracles!”. Curiosity cabinets strive to develop a consistent understanding of the world inherited from ancient times, while heralding the contemporary era. They also offer opportunities for the development of ingenious thinking committed to enchantingly outstanding traditions. The aim is not necessarily to collect and list objects in the manner of the 18th century encyclopaedists, but in fact to reveal the innermost secrets of Nature in all its fantastic glory.

The Wunderkammer exhibition is fittingly focused on the links between nature and creative activity, discoveries and a new espousal of nature. The collection of works on display, as though in a cabinet, is attuned to the noble principles of unity linking together all manner of things. At the centre of our occupations, contemporary artists tap into an inexhaustible reserve of shapes and colours, materials and objects, furthering their development in the light of achievements that are both unique and part of our heritage. Tattooed skulls, animals stuffed and stretched, human bones wound with red threads as a fine emblem of the relationship between artificialia and naturalia. They might not always be aware of the fact, but these artists are part and parcel of the continuing nature of the history of curiosity. These authentic works are collected together wunderkammer-style, and the same is obviously true of the accompanying texts – everything is true, humankind says so!

The Wunderkammer – or curiosity cabinets – that surfaced during the Renaissance in Europe, lie at the basis of the museums for art and natural history. They were real collector’s rooms, and there were all kinds of curiosities, with a strong preference for the strange and the unseen. More specifically, works of art, antique or symbolic objects were presented, but also objects from natural history such as stuffed animals, rare insects or skeletons. They went hand in hand with the great universal classification projects that the humanists of that period were so fond of. Often illustrated catalogs were published with an inventory of these varied collections to say the least. This allowed the content to be disseminated to scholars throughout Europe.Although these curiosity cabinets were permeated by folk legends and superstitions – they too often found traces of mythical animals such as dragon’s blood or horns from the unicorn – they played a fundamental role in the development of modern science. In the course of the 19th century they fell into disuse and had to make room for the official institutions. The exhibition Wunderkammer, contemporary curiosity cabinet brings together more than 20 plastic artists. And they have something in common: through their art they create imaginary worlds. By bringing together their works, that special and mysterious atmosphere of a curiosity cabinet from the Renaissance is evoked, always on the fault line between science and superstition.

In this course, which is very similar to an initiation, the visitor gets the chance to discover a Wunderkammer – literally ‘wonder room’ – with distinct contemporary accents. To this end, the artists have lend themselves with great pleasure to a style exercise, in which they abandon the refined spaces in which their works are traditionally valorised, and they opt for a scenography of stacks, inspired by cabinets from a bygone era.