Ursula—That's Me. So What?

March 18 – Ju­ly 23, 2023

Ur­su­la Schultze-Bluhm, who is known sim­p­ly as Ur­su­la, was one of the most im­por­tant Ger­man artists of the se­cond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. She was born in Mit­ten­walde, Ger­many, in 1921 and died in Cologne in 1999. Mu­se­um Lud­wig’s ex­hi­bi­tion Ur­su­la—That’s Me. So What?, which is the first com­pre­hen­sive mu­se­um show on the artist in over thir­ty years, of­fers a fresh look at her oeu­vre. The show con­tains 236 works, of which 44 are from the col­lec­tion of the Mu­se­um Lud­wig.

Ur­su­la’s life and work of­fer an un­con­ven­tio­n­al nar­ra­tive of artis­tic in­de­pen­dence. Her art ex­em­pli­fies the idea that Sur­re­al­ism is not a style, but an at­ti­tude. Ur­su­la sub­vert­ed re­al­i­ty and found the un­can­ny in the ev­ery­day, chal­leng­ing the au­thor­i­ties of so­ci­e­ty and art by imagin­ing new worlds in which old hi­erarchies are thrown over­board and new ways of life are con­ceiv­able. Ur­su­la shared this utopian imag­i­na­tion with artists such as Leono­ra Car­ring­ton, Leonor Fi­ni, Dorothea Tan­n­ing, and Uni­ca Zürn.

It is im­pos­si­ble to un­am­bigu­ous­ly cat­e­go­rize the essence of Ur­su­la’s works. Terms such as naive paint­ing, Sur­re­al­ism, or in­di­vi­d­u­al mythol­o­gy on­ly touch on in­di­vi­d­u­al as­pects of her un­ortho­dox vi­su­al ideas, which al­ways con­vey an in­tense­ly sen­su­al ex­pe­ri­ence. As ear­ly as 1954, Jean Dubuf­fet in­te­grat­ed works by her in­to his Musée de l'Art Brut. Like An­dré Bre­ton, Dubuf­fet ap­pre­ci­at­ed the un­con­ven­tio­n­al nar­ra­tive style of her texts and pic­tures, which—at least on first glance—seem to stand out­side of time. While they of­ten re­fer to mythol­o­gy, they usu­al­ly re­flect the artist’s own emo­tio­n­al states, fears, and ob­ses­sions. “I im­pose my vi­sions on re­al­i­ty—I am com­plete­ly ar­ti­fi­cial,” Ur­su­la de­clared, char­ac­ter­iz­ing her unu­su­al par­al­lel worlds in which ex­tra­v­a­gant char­ac­ters ex­ist and the fa­miliar and the un­can­ny are per­cepti­ble. Beau­ty and tran­sience, the fairy-like and the mon­strous, thrive side by side. One of Ur­su­la’s char­ac­teris­tic sub­jects was Pan­do­ra, the wo­m­an who was cre­at­ed from clay in Greek mythol­o­gy, in whose sto­ry the most ter­ri­ble evils and the most ex­cel­lent gifts are inse­para­b­ly in­ter­twined. Ur­su­la’s scenes are fre­quent­ly in­habit­ed by fan­tas­ti­cal hy­brid crea­tures, and the al­lure of trans­for­ma­tion is tan­gi­ble ev­ery­where, chal­leng­ing time-worn du­alisms such as wo­m­an/man and hu­man/na­ture.

This overview ex­hi­bi­tion at the Mu­se­um Lud­wig aims to pre­sent Ur­su­la’s cap­ti­vat­ing and self-as­sured work to a new gen­er­a­tion of mu­se­um vis­i­tors. The show re­veals that it is the in­di­vi­d­u­al­i­ty of Ur­su­la’s work that al­lows it to touch on so many fun­da­men­tal and top­i­cal is­sues, in­clud­ing fe­male self-de­ter­mi­na­tion and the chal­leng­ing of estab­lished gen­der iden­ti­ties, with a world­view in which ev­ery­thing is in­ter­con­nect­ed and mu­tu­al­ly de­pen­dent.

➤ A com­plete bi­og­ra­phy on the life of Ur­su­la can be found here.

Cu­ra­tor: Stephan Died­erich

Cu­ra­to­rial as­si­tant: He­le­na Kuhl­mann

The ex­hi­bi­tion is spon­sored by the Land­schaftsver­band Rhein­land (LVR), the Karin and Uwe Holl­weg Foun­da­tion, the Cul­tu­r­al Foun­da­tion of the Ger­man Fed­er­al States, the Friends of the Wall­raf-Richartz-Mu­se­um and the Mu­se­um Lud­wig, the Peter and Irene Lud­wig Foun­da­tion, and Russ­me­dia. We thank Far­row & Ball for the par­tial spon­sor­ship of their new and ex­traor­d­i­nary deep wall col­or.

Me­dia co­op­er­a­tion: