September 23, 2018 to January 6, 2019

The comedy of beingArt and Humour from Antiquity until Today

This show at the Kunsthaus Zug is frivolous. Maybe a touch crude. Boisterous, possibly, botched even – perhaps. Nonetheless, in places it is also profoundly sad. The exhibition is inspired by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who described the iniquities of life as a comedy of being. In his opinion, free spirits must be able to laugh, even at themselves. To this end, we need both a joyful kind of art and the figure of the fool, so that in all that life throws at us, we never lose sight of our freedom and can stay afloat, mock and caper around like dancers and play like children. This is reflected in artists’ desire to partake in a clownish game with themselves. All this is nothing new: the tragic attack on the editorial offices of the Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo dramatically reignited the age-old question of the role of humour in a liberal democracy.

The Kunsthaus Zug is giving its visitors seven-league boots and sending them off through the history of humour in art. An in-house working group has spent the last six years collaborating with students and scholars to research the relationship between art and humour, going back to Ancient Greece, taking a detour through the Middle Ages to the Reformation, and on to the wealth of material on the topic composed in the last century up to the present day. Literature, music and philosophy join the fray, as do theatre, cabaret and cinema. The journey leads us to guffaws in church, street theatre and the carnival. Gender relations and social oppression. The body, bodily functions, and death – these remain constant themes throughout. The point of all this soon becomes clear: the artists’ intent is to raise a laugh, shattering what once seemed a taboo – laughter in the museum. The question is who exactly has the last laugh – and at who’s expense? The exhibition becomes an experiment in visitor behaviour in the museum setting and an act of self-criticism of the museum’s own authority. The Comedy of Being brings together over 300 works – loans from collections in Switzerland and Europe as well as the museum’s own holdings. It is an experimental display featuring vases, broadsheets, drawings, magazines, paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos. Visitors have the chance to sample the humour of Bruegel the Elder and Goya, Ensor and Klee, Daumier, Picasso and Heartfield, Duchamp and Warhol, Oppenheim and Ai Weiwei – some may cause us to stifle a laugh, others to smirk. For it is often the case that situation comedy and fright, lust and shame, joy and disgust are sometimes so closely related that there is little to tell them apart.

Curated by Matthias Haldemann