More than forty years ago, John Lennon and Yoko Ono got into bed to protest against the war. The world’s most popular artist couple of that time made their honeymoon public by stating: “Make love, not war!”. Simultaneously, the bed turned into a political instrument of visual art.
The exhibition Sleepless. Beds in History and Contemporary Art focuses on the historical as well as iconographic significance of the depiction of the bed and will include and juxtapose paintings, sculptures, drawings, photos, and video works spanning from old masters to present-day artists, subdivided into themes and arranged according to visual associations.
As the territory of birth, love, illness, and death and as the most anthropomorphic shape in the history of all civilizations, beds are possibly one of the most reproduced objects in art and one of the most common metaphors for the human condition. The vast majority of people are born on beds; one can even claim that the inexplicable miracle of life starts on a bed. A key work of the show is a sixteenth-century painting by Lavinia Fontana, who rendered a secular portrait of an infant in a cradle – supposedly the first of its kind in art history. This tradition of the display of birth in art has continued down to the present day - realised in works by Robert Gober or Sherrie Levine.
Many artists made use of the bed’s idiosyncratic shape in their work, from Nobuyoshi Araki, Diane Arbus, Lucian Freud, and Yayoi Kusama to Jannis Kounellis, Antoni Tàpies, Rosemarie Trockel, Egon Schiele, Jürgen Teller, or Franz West, and Rachel Whiteread. Others, as Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum, Damien Hirst, Jim Lambie, and Sarah Lucas demonstrate, used the bed as a ready-made itself.