The angels of Klee
Today, Paul Klee’s angels are amongst the artist’s best-loved works. Not only do they speak to art-lovers, they have also won great popularity as poetic counsellors. As winged hybrids, half human, half celestial messenger, they represent a transitional form between terrestrial and transcendental, other-worldly existence, which satisfies both modern scepticism and the need for spirituality. They are not perfect celestial beings, however, their beauty also has little flaws, they’re forgetful or ugly, anxious or prankish. In many cases they come close to devil figures, they are called Lucifer, Mephisto or «Chindlifresser» (Child-eater), and originate in Christian ideas as well as mythology, literature and popular theatre.
The original «Angelus Novus» (1920) from the Israel Museum is on display until 5th December and is then replaced by a facsimile.
Klee’s works are surrounded by angels from film, video art and photography by various artists from the 1910s to the present day – from the date of Klee’s earliest angels until today. In photographic and video art since the 1960s, we can observe a heightened interest in spiritual themes, irrational phenomena, miracles and transcendental manifestations. As in Klee’s work, here too the angel crosses boundaries between worlds, between reality and the metaphysical imagination, and as such never loses its currency. Freed from the representative duties of sacred art and classical iconography, the revival of this motif, solidly anchored in art history, has produced new outward forms of angels. In particular, the seemingly distinct boundary between heavenly and diabolical, between human and transcendental, between good and evil beings is erased. The angel becomes a metaphor for the ambiguity – or even the contradictoriness – of everything human.