Art On Everyone’s Lips, at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Exhibition Reviews

December 16, 2020

When it comes to visual arts, the entire apparatus wholesomely described as the oral cavity has been of special interest to the artists due to a myriad of aspects of human activity on the scale from tradition and sex to hygiene. Examining the symbolism behind each oral component, external and internal, brought intriguing comparisons and understanding of the same in cultural, religious, and socio-political terms.

To summarize this phenomenon, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany decided to organize a large-scale exhibition titled On Everyone’s Lips. From Pieter Bruegel to Cindy Sherman, with more than 250 objects and artworks by some of the world’s most renowned artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois, and Andy Warhol.

Hieronymus Bosch – Christ in Limbo, ca. 1520. Oil on oak, 20,2 x 34 cm. Hamburger Kunsthalle. Photo: Hamburger Kunsthalle / bpk, Elke Walford

The Oral Fixation

The curator Uta Ruhkamp was approached and empowered by the cultural scholar Hartmut Böhme and the dentist Beate Slominski to come up with the current exhibition, which is ultimately the result of a thorough examination of the phenomenon in an anthropological, historical and cultural sense.

Starting from the current moment, when the mouth and throat area are in the spotlight due to the ongling pandemic, Ruhkamp decided to extend the focus to the observation of the oral cavity as the site of social, political, and media debates. To conduct her vision entirely, she paid close attention to different sensations these bodily zones express such as speech, desire, screaming, eating, spitting, devouring, etc.

Arman – La vie a Pleines dents (Life to the fullest), 1960. Dentures in plastic and in metal, wooden box, 18 x 35 x 6 cm. Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d'art modern - Centre de creation industrielle (Purchased by the state in 1968, allotment in 1976) © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2020. Photo: bpk / CNAC-MNAM / Philippe Migeat

The All-Encompassing Installment

Consisting of drawings, paintings, sculptures, and installations, as well as numerous cultural artifacts, the exhibition unravels a whole range of associations, practices, and representations of the oral through twelve chapters: Expeditions into the World’s-Inner Space, All Around the Mouth, Baring Teeth, Toothache & Dental Commerce, Tooth & Ornament, On the Tip of One’s Tongue, Licking & Tasting, The Gullet and Devouring, Kissing & Vampirism, Screaming & Spewing, Air & Sounds, and The Tooth of Time.

In brief, the installment encompasses a fascinating number of artworks from an ancient Egyptian bronze figure featuring the nursing Goddess Isis with Harpocrates, and the paintings by Pieter Bruegel or the character heads by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, to contemporary pieces such as the bizarre tooth landscape by Mithu Sen, and the Scream works by Christian Marclay, to name a few.

Kemang Wa Lehulere – Once bitten, twice shy (detail), 2016. Salvaged school desks, dentures, gold-leaf-covered books, steel, 5 pieces, dimensions variable. © Kemang Wa Lehulere, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town / Johannesburg

On Everyone’s Lips at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

The visitors truly have a one of a kind chance to dive into the emotional spectrum the installment offers and reconsider common and most often insufficiently articulated preconceptions regarding the oral.

An extensive catalog with numerous scholarly contributions published by Hatje Cantz accompanies the exhibition to support the thorough analyses of the oral cavity from different perspectives.

On Everyone’s Lips. From Pieter Bruegel to Cindy Sherman will be on display at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg until 5 April 2021.

Featured image: Installations view On Everyone’s Lips. From Pieter Bruegel to Cindy Sherman. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. October 31, 2020 – April 5, 2021. In the background (largest work in the exhibition: 6,5 x 10,66 x 1,11 m): Piotr Uklański, Untitled (Open Wide), 2012; Red sofa: Modern replica of the Mae West Lips sofa by Salvador Dalí and Edward James, original design from 1938. Photos: Marek Kruszewski. All images courtesy Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.