From the Luxembourg 1960s: two revered art rebels – 71Bait

From the Luxembourg 1960s: two revered art rebels

art criticism

Villa Vauban looks back at the work of two local artists who once shocked their audiences

Villa Vauban looks back at the work of two local artists who once shocked their audiences

Berthe Luthen’s “Static Legs, Legs in Motion, Legs Live” from 1969 questions the objectification of the female body

Copyright: Gabrielle Antar

It’s easy to underestimate the shock that pop art delivered in the 1960s, pushing the boundaries of what people considered art and opening up new — and often politically motivated — ways for the viewer to see the world see.

Artists like Andy Warhol—building on the legacy of Marcel Duchamp, a preeminent figure in early 20th-century conceptual art—moved away from the abstract art it had become Good ton after the Second World War.

As Europe swarmed with political unrest in 1968, artists were often at the forefront, trying to pull art out of stuffy museums, bring raw creativity back to the core of the artistic experience, and challenge simple consumption.

In Luxembourg, a group of six artists shocked the Grand Duchy’s traditionalist artistic elite by posing largely nude for a photograph at the 1968 Salon du Cercle Artistique, managing to rekindle the scandal that began a century earlier on Manet’s painting ‘Déjeuner sur l’ harsh” followed.


A total shock in 1968: Luxembourg artists recreate Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe, which had also caused a scandal a hundred years previously.

A total shock in 1968: Luxembourg artists recreate Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe, which had also caused a scandal a hundred years previously.

Screenshot from the Villa Vauban website

This act of rebellion has placed two of the artists featured in the photo squarely in the heart of Luxembourg’s cultural elite: the Villa Vauban in the country’s capital, which is bringing an exhibition of works by Berthe Lutgen and Mish Da Leiden, who have enjoyed decades of successful careers behind.

The… enter summer 69 Exhibition means a journey back in time to a time of psychedelic patterns, the Beatles, the enchanting energy of the hippies. The aesthetics of the time were extremely colourful, but also political, as many in the public questioned the capitalist status quo.

After founding the artist collective Initiative 69, Lutgen and Da Leiden maintained their rebellious tendencies throughout their careers, making political statements and continuously working to influence their surroundings through art, true to the zeitgeist to break down the barrier between life and art.

The first floor of the villa shows Lutgen’s feminist works. At 86, the founder of the feminist movement in Luxembourg is still fighting for gender equality. Her pieces are politically motivated and show her determination to never stop questioning what is right and legitimate for everyone.

A series of five paintings shows the lower half of a female body, wearing only her panties, against a red background. Her use of repeating an image of the female body is a critique of the trivialization of sexuality and the objectification of the female form.

The series, which was shown at the first exhibition of the artist collective she founded, already shows the activist female perspective and the longing for social justice that were to run through Lutgen’s work.

The second floor is dedicated to Da Leiden’s soothing collage paintings, which are clearly influenced by Pop Art. The works involve different techniques and depict western industrial societies in a way that seems to fit into the pop art tradition of consumer criticism – even if the work is pleasantly poetic.


Autobahn nocturno, one of Da Leiden's soothingly poetic works, from 2009

Autobahn nocturno, one of Da Leiden’s soothingly poetic works, from 2009

Gabrielle Antar

The historic villa in central Luxembourg dusts off the work of pioneering Luxembourg artists and highlights the significant contributions these pioneers made to local and international art history.

Today, such collectivized moments of creativity and radical political engagement no longer exist – and when they do, they no longer shock.

The exhibition is a reminder that art can be more radical if we want it to help overcome—or at least challenge—consumerism and capitalist greed, and liberate people from abusive power structures and growing inequality.


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