The first world fairs were staged in an era of burgeoning industrialisation and increasing global trade as a public showcase for the latest technical and manufactured achievements of humanity. Since the first in 1851, there have been 50 world fairs at which participating nations have taken pride in presenting their accomplishments. The arts have also played an exceptionally key role in cultivating national identity. Some works like Picasso’s wall-spanning “Guernica” (Paris, 1937) have made a lasting impression on cultural history. Two museums in Ahlen and Herford have simultaneously staged an exhibition titled “Volatile Dreams – The Art of the World Fair” featuring artworks from past world fairs and their importance for their nation’s self-image. While the Kunstmuseum Ahlen invited visitors to explore the history of the World Fair with some 400 works of art viewed from various thematic perspectives, the Museum Marta Herford featured ten contemporary artists who responded to selected pieces from past world fairs and offered new interpretations on social issues connected with them. Both parts of the project focused on world fairs staged in Paris, New York, Brussels, Montreal and Osaka from 1937 to 1970. Each world fair was examined through a specific thematic lens: “Engineers of Life” (Paris, 1937), “Democracy and Destruction” (New York, 1939/40), “The Microscopic View” (Brussels, 1958), “Sensual Awakening” (Montreal, 1967) and “Dreams of a Different Future” (Osaka, 1970). Both parts of the exhibition included loans from collectors around the world and have been accompanied by an extensive event programme.
Artistic directors: Roland Nachtigäller with Burkhard Leismann (Kunstmuseum Ahlen)
Curatorial team: Friederike Fast, Ann Kristin Kreisel, Thomas Schriefers, Eva Wolpers
Artists: Tim Berresheim, Robert Breer (US), Salvador Dalí (ES), Robert Delaunay (FR), Angela Fette, Nikolaus Gansterer (AT), Konsortium, Hugo Kükelhaus, Le Corbusier / Iannis Xenakis (FR), Katja Novitskova (EE), Yvonne Roeb, Rob Voerman (NL) and others