Though best known for his pioneering work in analytical psychology, Swiss psychoanalyst and philosopher Carl Jung was also a unique—if self-effacing—artist, a side of his work explored in the fascinating UCSB exhibition “The Illuminated Imagination: The Art of C.G. Jung.”
“The Illuminated Imagination: The Art of C.G. Jung”
When: through April 28
Where: Art, Design & Architecture Museum, UCSB
Hours: noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Information: 893-2951, www.museum.ucsb.edu
Carl Jung’s ideas and ideas have been bubbling under the artworld for roughly a century. Jungian precepts and areas of thought have provided an influence—acknowledged and otherwise–on the rise of Modernism, via his experimental notions steeped in multi-cultural mysticism, channeling archetypes and surfing what he coined as the “collective unconscious.” Artists from the 20th century, seeking out new pathways to expression and post-classical manners, were ripe recipients for Jung’s modern psychological outlook.
But a lesser-known, lesser-exposed aspect of the Swiss psychoanalysis pioneer’s life and work had to do with a more hands-on and mind-on engagement in art-making. New angles and insights into the Jungian way make for a fascinating view in the exhibition “The Illuminated Imagination: The Art of C.G. Jung,” now at UCSB’s Art, Design & Architecture (AD&A) Museum. Theory gives way to the fruits of artistic practice and manifestation, from charming juvenilia through symbolic work seen in his magnum opus, “The Red Book,” his self-designed and sculpted compound of Bollingen (a retreat outside Lake Zurich), and beyond.
Jung, we thought we knew thee.
A large copy of “The Red Book” sits prominently in a display case in the Museum’s main gallery, virtually casting a mythic glow radiating outward into the exhibition. Selections from the volume’s contents, in the form of many large pages laid out in a large grid form on the gallery’s back wall, lead us into this opus of curiosities.
Elaborately created between 1915 and 1930, the fastidiously hand-written texts and cosmological drawings, “The Red Book’s” many pages were alternately inspired by such sources as Medieval illuminated manuscripts, Assyrian, African, Tibetan and other cultural artifacts and belief systems, as well as his own eccentric aesthetics. Shades of Dadaism (whose members he befriended) and a blend of mystical and charmingly “outsider art”-like qualities inform Jung’s imagery.
Local angles also figure into “The Illuminated Imagination,” given the prominence of a Jung-ian guidance system at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, which also espouses Joseph Campbell’s teachings. Pacifica is one of the organizing bodies of the show, along with the AD&A Museum, the Zurich-based Foundation of Works of C.G. Jung and others.
Actual art by Jung provides the show’s main attraction, starting with his simple but naturally skillful landscapes and paintings of castles and battles. He moved outward (and inward) through the years into more cosmic visions and ventures, as seen with his wild “Spheric Visions,” “Cultic Scene” and “Phanes.” His “Mandala Sketches” leaned deeper into the realm of ancient deities and ritualism, while embracing modern modes of expression, of his own devising.
In this exhibition setting, various pieces from other sources are interwoven with the Jung-ian art, to illustrate the psychoanalyst/artist’s range of influences. Among these peripheral pieces folded into Jung-land are examples of Medieval illuminated manuscripts, and sculptures from Africa and Greece, an ornate Tibetan scroll and Hopi Kachinas. The latter, placed in display cases, accompany and presumably give context to such pseudo-primitive Jung sculptures as the grotesque composite creature “Devilish Monster” (1925) and the oddly-cropped torso study “Female Half-Figure.”
In another corner of the gallery, there hangs an alluring painting, at once sensuous and ethereal, by Mary Conover, the mistily atmospheric abstract painting “Beyond the Cast Thought.” With Conover’s canvas, we have a telling example of one artist very directly influenced by things Jungian, as someone who was first analyzed by the famed psychologist and who then, through her art, co-opted his own searching sensibility as a thinker and artist.
She, like he, was seeking out what the wall text evocatively describes as “the light that lies beyond the horizon.”