10 May–5 August 2012 — Sonderausstellungshallen Kulturforum

On the Plurality of Worlds.
The Arts of the Enlightenment


The European Enlightenment is famed as an epoch of literature and philosophy, an epoch of writing. Its significance for the fine arts, however, has often been overlooked, which is unfair, for in art the Enlightenment found a force that is able to change our world by creating new ones. The exhibition 'On the Plurality of Worlds' revolves around this revolutionary idea, inspired by the speculations of Enlightenment thinkers that our cosmos is merely one of many universes. The exhibition derives its name from the title of a book that fuelled the imaginations of Enlightenment thinkers more than any other: Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle's Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, published in 1686.

The Kulturforum is an ideal place to present this art historical panorama, where so many vital collections converge on each other: the Gemäldegalerie with its masterpieces by Chodowiecki, Tiepolo and Gainsborough, the Kupferstichkabinett, which holds an extensive collection of works by Goya, Hogarth and Piranesi, and the collections of the Art Library and the Museum of Decorative Arts that span the entire spectrum of architecture, interior design and fashion from this period. Added to this, the Berlin State Library over the road features original manuscripts from the estates of Kant and Winckelmann, as well as Leibniz, whose idea of the 'best of all possible worlds' continues to be a source of inspiration for the arts today.

The exhibition will draw from each of these collections, creating a selection of more than 400 exhibits in a vast array of media. The leitmotif of the show is the journey through a multiverse, whereby the visitor sets foot in a series of new worlds, dreamt up by the arts of the Enlightenment: artificial humans, the mass media of the 18th century, the realm of abstraction, civilizations on distant continents and planets, the world of dreams and, finally, the future of the last inhabitants on earth. In the light of the exhibition, the literary epoch of the Enlightenment suddenly appears as an age of brimming over with visual ideas.

The exhibition is being held as part of a wider series of events called 'Art - King - Enlightenment', coordinated by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in honour of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Frederick the Great on 24 January 2012.

William Hogarth: The Analysis of Beauty, plate 1, 1753
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett