Cahn Contemporary is a new gallery situated in Bagnolet (France) and in Basel (Switzerland) and dedicated to the dialogue between contemporary creations and archaeological material. The gallery has until now shown exhibitions of visual arts conceived by and organized together with Paris art galleries and their respective artists.Cahn Contemporary is an initiative of Jean-David Cahn, the founder and director of Galerie Cahn in Basel, which specializes in antiquities spanning the period from 80,000 B.C. to 400 A.D. and including flintstones, marble sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, ceramics, glass, jewelry, and coins. Galerie Cahn makes this wide variety of prehistorical and Classical antiquities available to contemporary artists.The artists are invited to work with or around this collection of ancient works, to reinterpret their existing works into new permutations or, inspired by this archaeological environment, to develop a something entirely new. The meeting of ancient artifacts and contemporary creations can trigger intuitive reactions, based purely on the formal properties of the objects. On the other hand, inspiration can stem from an erudite understanding, based on intellectual references, including approaches grounded in current political discourse. This cutting through time allows for an untangling of a linear chronological model (based on the past, present, and future) and throws into doubt the principle of historical objectivity.
Artists are seismographs
For me ancient art is vibrant and alive. Although Antiquity as a historical period has long come to an end, it continues to influence our society and our way of thinking. The critical discussion and qualification of science's claims to objectivity are certainly not new, and obviously it must be admitted that a degree of subjectivity is also found in the field of classical studies.As a trained archaeologist I observe that academia does not have sovereignty over the interpretation of the past. Rather, findings and insights are dependent on the questions posed by researchers, on the sources available to them, on the school of thought they belong to, as well as on their point of view – and not least on the new data and research results.
To my mind, this dynamic process is not problematic. Quite the contrary, I find it fascinating how society is able engage with the relics of the past over and over again, constantly reaching new conclusions and, on occasion, even redefining itself. For this reason, I invite only contemporary artists to participate in my art projects. I am interested in how artists living in today’s world interact with Antiquity, in their perception and understanding of the past and the manner in which they link it to the present.I would like to emphasise that I do not represent these contemporary artists professionally.
Therefore, the projects are always organised jointly with a specialist in the contemporary field.I find it striking that in the days of my father, Herbert A. Cahn, scholars, museum directors, curators and professors regularly visited art fairs and gallery exhibitions, sharing their enthusiasm for the archaeological objects on display with art dealers in lively discussions.
Nowadays, archaeological objects have been assigned a very different significance and are often seen first and foremost by many scholars as bearers of factual information, while their artistic value is considered far less important. For me, however, it is the fascination of the object for its own sake and not merely as a means to an end that is crucial. This is why I have turned towards contemporary art. Working together with living artists makes it possible to approach archaeological artefacts in a very different, intuitive manner.Jean-David Cahn