An item usually associated with sleep, the bed has accompanied us throughout human history. As an object, it responds to the appearance and shape of the human body, abstracting and stylising it in a form that imitates its erect, spread-eagled position. The depiction and role of the bed in art history have developed from a background prop to an autonomous motif whose metaphorical and/or anthropomorphic content has always been taken into account.
Sleepless. The Bed in History and Contemporary Art offers a historical and cross-media foray into the bed and its history in the visual arts and analyses the bed and its use in individual, social, medical, and geographic contexts. The exhibition visualises all those spheres of life and art taking place in, underneath, beside, or with the aid of the bed in nine chapters: Birth, Love, Solitude, Illness, Death, Violence, Politics, Myth and Anthropomorphism.
The exhibition ranges from Pompeian frescoes that were installed as advertising signs outside brothels, copper engravings by Agostino Carracci, coloured Japanese woodblock prints, and Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Judith Beheading Holofernes to contemporary renderings of the bed as a stage for erotic, violent, humorous, sarcastic, and critical scenes. In Adam and Eve in Cyber Eden, the Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani depicts the couple in an unmistakable position in bed, where both of them are diverted by such technological gadgets as iPod and laptop computer. Critical voices can also be heard in the works by Mikhael Subotzky and Lucinda Devlin, who document inhumane sleeping quarters in South African prisons and American death row locations. Moreover, the bed is variously described as a place of illness, misery, solitude, and contemplation, such as in pictures of people in hospital beds by Maria Lassnig, Inge Morath, and Josef Karl Rädler, or in images of women alone in bed who might expect someone, enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, or be suffering from loneliness, such as in works by Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud, Pierre Bonnard, and Otto Dix.
Original historical documents from the Austrian National Library and the Museum of Military History are confronted with contemporary on-set shots highlighting the bed as a theatrical scene. Photographs of famous personalities or historic events, all of which naturally took place in bed, are juxtaposed with one another: in this way, for example, Marilyn Monroe meets young Kate Moss, and the very last pictures of important personalities on their deathbeds and celebrated artists who had themselves portrayed on a bed invite comparison.