Mephistophelean: Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self-Portrait (1985

When Roger Diederen, the director of the Kunsthalle Munich, was approached by Klassik Stiftung Weimar—Germany’s cultural institution dedicated to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German-speaking world’s equivalent of Shakespeare—to organise a Goethe exhibition, he was immediately aware of the magnitude of the task. He decided to focus on Goethe’s play Faust, which has inspired artists since the publication of its first, and most famous, part in 1808.

Diederen soon realised that an art exhibition would hardly do justice to either the author or the play. “There were quite a few aspects that we could not cover in the show, and it would have been too bad if there were not one or two theatre productions during the run, and there was so much music written… so I invited all my cultural colleagues in Munich to a Faust breakfast” to discuss what might be done, he says. More than 100 of the leaders of the city’s institutions agreed to collaborate and the result is the Munich Faust Festival, beginning this month—a city-wide, five-month-long celebration of a single stage work.

At the centre of the festival is the Kunsthalle’s You Are Faust exhibition of around 150 works in multiple media by more than 70 European and US artists, including Franz Schubert, Charles Gounod, Hugo Wolf, Eugène Delacroix, Julia Margaret Cameron, Max Beckmann, Anselm Kiefer, Robert Mapplethorpe and Martin Scorsese. In the exhibition’s unusual design, by the artist and set designer Philipp Fürhofer, each successive gallery presents a scene as the play unfolds, encouraging visitors to identify with the characters. The experiences created by Goethe for Faust, Mephistopheles and Margarete encourage us to think about our own weaknesses and corruptibility, the cult of youth, egotism and the insatiable hunger for more.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, the MWW Research Association and Germany’s federal ministry for education and research. The 304-page English catalogue is published by Prestel.

• You Are Faust: Goethe’s Drama in the Arts, Kunsthalle Munich, 23 February-29 July

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