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Blake and Exhibitions, 2017


Luisa Calè

The works by Blake on display in 2017 span his trajectory from early modern esoteric traditions to his role as a critic of technology and power in late twentieth-century countercultures. An exhibition on the mystical philosophy of Jacob Böhme in Dresden featured some of Blake’s watercolor illustrations to Edward Young’s Night Thoughts among works tracing the reception of Böhme from the Corpus Hermeticum to Itten, Marc, Kandinsky, Arp, and the Bauhaus in the early twentieth century. The Blakes displayed in Dresden illustrated the planetary iconography of the late Nights of Young’s poem, the tension between light and darkness, and the earthly and heavenly possibilities of the human form. Seen in the context of the visual apparatus of the Corpus Hermeticum, they showed how Blake draws on early modern traditions that understand human beings as children of the planets, while also participating in the artisanal visual culture of hermeticism. By contrast, William Blake and the Age of Aquarius showed a selection from all periods of Blake’s work to illustrate his influence on postwar American artists, from experiments in printmaking to Robert Smithson, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963), Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation, the Vietnam protests, and rock culture. The reception of Blake in music and popular culture was key to his inclusion in the final room of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels, 1966–1970: Blake’s “Jerusalem” demonstrated how “dissent inspires protest across the centuries.” The information panel carefully tracked the legacy of the hymn as it was adopted by movements and parties across the political spectrum, from the suffragettes to Labour, Liberals, Liberal Democrats, and Conservatives. It also represented British identity in the 2012 London Olympics.


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