Through the identification of oeuvre and biography, Rimbaud emerged as an idol of aesthetic and social rebellion. The signs of his influence on French surrealism, German expressionism, and the American beat generation are legion, and authors like James Joyce, Bertolt Brecht and Peter Weiss are testament to the impact he had.

According to Rimbaud, the poet must become a visionary medium through a ‘deregulation of all the senses’. He has the power to turn the world into poetry by performing an ‘alchemy of the word’. How did visual and musical artists meet the challenge of unleashing sensory perception using the means available to them? Because the act of transcending language in the reception of Rimbaud by the visual and musical arts has been little studied to date, the exhibition marking the 125th anniversary of the poet’s death focused on painter’s books that engage on the visual level with texts by Rimbaud. These exhibits were flanked by artist’s books referencing Rimbaud’s literary environment (Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and others) as well as his reception (Wolfgang Hilbig).

Rimbaud, the rebel who sought to destroy the illusory reality of the mellifluous, became a role model for rock musicians from Bob Dylan to Kurt Cobain. In classical music, it is the noncompliant, the persecuted, the decidedly modern, the avant-garde and the experimental composers – including Paul Hindemith, Hanns Eisler and Benjamin Britten – who based their vocal and instrumental compositions on Rimbaud. On three occasions ‘listening stations’ were organised: these took the form of special tours to explore how composers have engaged with Rimbaud, with the aim of bringing their music to life.

The exhibition featured works by:
Pierre Bonnard (1867–1947), Fernand Léger (1881–1955), Max Ernst (1891–1976), Germaine Richier (1902–1959), Salvador Dalì (1904–1989), Ernst Wolfhagen (1907–1992), Michel Lablais (b. 1925), Hermann Naumann (b. 1930), Thomas Harndt (b. 1932), Ian Tyson (b. 1933), Wolff Buchholz (b. 1935), Martha Hellion (b. 1937), Irmtraud Klug-Berninger (b. 1944), Peter Spiegel (b. 1944), Kai Pfankuch (b. 1949) and Christiane Just (1960–2011).