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Dmitry Smirnov: Zombie Boy (Rick Genest), 2011, Fotografie © Dmitry Smirnov
01.03.2024 – 02.06.2024


The Fascination with Horror

From March 1 to June 2, 2024, The Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt (Hessian State Museum Darmstadt) presents the exhibition "DEATH AND THE DEVIL. The Fascination with Horror", created in collaboration with the Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf. The exhibition sheds light on the centuries-old fascination with horror. Terror and horror have accompanied humanity throughout the centuries.

However, in art and culture, there is often a pleasurable interest, sometimes even a humorous approach, in contrast to the discomfort associated with it. The exhibition explores, for the first time, the diverse and ambiguous history of artistic engagement with horror, as well as the current relevance of horror in fashion, music, film, and contemporary art. The spectrum of more than 100 exhibited works ranges from classical painting and sculpture to elaborate installations.

Even in the Renaissance, visions of hell and death had an attractive and simultaneously fascinating effect. In the black Romanticism and the literature of Edgar Allan Poe, the fascination with horror reached its first peak. It became an epoch-making phenomenon during the 19th century. Visual artists who rejected the science and rationality of the Enlightenment turned to emotionality, the wildness of nature, and supernatural themes. At the beginning of the 20th century, bloodthirsty shows in horror theaters like the Grand Guignol in Paris satisfied the hunger for the thrill of shivering. Simultaneously, early horror films developed the main characters and strategies of suspenseful and eerie storytelling.

With masterpieces from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the exhibition "DEATH AND THE DEVIL. Fascination with Horror" showcases the origins of the representation of horror in art and cultural history. The focus of the exhibition is on works from the last twenty years by artists such as Alexander McQueen, the Chapman Brothers, Billie Eilish, Lars von Trier, Berlinde de Bruyckere, Mary Sibande, and many others. Death Metal and the blood-filled sneakers by MSCHF meet contributions from Andres Serrano and Eliza Douglas. With their works, they evoke ambivalent emotions of fear, discomfort, but also enthusiasm. Do they break the rules? Do they transgress the boundaries of societal conventions? In any case, the works are intended to get under the skin and stimulate the imagination.


The exhibition

The presentation begins with a prologue that illustrates how the history of art and culture has been shaped by the themes of death and terror. It spans from the fantastical demons of the Renaissance, enticing sinful behavior, to the landscapes of Romanticism permeated with ruins and shadows, and finally extends to the expressive figures lurking for their victims in the early horror films of the 20th century.

The main part of the exhibition focuses on current positions in art, fashion, and pop culture, exploring questions such as: What happens to classical monsters when the iconography of horror becomes a stylistic element in pop culture and fashion? Black clothing and pale makeup, trademarks of Goth icons, are expanded to include elements from fantasy, pop, and sportswear. Conversely, influences from the Goth subculture have made their way into high fashion: Designers like Alexander McQueen have enriched their collections with narratives of trauma and mystery, while Rick Owens and Rei Kawakubo have adorned the classic silhouette with alien, almost monstrous appendages, and John Galliano as well as Jean Paul Gaultier have brought forth the dark glamour of historical designs. Young (fashion) designers like MSCHF, Fantich & Young, and Thom Browne find new ways to rebel using their engagement with the imagery of horror. The rejection of conventional aesthetic norms has almost become mainstream.

In the realm of music, the use of horror motifs creates an interesting intersection between previously incompatible genres. While metal and rock, once associated with death and Goth culture, incorporate elements from pop and hip-hop, hip-hop artists like Lil Nas X and singer Billie Eilish redefine their image through the use of an aesthetic of horror. The adoption of the imagery of horror becomes a crucial stylistic tool through which musicians identify themselves as societal outlaws or misunderstood monsters.

The dissolution of boundaries is equally palpable in film, not only in terms of genres but also regarding the fundamental division into 'Good' and 'Evil' and the 'true' source of horror. Dracula and his descendants in the early 20th century have undergone a transformation from terrifying monsters to romantic, tormented souls in contemporary interpretations – characters struggling with the hardships of everyday life and yearning for a sense of belonging. Even zombies, in series like "The Walking Dead," are no longer the ultimate evil but serve as a backdrop to highlight the true beasts - the humans who are left to fend for themselves in a dystopian world without societal order.

Modern works of art, in turn, explore themes of death, disaster, grotesque bodies, transgressive hybrids, and fragmented identities. Therefore, the exhibition brings together Adriana Varejão's bloodthirsty post-colonial critique with the signs of social injustice in Mary Sibande's work. Similarly, the monstrous is expressed in the quirky gothic portraits of Amandine Urruty. Andres Serrano and Mat Collishaw illustrate that images of death get under the skin. The horror symbols picked up in many works are signs of protest, self-aware otherness, or simply unsettling reminders of human mortality.

Curator: Westrey Page, Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf

Co-curator: Dr. Oliver Sandrock, Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt


Subsequently, the exhibition will be shown from July 14 to October 20, 2024, at the Museum Georg Schäfer Schweinfurt.

An exhibition by Museum Kunstpalast Düsseldorf in cooperation with

Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt

In Cooperation with
Funded by
Media partner

Further Information


Großer Saal Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt Friedensplatz 1 64283 Darmstadt


Westrey Page (Kunstpalast Düsseldorf)


Dr. Oliver Sandrock


01 March to 02 June 2024

Ticket Prices

Regular 12 Euros / Reduced 8 Euros Group Admission Price: 10 Euro Admission is free for children and adolescents up to 18 years old

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