CO.BR.A: The Revolutionary Art Movement of Post-War Europe

CO.BR.A., an acronym derived from the cities Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, represents a brief yet profoundly influential avant-garde art movement that reshaped the post-war European art scene from 1948 to 1951. Coined by Christian Dotremont in 1948, the name signifies a unique collaboration among artists from these three cities, each bringing a distinct cultural and artistic heritage to the collective. This article delves into the genesis, defining characteristics, major exhibitions, key figures, and enduring legacy of CO.BR.A., underscoring its pivotal role in the evolution of modern art.


The Genesis of CO.BR.A

CO.BR.A. emerged from the confluence of several avant-garde groups: the Flemish Reflex group, the Danish abstract-surrealist Høst group, the Belgian "Revolutionary Surrealist Group," and Italy's Nuclear Movement. These diverse origins imbued CO.BR.A. with a rich tapestry of influences, blending elements of surrealism, expressionism, and abstract art. The movement was rooted in a shared desire to break free from the constraints of contemporary art conventions, advocating for a return to a more primal and spontaneous form of artistic expression.

This collective of artists, frustrated with the rigidity and elitism of the established art world, sought to create a new visual language that was accessible, immediate, and emotionally resonant. They believed in the power of the subconscious and the instinctual act of creation, aligning themselves with the broader existentialist currents of post-war Europe. Their works often rejected traditional techniques and embraced a raw, unfiltered aesthetic that challenged viewers to engage with art on a visceral level.

Defining Characteristics

The art produced by CO.BR.A. is distinguished by its semi-abstract nature, marked by the use of vivid, often clashing colors, vigorous brushstrokes, and distorted, sometimes grotesque, human figures. These elements were inspired by a variety of sources, including primitive art, children's drawings, and the fantastical motifs of Northern European folklore. This synthesis of influences resulted in a style that was at once chaotic and cohesive, reflecting the tumultuous spirit of the time.

CO.BR.A. artists favored an intuitive approach to painting, often working quickly and spontaneously to capture the raw energy of their emotions. This method was akin to the American Action Painting movement, epitomized by artists like Jackson Pollock, who emphasized the physical act of painting as an essential component of the artwork. In CO.BR.A.'s case, this approach was not just a stylistic choice but a philosophical stance, asserting the primacy of the creative process over the finished product.

The movement's aesthetic was also deeply informed by a sense of animism, with many works depicting fantastical creatures and anthropomorphic forms that seemed imbued with life. This animistic vision extended to their conception of the artwork itself, viewing each piece as a living entity with its own vitality and spirit. This perspective challenged conventional notions of representation and abstraction, proposing a more fluid and dynamic relationship between the artist, the artwork, and the viewer.


Major Exhibitions and Impact

CO.BR.A.'s influence reached its zenith through two landmark exhibitions. The first, held in 1949 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, showcased the movement's groundbreaking works to an international audience. This exhibition was pivotal in establishing CO.BR.A.'s reputation as a major force in contemporary art, attracting attention from critics, collectors, and fellow artists alike.

The second major exhibition took place in 1951 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Liège. This event further solidified CO.BR.A.'s impact on the art world, highlighting the diversity and dynamism of their collective output. These exhibitions were not merely showcases of individual talent but demonstrations of a cohesive artistic vision that transcended national boundaries and artistic disciplines.

The impact of CO.BR.A. extended beyond these exhibitions, influencing subsequent developments in European abstract expressionism and beyond. The movement played a crucial role in dissolving the rigid dichotomy between figurative and abstract art, which had dominated artistic discourse in the mid-20th century. By embracing both elements in their work, CO.BR.A. artists paved the way for a more inclusive and pluralistic approach to modern art.

Key Figures and Contributions

CO.BR.A.'s roster included a diverse array of artists, each contributing their unique vision and style to the movement. Among the most prominent were Asger Jorn, Karel Appel, Guillaume Corneille, Pierre Alechinsky, and Bengt Lindström. These artists, along with their peers, collectively pushed the boundaries of artistic expression, challenging conventional aesthetics and techniques.

Asger Jorn, one of the movement's founders, was instrumental in shaping CO.BR.A.'s philosophical and artistic direction. His works often featured bold, expressive lines and a vibrant color palette, reflecting his interest in Nordic mythology and folk art. Jorn's theoretical writings also provided a critical framework for understanding the movement's goals and aspirations, articulating a vision of art as a means of exploring the depths of human experience.

Karel Appel, another key figure, became known for his raw, energetic style and innovative use of materials. His paintings often employed thick layers of impasto, creating a tactile, almost sculptural quality that invited viewers to engage with the work on a physical level. Appel's dynamic compositions and exuberant use of color exemplified the movement's commitment to spontaneity and emotional intensity.

Guillaume Corneille, Pierre Alechinsky, and Bengt Lindström each brought their distinctive approaches to the collective, contributing to the rich diversity of CO.BR.A.'s artistic output. Corneille's works often featured playful, dreamlike imagery, while Alechinsky's fluid, calligraphic lines and Lindström's bold, gestural forms added further dimensions to the movement's visual lexicon.


CO.BR.A.'s Influence and Legacy

The legacy of CO.BR.A. is evident in the continued study and appreciation of their works, as well as the lasting impact they have had on subsequent generations of artists. The COBRA Museum of Modern Art in Amstelveen, Netherlands, stands as a testament to the movement's enduring influence. This museum houses an extensive collection of works by Karel Appel and other international avant-garde artists, preserving the spirit of CO.BR.A. for future generations.

CO.BR.A.'s emphasis on spontaneity, collective creation, and the exploration of the subconscious has resonated with many contemporary artists, inspiring new approaches to artistic practice and expression. The movement's rejection of traditional hierarchies and conventions continues to inform the work of artists who seek to challenge established norms and explore new possibilities.

In addition to its artistic contributions, CO.BR.A. also played a significant role in fostering international collaboration and dialogue among artists. The movement's transnational nature and emphasis on collective creation helped to break down barriers between different artistic communities, paving the way for greater cross-cultural exchange and understanding.


CO.BR.A. was a revolutionary art movement that transcended the boundaries of nationality, discipline, and tradition. Through their innovative techniques, bold use of color, and commitment to spontaneity, the artists of CO.BR.A. created a lasting impact on the world of modern art. Their legacy continues to inspire and challenge contemporary artists, reminding us of the power of creativity and collaboration in the face of a rapidly changing world. As we reflect on the contributions of CO.BR.A., we are reminded of the enduring relevance of their vision and the transformative potential of art to shape our understanding of the human experience.