COBRA is an artistic movement founded in 1948 by a group of artists from Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands (the name itself is an acronym constructed from the names of the principal cities of the respective countries: Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam) who had become disenchanted with Surrealism. Unwilling to obey André Breton’s anti-communist dictates, these artists, many of whom had participated in the Resistance during World War II, decided to branch out on their own.
The key figures were Asger Jorn, Christian Dotrement, and Constant Nieuwenhuys. The group’s aim was to integrate Surrealist practices and revolutionary politics in order to make art that was experimental, festive, and vital. More broadly, they wanted to displace Paris as the art capital, get away from the orthodoxy of Breton’s Surrealism, and move on from abstract and non-figurative art. They did not manage to displace Paris as the capital of the art world, but COBRA did have a lasting influence on 20th-century art. The group was, however, very short-lived: it was dissolved in 1951 after the core members fell out over the role and place of politics in art.
Jorn would later team up with Guy Debord to help establish Situationism. COBRA’s signature style was a kind of creative disfigurement that was close to Surrealism and Art Brut but rejected the unconscious as overly individualistic or subjectivistic. It sought a collective basis for art and society and to this end emphasized totemic and mythic subjects.