Art Bears were an English avant-garde rock group formed during the disassembly of Henry Cow in 1978 by three of its members, Chris Cutler (percussion, texts), Fred Frith (guitar, bass guitar, violin, keyboards) and Dagmar Krause (vocals). The group released three studio albums between 1978 and 1981, and toured Europe in 1979.
Hopes and Fears (1978) thus consisted of Henry Cow songs plus new Art Bears material recorded later by Frith, Cutler and Krause to complete the album. Towards the end of 1978, Art Bears returned to the studio to record their first "true" album, Winter Songs (1979). It comprised fourteen short songs composed by Frith around texts by Cutler that were based on carvings on the stylobate of the Amiens Cathedral in France.
In December 1978, Art Bears joined Rock in Opposition (RIO), and toured Europe in April and May 1979. For the tour, they added Peter Blegvad (ex-Slapp Happy, guitar, bass guitar, voice) and Marc Hollander (Aksak Maboul, keyboards, clarinet) to their line-up, and rehearsed at the Cold Storage Recording Studios in Brixton, London before leaving for Italy in late April. They performed in Italy, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia, including an RIO festival on the 1st of May in Milan. Some of the songs recorded during the tour were later added to the CD release of Hopes and Fears and The Art Box (2003), a box set of Art Bears material.
The band returned to the studio in 1980 to make one final album, The World as It Is Today (1981), before splitting up. In October 1983 Frith, Cutler and Krause reunited again when they joined Duck and Cover, a commission from the Berlin Jazz Festival, for a performance of the "Berlin Programme" in West Berlin, followed by another in February 1984 in East Berlin. The "Berlin Programme" included fragments of three Art Bears songs. In 1993 Frith, Cutler and Krause worked together again on a song project, Domestic Stories (1993) by Chris Cutler and Lutz Glandien, with saxophonist Alfred Harth. While similar to Art Bears, the addition of Glandien's electronic music made Domestic Stories a distinctly different album.
Their music was "very dark in concept and in atmosphere". Reviewing The Art Box, the BBC described it as: "Carefully wrought dissonances, angular folk tunes, sudden shifts in dynamics, dense layers of spectral drones, slabs of noise, topped off with Dagmar's strange, elastic Sprechstimme."
Krause's voice contributed significantly to the mood and character of the songs. Cutler described her singing on the albums:
I don't write simple or obvious words, [...] they are not easy to sing. Dagmar had the amazing ability to make them make sense, to make them sound obvious. She sings from the inside and her accent helps to lift words out of their slots and give them a slightly resonant displacement. No one else could have done what Dagmar did on those LPs. I'm still amazed by her.
In "progressive" circles, the Art Bears were generally well received. Allmusic wrote: "Their life was fleeting, but the Art Bears wrote and recorded bold, challenging, idiosyncratic music that, despite its occasional difficulty, is ultimately very rewarding."