Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, Around 1930

Catherine Yarrow, Crouching Female, 1935, Watercolor. 

How did the artistic avant-garde react to the multiple crises of European modernity around 1930? The exhibition and research project Neolithic Childhood does not set out to trace anew the failure of art in the face of reality. Instead, it examines the breathtaking, often contradictory fusion of aesthetic, scientific, and political strategies which protagonists in Paris, Berlin, and Prague, employed during the decade between the world wars in response to a present experienced as “fundamentally false.”

The structural crisis of capitalism and the resulting material hardship contributed to the confused situation as much as the disquieting influence of the scientific-technical breakthroughs and global imperial expansion on thought, as well as the rapid development of mass society and the contested field of utopias, interpretations of history, and ideologies. This tableau of turbulences inspired the artistic avant-garde and the human sciences to embark on a ceaseless search for origins and the construction of alternative beginnings—the “point of origin” became the limiting function of modernity.

The project’s title, Neolithic Childhood, is derived from Carl Einstein (1885-1940). In an essay on Jean (Hans) Arp’s art, the art historian interpreted the pictorial elements in his work as the repetition of children’s ritual “prehistoric”-like play. Based on Einstein’s writings—a thinker of the crisis who is still far too little known—the exhibition addresses the productive despair over the present in Europe around 1930.  The loss of social cohesion, the isolation of the individual, and the atomization of society was diagnosed everywhere. It appeared necessary to re-establish the social order, or to leave it behind completely. Thus the interest in “archaic layers” also rose. Resources for a necessary “modification” of the human and new forms of collectivity were discovered in human pre-history. Ideas about a primeval beginning and a historical and individual childhood played a central role in the re-definition of the modernist project.

Catherine Yarrow, Black, Green Faced Figures. 
Gouache and watercolor, 46,5 × 33,8 cm. 
The exhibition will present artworks and films, in addition to numerous publications and archivals, from Jean (Hans) Arp, Willi Baumeister, Georges Braque, Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Sergei Eisenstein, Max Ernst, T. Lux Feininger, Florence Henri, Hannah Höch, Heinrich Hoerle, Valentine Hugo, Paul Klee, Germaine Krull, Len Lye, André Masson, Richard Oelze, Wolfgang Paalen, Jean Painlevé, Alexandra Povòrina, Gaston-Louis Roux, Kurt Seligmann, Kalifala Sidibé, Jindřich Štyrský, Toyen, Frits Van den Berghe, Paule Vézelay, Catherine Yarrow, and others.

The exhibited printed matter and archival material document the manifold and active role that art, science, and political theory played in the perception of the crises and the radicalization of society around 1930.

In collaboration with the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, the works manuscripts and letters of Carl Einstein, which have been archived there since 1966, have been completely digitized. The exhibition will present original handwritten and typed manuscripts from the archive.

A comprehensive, richly illustrated publication will document and contextualize the exhibition. The authors include, amongst others, Irene Albers, Philipp Albers, Joyce Cheng, Rosa Eidelpes, Anselm Franke, Charles W. Haxthausen, Tom Holert, Clemens Krümmel, Ulrike Müller, Jenny Nachtigall, David Quigley, Cornelius Reiber, Erhard Schüttpelz, Kerstin Stakemeier, Maria Stavrinaki, Elena Vogman, Zairong Xiang, Sebastian Zeidler.

The publication will appear end of May 2018. A brochure with an introductory essay, texts on the artworks and a detailed map will be published in conjunction with the exhibition.

Curated by Anselm Franke and Tom Holert; with scientific advice from Irene Albers, Susanne Leeb, Jenny Nachtigall, Kerstin Stakemeier.

Within the framework of Kanon-Fragen, supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag. Supported by Akademie der Künste, Berlin. The digitization of the Carl-Einstein-Archive realized with the support of Haus der Kulturen der Welt within the framework of Kanon-Fragen.

Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, c. 1930
Exhibition and conference; publication
April 13–July 9, 2018
Press tour: April 12, 11 am – accreditation requested at
Opening: April 12, doors open from 7 pm
Opening ceremony: 7.15 pm at the Vortragssaal
Are speaking: Prof. Monika Grütters MP, Minister of State for Culture and the Media
Bernd Scherer, Director HKW, the curators Anselm Franke and Tom Holert
Conference: May 25–27, 2018

Download Project Leaflet
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