Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, c. 1930

Brassaï (Gyula Halász), from Graffiti de la Série VIII: La Magie, 1955, gelatin silver print, 141 x 106.3 cm | Centre Pompidou. Bpk | CNAC-MNAM | Estate Brassaï

From the false presentation of the Weimar Republic and life philosophies in times of crisis, from Carl Einstein’s “invention” of African art to the concept of yin-yang and its queer potential: The conference Deep Time and Crisis, c. 1930 accompanying the exhibition Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, c. 1930 examines the relationship between the global crises of around 1930 and those of the present day. International art historians and academics illuminate the cultural significance of the recourse to deep time and origin narratives.

The stock market crash and mass unemployment, political polarization, the industrialization of perception, the violence of colonialism: “c. 1930” was a time of crisis in modernity. For the artistic avant-gardes in Europe, the contemporary condition also became problematic; the impositions of the present led artists to break out into an imaginary realm of the archaic and the exotic— seeking out alternative origins and points of departure for humanity. Taking its cue from this epoch of historic upheavals and the texts by the extra-academic art historian Carl Einstein, the conference Deep Time and Crisis, c. 1930 within the framework of the exhibition Neolithic Childhood will thematize the openings and contradictions that became manifest in art and the humanities from the 1920s into the 1940s.

The exhibition will present artworks and films, in addition to numerous publications and archivals, from 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 exhibition and conference are part of the project Kanon-Fragen and curated by Anselm Franke and Tom Holert; with scientific advice from Irene Albers, Susanne Leeb, Jenny Nachtigall, Kerstin Stakemeier.

Deep Time and Crisis, c. 1930

Conference in the framework of Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, c. 1930 (until July 9)
Sat, May 26, 1pm-8pm & Sun, May 27, 1pm-7.30pm

With Irene Albers, James Clifford, Silvy Chakkalakal, Joyce S. Cheng, Anselm Franke, Tom Holert, Charles W. Haxthausen, Susanne Leeb, Sven Lütticken, Jenny Nachtigall, Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, Kerstin Stakemeier, Maria Stavrinaki, Zairong Xiang
With simultaneous translation into German and English
Day ticket including exhibition: 11€/8€
Press accreditation:


Saturday, May 26, 2018

1 pm 
With Anselm Franke & Tom Holert
Anselm Franke is Head of Visual Arts and Film at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW).
Tom Holert works as an art historian, writer, curator, and artist in Berlin. In 2015 he co-founded the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin.

1:30 pm 
Susanne Leeb: „Tragic Fatigue” - On problematic dimensions of 1920s Cultural Criticism
The turn to the arts of non-European societies and to prehistory in the 1920s was characterized by immense criticisms of culture and civilization. Art journalism of that time is permeated by diagnoses of the loss of community through modernization and questions about the basis on which it could be restored and what role art should play. At the same time, fundamental historical and philosophical assumptions determined the way non-European arts appear in such world-art narratives. In the art historian Wilhelm Hausenstein in particular one can see how his historical philosophy-nourished contemporary diagnostics tipped into conservative modernity—a turn that is contrary to the thinking of Carl Einstein. The lecture examines these figures of thought and asks what image of history opens or obstructs options for action.

Susanne Leeb is an art historian and Professor for Contemporary Art with a focus on transcultural art histories at the Leuphana University Lüneburg, from where she also directs the Kunstraum (in collaboration with Ulf Wuggenig) and the Leuphana Arts Program.

2:15 pm 
Silvy Chakkalakal: “A Moment There! Don’t Move!” – Boasian Aesthetics and the Phenomenon of Historicity
Between the 1910s and 1940s, early North American cultural anthropology—and Boasian anthropology in particular—appears as a collaborative field connected to a social milieu of writers, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, and scientists from a variety of disciplines. The entanglements between the artistic and anthropological fields were characterized by a constant crossing of disciplinary, generic, media, cultural, as well as personal boundaries. Following the first lines of Edward Sapir’s poem in the title, “time” and “temporality” appear as a motive in the poetry and in the ethnographic research of Franz Boas’ students such as Sapir, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead. The talk sheds light on this phenomenon of historicity in early cultural anthropology which emerges in the assembling of past, present, and future.
Silvy Chakkalakal is Junior Professor at the Department of European Ethnology at Humboldt-Universität Berlin.

3 pm 
With Susanne Leeb & Silvy Chakkalakal, moderated by Anselm Franke & Tom Holert

4 pm 
Sven Lütticken: The Presence of the Prehistoric
The notion of “prehistory” was always unmoored in time, resistant to chronology. On the one hand, the prehistoric period in the Middle East and Europe supposedly ended a long time ago, with the advent of empires and writing systems; on the other hand, European colonizers found it convenient to insist that certain of their colonial subjects still “lived in the Stone Age.” Certain strands of Marxism sought to apply the same diagnosis to Western capitalism itself, insisting that prehistory had ever ended and that history properly speaking (a history made by emancipated humans) was yet to begin. However, certain artists and thinkers countered such denigrating usage of the concept by insisting on the transhistorical achievements of “Stone-Age” cultures. In constructing a Neolithic now-time or insisting on the presentness of the Paleolithic, they challenged historical teleologies within a framework informed by colonial-era archaeology, anthropology, and ethnography. This talk will take the interwar period as its point of departure, but also include remarks on postwar and contemporary practices.
Sven Lütticken teaches art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, and art theory at the Dutch Art Institute (DAI) in Arnhem.

4:45 pm 
Maria Stavrinaki: Through the Neolithic: Permanence, Recurrences, and End
The main element that distinguishes the reception of the Neolithic from that of the Paleolithic is that the first was never revealed: in its megalithic version, it was always part of the landscape and, such as, it was perceived, known, and interpreted according to specific and changing legends and fictions as a remote, albeit totally enigmatic, origin. In her talk, Maria Stavrinaki will focus on moments of the uses of the Neolithic after its identification as a specific prehistoric period, which prehistorians radically cut off from the Paleolithic. Starting from the 1930s and the uses of the Neolithic by British modernism, she will explore the latter’s ideological ambivalence towards internationalism, machinism, and the masses. The comparison to the Neolithic of American artists of the 1960s and 1970s such as Robert Morris and Robert Smithson serve as counterpoint. Then, concentrating on some discourses and practices developed in reaction to Hiroshima, she explores the ways that theoreticians and artists declared the End of the Neolithic.
Maria Stavrinaki is an Associate Professor of History and Theory of Contemporary Art at the Université Paris I-Panthéon-Sorbonne.

5:30 pm 
With Sven Lütticken & Maria Stavrinaki, moderated by Jenny Nachtigall

6:30 pm 
Joyce S. Cheng: The Persistence of Masks: Surrealism and the Vicissitude of the Subject
In surrealist practices of the late 1920s and 1930s the mask played a significant role. Symptomatic of the anti-humanism of the interwar European avant-garde, these practices aimed to dismantle the intellectual foundation of Western humanism; they also inadvertently exposed the ambiguity of the avant-garde enterprise of de-subjectivization. In her talk Joyce S. Cheng submits surrealist theories of the mask to critique from two radically distinct perspectives: the problem of anonymity as a condition of totalitarianism as analyzed by Hannah Arendt, and the problem of what Gayatri Spivak describes as the “concealed Subject,” by which Western radical criticism claims to undermine the sovereign subject while “actually inaugurat[ing]” it.
Joyce S. Cheng is Associate Professor of Modern European Art in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at the University of Oregon.

7:15 pm 
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie: Carl Einstein’s Negerplastik and the Invention of “African Art”
In his talk, Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie rethinks African art history by evaluating how the photoarchive and text of Carl Einstein’s Negerplastik invented a problematic canon of African art that persists to this day. The book played an important role in the global reception of African art by bringing it into ongoing conversations about significant form and numinous imagery in the context of modernism. However, Carl Einstein literally conjured up the category “African Art” through the systematic presentation of a doctored and highly selective group of images. Most of the sculptures illustrated in the publication were actually products of the colonial encounter, which rather than representing a “timeless Africa” testified to the vitality of contemporary African art at the turn of the century. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie will frame a reading of Negerplastik against analysis of the Yoruba artist Olowe of Ise (c. 1873-1938) to show how Carl Einstein failed to account for changing African protocols of visual representation in that era.
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie is Professor of Art History and Visual Cultures of Global Africa at the University of California Santa Barbara.

8 pm 
With Joyce S. Cheng & Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, moderated by Irene Albers

Sunday, May 27, 2018

1 pm 
Tom Holert: Labyrinth and Evasion: Chronopolitics of Metamorphosis
In the 1935/36 annual issue of the Paris-based journal Recherches philosophiques, a pair of articles by Georges Bataille and Émmanuel Lévinas appeared—“The Labyrinth” and “Evasion” respectively. The issue was otherwise organized around “Meditations on Time,” with articles on phenomenology and mythology, among them a review of Eugène Minkowski’s 1933 Le temps vécu penned by Jacques Lacan. Tom Holert takes this constellation as an, if implicit, call to ponder the temporality of the labyrinthic and the evasive in interwar art, theory, and science, making reference, specifically, to the, arguably pre- or a-historic, subject of metamorphosis (a key concept of Carl Einstein’s thought) in the painting and drawings of artists such as Toyen, Ithell Colquhoun, Claude Cahun, Valentine Hugo, André Masson, Paul Klee, and others, emphasizing its temporal (as much as chronopolitical) implications, which were to affect binary regimes in particular, with resonances still detectable today.

1:45 pm 
Zairong Xiang: Transdualism: The A/history of Yinyang
Transdualism offers an opportunity to dwell below (not beyond) “dualism,” that is, below the logic of either/or. It intends to formulate a critique of dualism without relying on a dualistic model of critique, particularly in what concerns the question of the gendered body. The talk will first explore the notion of “transdualism” by performing a decolonial and de-straightened reading of the concept of yinyang as it is embedded in its etymology, related religious, medical, and philosophical texts, as well as its transformation through history. It will also look at several moments in modern time when yinyang is studied or evoked, especially in Europe, starting from the 1930s onwards when important works on, and translations of, Chinese philosophy became available. The talk will conclude with a reflection, informed by yinyang’s (mis)apprehension as well as its queer/trans and decolonial potential, on the questions of temporalities, and the politics of knowledge in a contemporary climate of stagnation and antagonism.
Zairong Xiang is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Potsdam University with the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Research Training Group Minor Cosmopolitanisms.

2:30 pm 
With Tom Holert & Zairong Xiang, moderated by Anselm Franke

3:30 pm 
Jenny Nachtigall: Life Out of Sync
In his analysis of the sense of a false present, of the non-simultaneous life forms that defined Weimar Germany, Ernst Bloch, in 1935, described Lebensphilosophie as the (colonialist) philosophy of a self-made Western-European “jungle.” Driven by an “entrepreneurial zest,” it ossified prehistory into a lifeless ahistorical space. In the years that followed, fascism made this inhuman terrain its own. Probing the difference between the fascist abolition of history and the subject as its bearer on the one hand, and dissident artistic/theoretical attacks on historicism and anthropomorphism on the other, Jenny Nachtigall will sketch the ambivalent manifestations of vitalism in times of crisis. She will address this historical and political index of negativity in relation to Carl Einstein’s a-subjective metamorphotics of “vibrant mortality” within and beyond art, and ask what his perspective may have to offer today.
Jenny Nachtigall works at the Institute for Philosophy and Aesthetic Theory of the Academy of Fine Arts Munich.

4:15 pm 
Charles W. Haxthausen: “. . . not a book about Braque”: Notes on Carl Einstein’s “Monograph”
The contradictions and tensions in Carl Einstein’s last art publication are evident already in its title, Georges Braque. For as he wrote a friend, “The Braque book is of course not a book about Braque.” Yet, with illustrations of 102 works by Georges Braque, a separate luxury edition with two original etchings signed by the artist, Georges Braque certainly looked like a monograph, and a fancy one at that. But its contents validate Carl Einstein’s remark—the book is in truth a patchwork affair that sends mixed messages about the fate of art in modernity. Janus-faced, it comprises both the final statement of Carl Einstein’s utopian vision and intimations of its imminent collapse.
Charles W. Haxthausen is Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art History, Emeritus, at Williams College, USA.

5 pm 
With Jenny Nachtigall & Charles W. Haxthausen, moderated by Kerstin Stakemeier

6 pm 
Kerstin Stakemeier: Intellectual Dangers
Modern monisms, the vast varieties of holistic desires, omnipresent in the first decades of the twentieth century—of which Marxist materialisms were just one—with the rise of fascism in Europe had to face their practical failure. They were confronted with the vile nationalisms that replaced them–brutalized displacements of the alienating nature of modern capitalist life. This shift left Marxist intellectuals devastated, their revolutionary role collapsed: From assets of the working class they turned into culturalized liabilities. Bertolt Brecht’s TUI-Roman. Fragment and Carl Einstein’s Fabrikation der Fiktionen, both from the 1930s, map this political and aesthetic situation of rupture and disdain. Kerstin Stakemeier will discuss this breakdown of modern monisms as a momentous shift, both historically and contemporarily.
Kerstin Stakemeier is Professor for Art Theory and Education at the Academy of the Fine Arts Nuremberg.

6:45 pm 
James Clifford: Primitivism and the Indigenous Longue Durée
In his talk James Clifford contrasts the critical primitivism of the artistic generation of the 1920s and 1930s with articulations of pre-/postcolonial deep time in the present. In a conjuncture characterized by neoliberal hegemony and indigenous resurgence, what can be salvaged from European traditions of primitivism and exoticism? The talk explores the entanglement of appropriation and translation in all cross-cultural representations. And it asks how temporal visions that precede and exceed the capitalist West can attain the status of historical “realism.”
James Clifford is Professor Emeritus, History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and new member of the HKW-program advisory committee.

7:30 pm 
With Kerstin Stakemeier & James Clifford, moderated by Susanne Leeb

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. Haus der Kulturen der Welt is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Federal Foreign Office.

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