BILDERFAHRZEUGE Blog

Specters of the Primitive. A Review in Three Parts

Perhaps the true appeal of what was once called “primitive art” lay not in its exoticism but in its apparent lack of historicity. For many European artists, as Meyer Schapiro perceived in 1937, the art of indigenous peoples had accrued “the special prestige of the timeless and instinctive, on the level of spontaneous animal activity, self-contained, unreflective, private, without dates and signatures, without origins or consequences except in the emotions.” The singular modernity of the avant-garde depended, in other words, on the correspondingly derelict nonmodernity of the primitive.

„Ubuntu“ als Möglichkeitsraum politischen Handelns für das Zukünftige? Über Felwine Sarrs „Afrotopia“

Ein kompromissloses Manifest ist Felwine Sarr mit dem Buch „Afrotopia“ gelungen, das 2016 erschien und seit diesem Jahr in deutscher und demnächst in englischer Übersetzung vorliegt. Fragt man sich, welche Leserschaft der Autor anspricht und vermutet aufgrund des vom Titel alludierten Themenhorizonts es adressiere allein diejenigen, die sich mit den Zukünften Afrikas befassen wollen, sei man zwar nicht enttäuscht, aber doch aufgefordert einige längere Blicke hinein zu werfen.

Aby Warburg: “Italienische Kunst und internationale Astrologie im Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara” (1912/1922)

The different modes that are brought together in this image may be summarized as “movement” and “stillness”, “tamed” and “untamed”, a central dialectic in the handling of falcons. On the one side, a hunting party is depicted with hooded and hence calm falcons, on the other a restless rider on horseback (note his garments, fluttering in motion), whose falcon almost flies away from his fist and is about to launch itself at the beholders of the artwork. Falcon and image are transformed here into a mirror of princes by shaping the courtiers’ actions and habitus.

Colloquium: “Ruins in the archive: constructing visual histories in photography and broadcast media”

THURSDAY 14 NOVEMBER 10.00–18.00

This one-day colloquium will engage with visual archives in response to either loss or potential loss due to the destruction of war. The colloquium proceeds in terms of four thematics: Entering the Archive, Interpreting the Archive, Narrating the Archive and Playing the Archive. Discussing historical examples of visual archives compiled in times of crisis allows for approaching also the question of archives of current conflicts and adequate responses by academic communities.

Kenwood House: 91 years on

It is surprisingly easy, cliché though it sounds, to get lost in Hampstead Heath, that large, hilly, and famously wild park in north London. And if you get just lost enough at just the right spot, you might not only forget where you are but also when you are. That is what Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh, seems to have wanted when he left Kenwood, a large estate at the northern edge of the Heath, including a neoclassical mansion filled with a careful selection of 63 master paintings, to the nation upon his death in 1927. The Iveagh Bequest mandates that the collection be “preserved as a fine example of the artistic home of a gentleman of the eighteenth century” and so it has.

The paved floor of St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Designing the iconic London churches of the late 17th to early 18th century was a collaborative endeavor. As much as one might attribute broad conceptual sweeps to figures like Wren and Hawksmoor, like today’s phenomenon of the ‘Starchitect’, they had many designers working under them, producing some of what might be the most iconic aspects of the structures today. In its catalogue of the churchyard and miscellaneous Wren Office Drawings of the building, the archive at St. Paul’s attributes the plan for the building’s black and white paving to William Dickinson. Dickinson was one of many draughtsmen who worked under Wren, including Hawksmoor, but also others who rarely get the notice of history beyond a footnote in a Pevsner Guide or a stray short article.

The Haunting of Style: Emanuel Löwy on the “Origins of Visual Art”

In a lecture delivered at the Vienna Academy of Sciences in 1930, the classical archaeologist Emanuel Löwy (1857–1938) sought to excavate the “origins of art” in Greece. His earlier writings had traced the linear and isolated appearance of ancient figural representations to underlying “memory-pictures” that had been reproduced uncritically, before a new “physiological” sense of observation launched the birth of classical art. Similar to children’s drawings, as Löwy argued, at this stage man created images that were suggested by reality but essentially conjured from within the mind. His Vienna lecture probed these very same stylistic features, but on different premises. In this paper it is not the mechanics of the mind, but its irrational anxieties that mobilize objects against evil spirits and thus ultimately propel artistic change.

Toxic Art Histories

A workshop organised by the international research project “Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology”.


8 – 9 November 2019

Cluster of Excellence “Matters of Activity,” Berlin.

From racially and financially motivated scholarship to the pseudo-science of conspiracy theories, art historical boogeymen are ubiquitous. The discipline of art history has deep, potentially inseverable, roots in explicitly nationalistic discourses and the relationships between art history and unsavoury political regimes are written into the scholarly record. Quarantining what we might think of as art historical contagion, however, let alone inoculating the discipline against its past infections, is far from straightforward. Contagion as a metaphor is rich with value and has proven productive in certain historical moments.

Bilderfahrzeuge Reading Group

Selected Tuesdays, 5.30pm, The Warburg Institute.

By demploying the term “Iconology”, Aby Warburg sought to distinguish his own methodology from the pervading art historical practices of his time, generating a nucleation point for new approaches in art history at the beginning of the 20th century. This reading group will study texts and authors that have similarly expanded the field of art history and visual studies over the last 20 years.

Kavita Singh: “Real Birds in Imagined Gardens: Mughal Painting between Persia and Europe”.

“Real Birds in Imagined Gardens”, arises out of Kavita Singh’s lecture titled, “Looking East, Looking West: Mughal Painting between Persia and Europe” as part of the Getty Research Institute Council’s lecture series, held at the Getty Centre in 2015. As outlined in the foreword, the book joins the rich stream of ongoing research ‘that transcends the traditional boundaries of Western art history.’ (p.vii). At the core of the volume, lies the endeavour to underline how Mughal painters enthusiastically received and responded to the arts of Europe. In addition, Singh also considers the interests, precedents and legacies of Mughal painting occasioned through the circulation of objects, ideas and individuals from Safavid Iran to Mughal India (Hindustan).  

Museum Of The Moon

The “Museum of the Moon” is about the moon in the same way “Die Zauberflöte” is about a magic flute; it both is and it fundamentally isn’t. Luke Jerram’s work of public art, a giant glowing sphere with an 120dpi detail map of the moon on it to at 1:500,000 scale, is currently set in a blue-tinged exhibition hall at London’s Natural History Museum. It is perhaps the visual equivalent of a Singspiel. It is the kind of thing jaded critics won’t admit to liking in public, in virtue of it being almost too eminently likable and popular.