Neolithic Childhood examines how the artistic avant-gardes reacted to the multiple crises of European modernity around 1930 – the “crisis of consciousness,” the revisions of early and pre-history, the imperialist struggle, the barbarism of technological mass war, the shock of capitalist industrialization, the failure of the Second (Socialist) International, the endgame of bourgeois humanism and the hypocrisies of colonial discourse.

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Neolithic Childhood: Art in a False Present, c. 1930, Ed. by Anselm Franke and Tom Holert, Diaphanes, 2018.                

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Resonating at the heart of Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, c. 1930 is the question whether art has present, past, and future functions. The modernist assertion of the autonomy of art was intended to render superfluous art’s social and religious functions. But what if the functionlessness of art comes under suspicion of being instrumentalized by bourgeois capitalism? This was an accusation that informed the anti-modernist critique of the avant-garde, and particularly of Surrealism. The objective throughout the crisis-ridden present of the 1920s to the 1940s was to reaffirm a once ubiquitous, but long-lost functionality—not only of art.
The publication accompanying the exhibition examines the strategies deployed in this reaffirmation. These include the surrealist Primitivism of an “Ethnology of the White Man” together with the excavation of the deep time of humanity—into the “Neolithic Childhood” mapped out by the notoriously anti-modernist Carl Einstein (1885-1940) as a hallucinatory retro-utopia. The volume brings together essays by the curators and academics involved in the project, primary texts by Carl Einstein and a comprehensive documentation of the exhibition including lists of works, texts on as well as images of numerous exhibits and finally installation views. At the center of the volume, a glossary discusses Carl Einstein’s own theoretical vocabulary as well as further associated terms, such as Autonomy, Formalism, Function, Gesture, Hallucination, Art, Metamorphosis, Primitivisms, Totality.
With contributions by: Irene Albers, Philipp Albers, Joyce S. Cheng, Rosa Eidelpes, Carl Einstein, Anselm Franke, Charles W. Haxthausen, Tom Holert, Sven Lütticken, Ulrike Müller, Jenny Nachtigall, David Quigley, Cornelius Reiber, Erhard Schüttpelz, Kerstin Stakemeier, Maria Stavrinaki, Elena Vogman, Zairong Xiang, Sebastian Zeidler
With reproductions of artworks by:
Jean (Hans) Arp, Willi Baumeister, Georges Braque, Brassaï, Claude Cahun, Lux T. Feininger, Max Ernst, Florence Henri, Barbara Hepworth, Hannah Höch, Heinrich Hoerle, Paul Klee, Germaine Krull, Helen Levitt, André Masson, Alexandra Povòrina, Gaston-Louis Roux, Kalifala Sidibé, Louis Soutter, Yves Tanguy, Toyen, Jindřich Štyrský, Raoul Ubac, Paule Vézelay and others.
Curated by Anselm Franke and Tom Holert. Advisory board: Irene Albers, Susanne Leeb, Jenny Nachtigall, Kerstin Stakemeier

At Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, an exhibition presents art from the turbulent interwar years as an archaeology of knowledge
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 avantgardes 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. New sciences and the fields already undergoing profound changes— such as ethnology, archae ology, psychology, and mathematics—served as resources. “World art” became a key concept for revising history and modernity.
Taking its cue from texts by the extraacademic art historian Carl Einstein, an exhibition and conference will thematize the upheavals, openings, and contradictions that became manifest in art and the humanities from the 1920s into the 1940s. The “Neolithic Childhood”—a concept used by Carl Einstein to characterize his understanding of Hans Arp—seemed to be a helpful fiction through which to critique the present.
From Max Ernst’s series of works on non-human natural history and Brassaï’s photographs of prehistoric-looking graffiti to the sexual iconographies of Toyen and Catherine Yarrow’s mask-like watercolors: the aesthetic politics of Surrealism play a central role in the exhibition. A panorama of 180 artworks and 600 archival sources propose an insight into the interaction between the visual arts, politics, philosophy, ethnology, psychology, and the natural sciences in the period between the world wars. The exhibition offers the first public view of the original manuscripts of Carl Einstein, who—with the intention of being anti-canonical—contributed substantially to the canonization of modern art. Magazines such as Documents, which was significantly influenced by Georges Bataille and Carl Einstein, works by well-known artists—such as Hans Arp, Georges Braque, and Paul Klee—and works by less familiar figures demonstrate the role played by art and visual culture in grappling with the crises around 1930.

The neolithic, or new stone age, was the era of human history in which nomadic hunter-gathering gave way to sedentary farming with crops and livestock. The title of the exhibition ‘Neolithic Childhood. Art in a False Present, c.1930’, curated by Anselm Franke and Tom Holert, refers to a 1930 description of the artist Hans Arp. In an article titled ‘l’enfance néo-lithique’, published in Paris in Georges Bataille’s surrealist magazine Documents, the author and art historian Carl Einstein focused on playful and animistic aspects of Arp’s blending of the archaic and the modern. To Einstein’s encyclopaedic thinking, the artist’s wood and string reliefs relate to prehistoric rites and destructive forms of children’s play. The exhibition’s title suggests a view of the art and culture of the interwar years in terms of an archaeology of knowledge, using Einstein’s work as a lens. This era experienced a blooming of art and culture on the one hand and political and economic crises on the other: the high numbers of unemployment and the rise of right-wing and nationalist movements across Europe that led Freud to write, in 1930, Civilization and its Discontents.
The curators have brought together around 180 artworks and 600 archival objects. Rather than offering a direct biographical narrative about Einstein, the show tries (insofar as it is possible within an exhibition display) to render visible the fascinating world underpinning the period’s artistic and intellectual discourse. The resulting panorama – or, should we say, epistemic landscape – includes works by Willi Baumeister, Georges Braque, Maya Deren, Max Ernst, Hannah Höch, Paul Klee, André Masson and Kalifala Sidibé, among others.

Paul Klee, (Metamorphosen:) der Zusammenbruch der biblischen Schlange, 1940, coloured paste on paper on cardboard, 34 × 49 cm. Courtesy: © Zentrum Paul Klee Image Archive, Bern
Stretching over two halls, the show’s first chapter is formed around Einstein’s most important intellectual project: his plans for a five-volume ‘Handbuch der Kunst’ (Manual of art), worked on from 1935 and unfinished by the time of his death in 1940. A prominent place is given to the draft of 47 typewritten pages, mounted on a blue wall and accessible only via a low yellow metal platform. It is surrounded by a dozen vitrines, packed with books and printed matter representing the art publishing of that era: from magazines such as Weltkunst, founded in 1930 in Berlin, to art-historical encyclopaedias like the famous ‘Propyläen Kunstgeschichte’, first published in 28 volumes between 1923 and 1940. In 1926, Einstein’s polemic study Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts (Art of the 20th Century) was published as the series’ 16th volume. Since the 1920s, the introduction of new offset printing techniques paved the way for mass-circulated, lavishly illustrated book series, effectively widening art-historical discourse to a global dimension at a time when interest in non-European art also flourished.

Carl Einstein, "Ethnologie de l’homme blanc", disposition in the omnibus volume "Manual of History of Art", 1930s, manuscript. Courtesy: Akademie der Künste, Berlin/Carl-Einstein-Archiv
The second part of the exhibition presents the ways in which the arts and sciences, from the 1920s to the ’40s, responded to the collapse of traditional dualistic constellations: subject and object, nature and culture, female and male. Here, most of the paintings and drawings are displayed in a salon-style hang on a freestanding green wall. Its upper part can be viewed from a pedestrian overpass. Standing on the construction, you can see, at a slight distance, the drawing Metamorphosen: Der Zusammenbruch der biblischen Schlange (Metamorphoses: the Collapse of the Biblical Serpent, 1940) by Paul Klee, of whom Einstein once wrote: ‘one of the important features of [Klee’s] pictures seems to be: to free ourselves from the imposed body standard.’ Beside it are Jindřich Štyrský’s painting of a mysterious life form, L’Homme seiche (Human Cuttlefish, 1934), and Alexandra Povòrina’s spiritualistic painting Ying & Yang (1933). The overpass construction triggered a rather conflicting experience, somewhat like being on a fenced trail in a nature conservation area. The possibilities may be rich, but leaving the trail and getting lost are not part of the programme. - Kito Nedo