23

– Spring 2010

Spring 2010 - Spring 2010

Carl Einstein: Reproducing the Real

David Quigley

A fragment from Carl Einstein’s incomplete History of Art project from the late 1930s. Courtesy Carl Einstein Archives, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, sig.233

A fragment from Carl Einstein’s incomplete History of Art project from the late 1930s. Courtesy Carl Einstein Archives, Akademie der Künste, Berlin, sig.233

Carl Einstein took part in numerous important moments of the first half of the twentieth century. He was the author of influential texts on African sculpture, wrote the first-ever history of twentieth century art (Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, 1926), co-edited the journal Documents with George Bataille and was a close friend of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. He was also active in the 1918-19 Revolution in Germany and after World War I allied with the 'political wing' of the Berlin Dadaists, and he later fought with the anarcho-syndicalists in the Spanish Civil War. And yet, Carl Einstein is anything but a household name.1 Arguably, it is this position of centrality and marginality, Einstein's 'half-forgottenness' that draws artists and researchers to his work - perhaps in the hope of uncovering a level of reality beyond the accepted historical models that define our way of thinking about this formative period.2

In historiographical terms, Einstein's career spans the period that, following Peter Bürger, has been referred to as the 'historical avantgarde'. 3 And in many ways, Einstein's insistence on the autonomy of the artwork vis-à-vis mass culture, coupled with his call to political engagement, could be seen as emblematic of the combative political self-consciousness of art stressed in Bürger's periodisation. While Bürger's model has already undergone extensive criticism, the distinction between a 'historical' and 'neo' avant-garde might still be saved, in my opinion, if the 'avant-garde' and the 'neo-avant-garde' are not considered as terms describing an epochal shift, but rather as a challenge faced by art in general: how can art be something more than just 'neo'? Which is to say: how is it

Footnotes
  1. This is especially true in the Anglophone context. Two excellent biographies already exist, one in French by Liliane Meffre (Carl Einstein, 1885-1940: Itinéraires d'une pensée moderne, Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2002) and the other in German by Uwe Fleckner (Carl Einstein und sein Jahrhundert: Fragmente einer intellektuellen Biographie, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2007), along with the catalogue accompanying the exhibition 'La invención del S. XX: Carl Einstein y las vanguardias' ('The Invention of the 20th Century: Carl Einstein and the Avant-gardes'), which Fleckner curated at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2008, U. Fleckner (ed.), La invención del S. XX: Carl Einstein y las vanguardias (exh. cat.), Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2008. Finally, a translation into English by Charles Haxthausen of Einstein's key works will appear in 2010 published by the University of California Press. An international symposium on Carl Einstein will also be held at the University of London in September 2010.

  2. Helmut Heißenbüttel, 'Deine Worte sind Notrufe. Carl Einstein, ein Halbvergessener,' Deutsche Zeitung, 15-16 December 1962.

  3. See Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (trans. Michael Shaw), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984. For a recent appraisal, see Hal Foster, The Return of the Real, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 1996.

  4. Carl Einstein, 'Der Kommende Friede', in Die Republik (1919), cited in Werke II, Berlin: Fannei & Walz, 1996, p.23. Unless otherwise stated, all translations the author's.

  5. C. Einstein, 'Zur primitiven Kunst', Ludwig Rubiner (ed.), Die Gemeinschaft: Dokumente der geistigen Weltwende (1919), cited in Werke II, op. cit., p.27.

  6. C. Einstein, Georges Braque (1934), cited in Werke III, Berlin: Fannei & Walz, 1996, p.280.

  7. C. Einstein, 'Antike und Moderne' (posthumous), in Werke IV, Berlin: Fannei & Walz, 1996, p.140.

  8. C. Einstein, 'Unpublished Writings', in Werke IV, op. cit., pp.194-221.

  9. C. Einstein, Georges Braque, op. cit., p.256.

  10. Charles Haxthausen, 'Bloody Serious: Two Texts by Carl Einstein', October, vol.105, 2003, p.117. See also Klaus Kiefer, Diskurswandel im Werk Carl Einsteins, Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1994.

  11. C. Einstein, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, in Werke V, Berlin: Fannei & Walz, 1996, p.223.

  12. Ibid., p.228.

  13. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, The Rise of Cubism (trans. Henry Aronson), New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, 1949, p.14 (originally published as an article in the Swiss journal the Weissen Blätter in German in 1915 and in book form in 1971 as Der Gegenstand der Ästhetik).

  14. C. Einstein, Georges Braque, op. cit., p.375.

  15. Ibid., p.395.

  16. C. Einstein, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, op. cit., p.92.

  17. C. Einstein, 'Obituary 1832-1932' (1932, trans. Eugène Jolas), Werke III, op. cit., p.213.

  18. C. Einstein, Georges Braque, op. cit., p.407.

  19. Ibid., p.404.

  20. André Breton, 'Discours au Congrès des écrivains' (1935), in Œuvres complètes, vol. II, Paris: Gallimard, 1992, p. 459.

  21. C. Einstein, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, op. cit., p.237.

  22. C. Einstein, Die Fabrikation der Fiktionen: Eine Verteidigung des Wirklichen (ed. Sibylle Penkert), Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1973.

  23. C. Einstein, Georges Braque, op. cit., p.324.

  24. Ibid., p.310.

  25. C. Einstein, Die Fabrikation der Fiktionen, op. cit., p.327.

  26. C. Einstein, 'Unpublished Writings', in Werke IV, op. cit., p.414.