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ATLAS. How to Carry the World on One’s Back?
SEPTEMBER 30. – NOVEMBER 27. 2011
Curated by Georges Didi-Huberman

EXHIBITION ORGANISED BY THE MUSEO NACIONAL CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFÍA IN COLLABORATION WITH SAMMLUNG FALCKENBERG AND ZKM | MUSEUM FÜR NEUE KUNST

»Atlas. How to Carry the World on One’s Back?« is an interdisciplinary exhibition that covers a period extending from the early years of the 20th century through to the 21st century, using the Mnémosyne Atlas of images by art theorist Aby Warburg (1866-1929) as a starting point. The Mnemosyne Atlas is an incomplete collection of pictures compiled between 1924 and 1929. It shows that Aby Warburg apparently cultivated the same passion for visual intuition as the artists of his time. This makes him a contemporary of avant-garde artists (Kurt Schwitters, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy), of photographers, who worked in documentary style (August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt), of avant-garde filmmakers (Jean Painlevé), of writers who evolved the technique of literary montage (Benjamin Fondane), as well of Surrealist poets and artists (Georges Bataille, Man Ray).

In Greek mythology Atlas was compelled to bear the entire celestial dome on his shoulders for daring to contest the power of the Olympic gods, and to take the side of human beings; ever since he is considered the forefather of astronomers and geographers. At the same time, the concept "Atlas" stands for visible forms of knowledge, whether this be the compilation of geographical designs of a closed cartography, or a collection of illustrations intended to exemplify an abundance of things in a systematic way.

The exhibition addresses the question as to the ways in which the work of the artist is to be interpreted in terms of representing an authentic method. How is it possible to observe the world without following the standard of our knowledge? In keeping with the formulation of this question, the concept behind »Atlas" is not directed at collecting "master pieces": the task of foremost interest is the discovery of sources on which artists have drawn, and which thus make the diverse artistic procedures comprehensible. Thus, it is not Paul Klee’s water colors that are exhibited but, among others, his modest herbarium and the graphical and theoretical ideas which it inspired; it is not Josef Albers' squares that are presented, but his photograph album of pictures of pre-Columbian buildings.
Above all else, if it appears that the Atlas is an ongoing task of renewed composition of the world, then this is due to the fact that world itself is in a state of continual disintegration. The montage of illustrations represents a key artistic medium for tracing history as it unfolds and, finally, to dismantle it for the purposes of creating alternative models.
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Fotos: Henning Rogge / Deichtorhallen