around 1800. Exhibiting Art as Research

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Oktober 1st 2018 to September 30th 2020, Kunstgeschichtliches Seminar, Universität Hamburg, Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, ESA West, 20146 Hamburg, Kunsthalle Hamburg, Glockengießerwall, 20095 Hamburg

A joint research project by Prof. Dr. Petra Lange-Berndt, Kunstgeschichtliches Seminar, Universität Hamburg; Prof. Dr. Dietmar Rübel, Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, and Prof. Dr. Christoph Vogtherr, Hamburger Kunsthalle, with research assistant Isabelle Lindermann, M.A., Kunstgeschichtliches Seminar, Universität Hamburg.

Duration: 1 October 2018 to 30 September 2020

Workshop: 17 January 2019, Warburg-Haus, Hamburg

International Conference: 14 to 16 November 2019, Hamburger Kunsthalle

Art around 1800 was the programmatic title of a series of nine exhibitions staged between 1974 and 1981 at the Hamburger Kunsthalle under the wing of its director at the time, Werner Hofmann. This undertaking, which set out to visualise and write a different history of European art in conjunction with industrial, social and scientific revolutions, was a research project, an experimental approach to exhibitions, a celebration of the fine arts and a political statement. For decades this cycle exerted a paradigmatic influence on debates about academic work in art museums and about the practice of exhibition-making before the term ‘curating’ existed. This museological and scholarly process in nine episodes has so far been absent from the many current studies and projects devoted to the history of exhibiting art. In the Anglo-Saxon world, Art around 1800 is largely unknown. The rise of Curatorial Studies places the cycle squarely on the research agenda. Our collaborative venture aims to examine this multi-part project in detail and to analyse the exhibition medium from the perspective of the university, the art academy and the museum.

The research examines constructions of a “modern Europe” and “modernity” in the context of the 1970s. Narrative(s) in exhibition form will be critically interrogated and gauged from a global perspective to ascertain how relevant they still are. What policies are emerging? What alternatives have evolved within feminist or postcolonial research? By drawing on the abundant archive material, we will be asking to what extent the shows put together by the team at the Hamburger Kunsthalle with their apparently monographic titles (Ossian; Casper David Friedrich; Johann Heinrich Füssli; William Blake; Johan Tobias Sergel; William Turner; Philipp Otto Runge; John Flaxmann; Francisco Goya) were in reality thematic exhibitions. How exactly was Art around 1800 conceived? How were the spaces designed? How were the works selected? And what was the response at the time? What economic factors framed these displays? How did the cycle differ from other museum exhibitions of the period? What interdependence was there with exercises in cultural history? It can safely be claimed that, apart from presenting and analysing key works, Art around 1800 attempted to write an alternative history of art and in so doing to take issue with images of history and models of society: the objective was to offer a historical and systematic overview of aesthetic, political and technical changes occurring around 1800 and their impact on the arts of the protracted nineteenth century – a period known as the age of revolutions. At the same time, the cycle provided answers to ideas advocated by Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno at the time about a Dialectic of Enlightenment and especially the complex intertwining of emancipatory movements and self-destruction. The series thus opens up – like a kind of re-education – to a broader context, with implications for processes like confronting German fascism and establishing a strident democracy. Embedded within this curatorial methodology, with its references to the Hamburg and Vienna schools of art history, were visual forms of the protests and rebellion of 1968. But how did the project relate to incipient poststructuralist discourse and its theoreticians as these began to be read more widely in German-speaking countries? While this concept of “modern Europe” and “modernity” comes across increasingly as the antiquity of globalisation, we have not yet adequately understood the history of its images, things and processes. Hamburg’s nine-part exhibition attempted just this in exemplary form in the 1970s and placed the power of artworks centre-stage. We ask what toolbox came out of the practical scholarship of Art around 1800 and in what ways the cycle is relevant today.

Exhibitions in the cycle Art around 1800, Hamburger Kunsthalle

- Ossian and Art around 1800                                         09/05/1974 – 23/06/1974

- Casper David Friedrich                                                  14/09/1974 – 03/11/1974

- Johann Heinrich Füssli                                                   04/12/1974 – 19/01/1975

- William Blake: Around 1800                                          06/03/1975 – 27/04/1975

- Johan Tobias Sergel                                                       22/05/1975 – 21/11/1975

- William Turner and the Landscape of his Time         19/05/1976 – 18/07/1976

- Runge in his Day                                                             21/10/1977 – 08/01/1978

- John Flaxmann: Mythology and Industry                    20/04/1979 – 03/06/1979

- Goya: The Age of Revolutions                                      17/10/1980 – 04/01/1981

With the generous support of Liebelt Stiftung, Hamburg, Fritz Thyssen FoundationHamburger Kunsthalle, Universität Hamburg

Image: Suzanne Treister, MI3 (Machine Intelligence 3): William Blake, Jerusalem (ca. 1800–1820), 2018, (c) the artist