Aby Warburg with Gertrud Bing and Franz Alber in front of Warburg’s panel design, Rome, Palace Hotel, May 1929
In the 1920s, the historian of art and culture Aby Warburg (1866-1929) created his so-called Bilderatlas Mnemosyne– tracing recurring visual themes and patterns across time, from antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond to contemporary culture. His approach provides inspiration for today’s visually and digitally dominated world. At HKW all 63 panels of the Atlas will be recovered for the first time from Warburg’s original images.
Aby Warburg studied the interplay of images from different periods and cultural contexts. He designed the Mnemosyne Atlas to provide a pictorial representation of the influences of the ancient world in the Renaissance and beyond. The atlas consisted of large black panels on which he placed photographic reproductions of artworks from the Middle East, European antiquity and the Renaissance, alongside contemporary newspaper clippings and advertisements. In the years leading to his death in 1929, Warburg and his closest colleagues Gertrud Bing and Fritz Saxl experimented with the form and function of the Bilderatlas. Their goal was to present a publication designed for discussion among experts as well as the broader public. During the course of its creation, the atlas developed into an instrument of cognition.
Warburg’s methodology set new standards: it consisted in rearranging canonized images and looking at them across epochs. His project traversed the boundaries between art history, philosophy and anthropology and was fundamental for the modern disciplines of visual and media studies. Today, his use of visual memory provides inspiration and alternative routes through a reality dominated by visual media.
The exhibition at HKW restores the last documented version of the 1929 atlas almost completely with the original illustrations. In collaboration with the Warburg Institute in London, the curators Roberto Ohrt and Axel Heil have located most of the 971 illustrations from the 400,000 objects in the Institute’s Photo Collection and Library to show Warburg’s unfinished magnum opus in its entirety for the first time since his death.
A folio volume gathers the 63 plates of Warburg’s Atlas – newly photographed from the original, multi-colored images, along with essays by Axel Heil, Roberto Ohrt, Bernd Scherer, Bill Sherman and Claudia Wedepohl. It will be published for the exhibition opening by Hatje Cantz. Another volume with extensive commentaries by the curators will be published in Fall 2020, also by Hatje Cantz.
The exhibition is curated by Roberto Ohrt and Axel Heil in cooperation with the Warburg Institute, London.
Part of The New Alphabet