edited by Manuel Fontán del Junco, José Lebrero Stals, María Zozaya Álvarez. D.A.P., March 2020. 450 p. ill. ISBN 9788470756610 (h/c), $75.00.
Reviewed September 2020
John Hagood, Head of Library Reader Services/National Gallery of Art, email@example.com
Genealogies of Art, spearheaded by Manuel Fontán Del Junco, director of Museums and Exhibitions at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid, enshrines an exhibition about an exhibition, and the thinking behind creating and responding to exhibitions. The aim – to look visually at histories of art – it fulfills elegantly, and will resonate with anyone drawn to mind-mapping, creating didactic materials, or who enjoys the books of Edward Tufte. All this comes to light via a panorama of diagrams created as maps into knowledge, that may also serve as pointers to ways out.
The touchstone around which exhibition and book were built is Alfred Barr’s 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art – specifically, Barr’s diagram for the cover of the catalog, showing relationships and an evolution of artistic movements and styles. The 2019 installation revives that diagram, using the very works of art Barr invoked, and analyzes Barr’s presumptions and goals, freed as he was from the dialectic of the two art histories (museums and academia). Barr’s “diagrammatic eye” visualized and materialized a hierarchical narrative about art. If an exhibition is, after all, “a show of material objects, but also of a curator’s imagination” (24), this one in 2020 certainly shows off some marvelous creativity and learned looking.
A lengthy, central essay by Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt (derived from her valuable 2017 book) reviews diagramming histories of art as a means to an end, showing spatial relationships to visual changes over time from Goethe to Gombrich and theorists and historians of the last century – each creating coordinate spaces that show analysis and structure knowledge. Manuel Lima surveys the underlying tree of knowledge trope from Aristotle and flourishing in the medieval and early modern eras. Uwe Fleckner lays out peculiarly twentieth century efforts at a visual “synoptic vision” – the collages, atlases, and memory works by the Blaue Reiter, Aby Warburg, Carl Einstein, and Gerhard Richter. Aside from hundreds of pages of illustrations, Eugenio Carmona offers a corrective look at Barr’s changing takes on Cubism, through the museum director’s own writing and exhibition design.
Ironically, the writing, individually and as a set, constitutes a masterpiece of linear, verbal exposition, in harmonious counterpoint to the pages of images within. Eloquent English translations draw the reader with exciting traction through layout and book design that feels enliveningly experimental and experiential. Beyond maps, or charts, or flows of ideas and arguments, it considers the important question posed in Tara Westover’s Educated: “Who writes history?”
Genealogies of Art will inspire readers who work at organizing knowledge, in digital humanities, exhibition design, or linking data on the World Wide Web, and it belongs in libraries covering subject areas in modern art, museology, design, history, or philosophy, where a “diagrammatic turn of mind” might indeed stimulate other minds.