If the history of art is made of objects that are intended to be seen, then shouldn’t the manner in which this history is told be highly visual as well? And yet this has not been the case for art history, where textual narration has succeeded over visual and concrete narration. The exhibition Genealogies of Art, or the History of Art as Visual Art endeavors to address that vacuum by exhibiting a variety of visual forms in which artists, designers, illustrators, historians, essayists, poets, writers, and critics have represented this discipline. This question is so central to the exhibition that it proposes, as an experiment, to materialize one of these representations within the exhibition space itself. The representation chosen for this experiment is the famous diagram that Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who founded the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1929 and was its first director, created for the cover of the catalog of his pioneering Cubism and Abstract Art exhibition, held at MoMA in 1936. In the diagram, Barr wanted to visualize the genealogy of modern art he was proposing in the exhibition and arguing for in the catalog.
In Genealogies of Art, or the History of Art as Visual Art the two-dimensional diagram is shifted to the three dimensions of the exhibition space, by physically situating the actual works of art—beginning with Post-Impressionist painting of the 1890s, and ending with the abstract compositions of the 1930s—in their place according to the diagram, in effect, testing the true visual plausibility of the diagram and the credibility of what was perhaps the most ambitious (and earliest) attempt to establish a canon for the art of the first half of the twentieth century, and a genealogy that spanned close to three generations. Works by avant-garde artists such as Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Kazimir Malévich, César Domela, Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay and Vasili Kandinsky are presented, among many others. Some of the artworks were present in the original Barr exhibit, like Kandinsky’s Landscape with Two Poplars (1912) or Picasso’s Femme dans un fauteuil (1929).
Conceived and organized by the Fundación Juan March and the Museo Picasso Málaga, this exhibition assembles a roster of 230 artists and authors related to visual thinking, and includes a broad variety of examples of it (genealogical trees, tables, allegories and diagrams that were made over the span of time from the seventeenth century to the present), in over 300 works and close to a hundred documents. However, Genealogies of Art, or the History of Art as Visual Art is much more than a collective or thematic show; rather, it is about modes of visual narration, and wishes to offer an overview of visual representations that is broad enough to complement the usual discursive presentations of the history of art.
Published to accompany this exhibitions, a 486-page catalogue with two editions (Spanish and English) contains reproductions of all works on display and essays from specialists such as Astrit Schmidt-Burkhardt, visual art historian at the Free University of Berlin, Manuel Lima, Google’s UX Design Lead de Google and founder of visualcomplexity.com, Eugenio Carmona, professor of Art History at the University of Málaga (UMA), professor of Art History at Hamburg University and co-director of the Warburg-Haus, and Manuel Fontán del Junco, chief curator of the exhibition.