CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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LERM HAYES, Christa-Maria
“Mistakes are Portals of Discovery”: James Joyce' s Mistakes and (Beuys’) Art Discovering Joyce

Session 15 Creative Misunderstanding

University of Amsterdam


Once James Joyce had formulated that mistakes are portals of discovery, it was his work that served theorists to conceive of (all) understanding as (productive) misunderstanding. Such theoretical approaches to the relationship between artworks and their sources – or between viewers / readers and the work they receive – include Umberto Eco’s Open Work and Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence. More recently, Sarat Maharaj has developed this theme and related it to the impossibility of translation or hybridity in today’s world. He used Joyce’s last work, Finnegans Wake, to make this point.


My focus in this conference contribution will be to depart from a Joycean common denominator with regard to this thinking, as well as to investigate artistic approaches that embrace the inevitability of misunderstanding. In doing so, I will turn to the German artist Joseph Beuys as a case study of an artist who has responded to James Joyce’s writings though independent response and creative extension.


My aim (likely only framed as an outlook on this occasion) will be to contribute this material to the panel’s focused attempt (as I read it) of establishing a new understanding of art history (a historiography as well as a desideratum for the future). This could be based on a re-interpretation of the fraught relationship between words and images: misunderstanding each other is not a deficit, but condition of mutual enrichment or even (paradoxically) a more complete, activating understanding: we complement one another in (differently) creative ways. There are indications that both Art History and the present moment are uniquely placed to embrace such a realistic and complex perspective.

LERM HAYES, Christa-Maria


PhD (2000: summa cum laude), MA (1994): University of Cologne. Studied Art History, English Literature and Medieval and Modern History in Heidelberg, London, Cologne.



2014-present          Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art History, U. van Amsterdam

2003-2014                Lecturer, Reader and Professor of Iconology (since 2012), University of Ulster, Belfast. 2007-2011: Head of Research Graduate School

2001-2004                Curator of “Joyce in Art” Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin

2001-2003               Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences Post-Doctoral Fellow, University College Dublin.

1996-1997                        Assistant to Prof. Dr. Antje von Graevenitz, Uni­versity of Cologne.

1996                           James Joyce Foundation Scholar Zurich (9-months’ scholarship)

1994-1995                        Curatorial Position, Museum Schloß Moyland/Joseph Beuys Archives.


Publications (selection)                                                               


·    Post-War Germany and ‘Objective Chance’: W.G. Sebald, Joseph Beuys and Tacita Dean / Nachkriegsdeutschland und ‘Objektiver Zufall’: W.G. Sebald, Joseph Beuys und Tacita Dean. Steidl: Göttingen 2008. Reprinted as one of seven books in: Tacita Dean. Seven Books Grey. Steidl, MuMoK: Göttingen and Vienna 2011.

·    Joyce in Art: Visual Art Inspired by James Joyce. Foreword: Fritz Senn, envoi: James Elkins, design: Ecke Bonk. The Lilliput Press Dublin 2004.

·    James Joyce als Inspirationsquelle für Joseph Beuys. Olms Hildesheim, Zurich, New York 2001.

Edited Books

·      Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Victoria Walters (eds.). Beuysian Legacies in Ireland and Beyond: Art, Culture and Politics. Series: European Culture and Politics. Münster, Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, London: LIT 2011.


“Concerning the Work of Royden Rabinowitch: Our Disenchanted Ontology or Paradoxical Hope”. Royden Rabinowitch: Ghent, Gent: MER Paper Kunsthalle 2014: 21-36.

“Considering the Minor in the Literary and Photographic Works of Rodney Graham and Tacita Dean”, Minor Photography: Connecting Deleuze and Guattari to Photography Theory, Mieke Bleyen (Ed.), Leuven: Leuven University Press 2012: 85-102.

“’The Joyce Effect’: Joyce in the Visual Arts”. A Companion to James Joyce. Richard Brown (ed). Malden, Oxford: Blackwell, 2007: 318-340. paperback 2011.

“Rodney Graham: Literature and What an Artist Does with It”. Rodney Graham: Through the Forest. MACBA, Barcelona; Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz 2010: 64-85.

“Carola Giedion-Welcker: Misrepresented Mediator of Modernists”. Karen M. Brown (ed). Women’s Contributions to Visual Culture, 1918-1939. Hampshire: Ashgate 2008: 89-100.

“Erweiterte Kunstgeschichte: Carola Giedion-Welcker, Joyce und Brancusi bei Joseph Beuys”. Dazwischen: Die Vermittlung der Kunst Festschrift für Antje von Graevenitz. Renate Buschmann et al (eds). Dietrich Reimer Verlag Cologne 2005: 121-132.


Exhibitions Curated

Over a dozen exhibitions, including Joyce in Art (Dublin, Ireland; Seoul, South Korea; Yasnaya Polyana, Russia) and one-person shows (Pavel Büchler, Royden Rabinowitch).