CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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O'NEILL, Elena
“Art of the XXth century”: Carl Einstein and the 1st Documenta

Session 5 Self-Awareness or Self-Affirmation

Universidade Estadual de Rio de Janeiro


The narrow margin between political and cultural actions of the Nazi regime resulted in a programmatic anti-modernism, which continued to influence popular culture and the reception of the visual arts until well after the end of World War II. Organized by Werner Haftmann and Arnold Bode, Kassel’s 1st Documenta (1955), entitled “Art of the XXth century”, was an attempt to reintegrate Modern art to the German cultural life.

The outline of this historical and documentary reconstruction echoed Haftmann’s book, Painting in the Twentieth Century, published in 1954. In the preface of the German edition, he mentions Carl Einstein’s work and qualifies it as “unsurpassed”, and the similarity between the titles of Haftmann’s book, the exhibition and Carl Einstein’s The Art of the XXth Century (1931) is noteworthy. However, recognition of plastic values in the heat of the time is something very different from reintegrating and restoring an interrupted dialogue. With this basis for discussion, this paper addresses Einstein’s understanding of art, his proposals for an autonomous, non-dialectic and non-evolutionist art history, establishing differences and similitudes between Einstein’s and Haftmann’s views on art that challenge art history – and its writing – today.

O'NEILL, Elena   

Elena O’Neill, architect by the Facultad de Arquitectura, Universidad de la República (Uruguay), MA by the Instituto de Artes of the Universidade do Estado de Rio de Janeiro (ART/UERJ, Brazil), PhD by the Pontificia Universidade Católica (Puc-Rio, Brazil). Visiting professor at ART/UERJ since 2013, with a research project on Carl Einstein, Art and Latin America.


Recent publications

LAMBERT, P.; O’NEILL, E. “Mira Schendel: towards other approaches on Carl Einstein and Paul Klee”. In: BAUMGARTNER, M.; MICHEL, A., SORG, R. Historiografie der Moderne. Carl Einstein, Paul Klee, Robert Walser und die wechselseitige Erhellung der Künste. Wilhelm Fink Verlag (forthcoming).

O’NEILL, E. “A escrita atuante de Carl Einstein”. In: Topoi, Revista de Historia. (forthcoming)

CONDURU, R.; O’NEILL, E. Carl Einstein e a arte da África. Rio de Janeiro: EdUERJ, 2015.


O’NEILL, E. “O pensamento cubista de Carl Einstein em Europa Almanach”. In: Revista Arte & Ensaios nº 30. Rio de Janeiro: EBA/UFRJ, 2015, pp. 128-137.


O’NEIIL, E. Carl Einstein: por uma outra leitura da forma. PhD Dissertation at the Pontificia Universidade Católica (Puc-Rio), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,  2013.