Prehistoric Future: Max Ernst and the Return of Painting between the Wars

Prehistoric Future: Max Ernst and the Return of Painting between the Wars

Ralph Ubl

Language: English

Pages: 260

ISBN: 0226823725

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


One of the most admired artists of the twentieth century, Max Ernst was a proponent of Dada and founder of surrealism, known for his strange, evocative paintings and drawings. In Prehistoric Future, Ralph Ubl approaches Ernst like no one else has, using theories of the unconscious—surrealist automatism, Freudian psychoanalysis, the concept of history as trauma—to examine how Ernst’s construction of collage departs from other modern artists.

 

Ubl shows that while Picasso, Braque, and Man Ray used scissors and glue to create collages, Ernst employed techniques he himself had forged—rubbing and scraping to bring images forth onto a sheet of paper or canvas to simulate how a screen image or memory comes into the mind’s view. In addition, Ernst scoured the past for obsolete scientific illustrations and odd advertisements to illustrate the rapidity with which time passes and to simulate the apprehension generated when rapid flows of knowledge turn living culture into artifact. Ultimately, Ubl reveals, Ernst was interested in the construction and phenomenology of both collective and individual modern history and memory. Shedding new light on Ernst’s working methods and the reasons that his pieces continue to imprint themselves in viewers’ memories, Prehistoric Future is an innovative work of critical writing on a key figure of surrealism.

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Kitsch” and the first notes for The Arcades Project, see Lindner, “Versuch über Traumkitsch,” 229–46. 9 “Notes on montage in my journal. Perhaps, in this same context, there should be some indication of the intimate connection that ffiexists> between the intention making for nearest nearness and the intensive utilization of refuse—a connection in fact exhibited in montage.” Benjamin, The Arcades Project, 861. 10 Ibid., 866. 11 Ibid., 874ff. 12 On Benjamin and images, see Sigrid Weigel, Walter

of drawing (or painting). As an infantile mechanism through which images seem to appear of their own accord, frottage evokes an automatic originality and spontaneity of image production. As an indexical imprinting procedure, it always makes the claim of objective reproduction unfalsified by artistic convention. It could be asked, objective reproduction of what? In archaeology and paleontology, frottage is used for the documentation of remains. In Ernst’s pictures, not only remains but also the

shawl patterned with ice flowers (Iceflower Shawl); scouring rushes assume false positions (False Positions [les fausses positions]), a petrified leaf acts secretively (She Guards Her Secret [elle garde son secret]). In this sense, the foreword can be read as a performative commentary that points out the device of the parapraxis and applies it to Natural History. Arp selects certain titles (or title elements) and motifs, and combines them into new nature/culture montages: for example, from print

the terrestrial realm are no longer associated with infantile sexual research, but with a sublimating iconography composed of alchemical, hermetic, and psychoanalytic ingredients.11 This allows the conclusion to be drawn that, from now on, the earth is a site of production where a yet unknown entity is coming into being, which emerges in Woman, Old Man, and Flower as the chimera of fan, breastplate, and lower half of the body. Its pointedly closed form extracts itself from the stone in which

delphic laurel). Incidentally, Evan Maurer has observed that a title from Fiat Modes, bräutliche mattung (bridal matting), alludes to Large Glass. Maurer, “Images of Dream and Desire: The Prints and Collage Novels of Max Ernst,” in Max Ernst: Beyond Surrealism, exhibition catalog, ed. Robert Rainwater (New York: New York Public Library, 1986), 42; on artists’ interest in illuminating gas and frozen gas, see Linda Dalrymple Henderson, Duchamp in Context: Science and Technology in the Large Glass

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