malraux: buchenwald of the plastic arts?

Achievement and failure. Andre Malraux arrayed all art beneath a soaring arch of philosophical vision…but the philosopher is left seekingsalvation in the aesthetic “World Beyond,” …

Thus Malraux. At this point he abruptly concludes  La Metamorphose des Dieux. His account of the “immemorial pageant in which the gods march side by side with creative man” is a first rate achievement. It is not a book to be read so much  as to be experienced, and it often has the air of something written-reflecting Malraux’s overpowering conversational abilities. The work seems designed not only to persuade the reader, but to take them by the shoulder and push them against the very special  window through which Malraux saw the world.

—In his discussions with Picasso reported in ” La Tête d’Obsidienne  ”, Malraux said to Picasso that the actual place of the Musée Imaginaire was necessary a mental place, applying to the museum the assertion of Leonardo da Vinci about painting as cosa mentale. So, is it Malraux, the theorician, or Picasso, the painter, who, the first, stated that in the museum, the works of art seem to choose us rather than to be choosen by us ?
” Picasso knew that it was not a question of a museum of the favorites of anyone, but of a museum which seem to choose us rather to be choosen.  ”
In fact, a museum is never constituted by one work of art, but by several works of art. Malraux believed that the gathering of these works in the museum created a community and that the contact between works of art make them enter in interaction. —Read More:

The illustrative technique of the Imaginary Museum helped to accomplish this. It was a technique bitterly attacked by art critics and other professional aesthetes, on the ground that no work of art can really be judges on the basis of reproductions and photographs, no matter how excellent, particularly, as in the case of Malraux’s books, only details are shown. Charging that Malraux’s technique mutilates the original, one French critic accused him of causing a “Buchenwald of the plastic arts.”

Malraux admitted that in the world of the Imaginary Museum, “the fragment is king.” He even approved of lighting sculpture in certain ways, photographing it from certain angles, to make his points. It is in fact sometimes disturbing to compare the complete work of art with a face or hand that Malraux excised from it; almost invariably the total effect is utterly different. But as long as the Imaginary Museum is not taken as the only place in which to experience art, the technique remains valid and fascinating in that it offers, almost literally, a new sense of sight and in a sense re-emancipates the work of art into the realm of new possibilities hitherto unknown.

Andre Malraux. Image:


Derek Allan:This development took a further step forward with Botticelli. In its exploration of the newly discovered imaginary realm, Malraux argues, art began to call more and more frequently on the mythology of Antiquity whose heroes and goddesses seemed to represent an enduring, privileged world of the imaginary and to offer a ‘repertoire of exalted acts’ befitting such a world. For Botticelli—in his non-religious works at least—it was no longer a question, as it had been with Giotto, of ‘locating without sacrilege a sacred scene in a world resembling that of everyday life’ but instead of creating an earthly realm that rivalled that of the sacred. Thus, the admiration inspired by a painting such as Spring,Malraux writes, like that inspired by Antiquity (and which Antiquity legitimised), is addressed to a demiurge which, for the first time, rivals the Christian demiurge, because for the first time it gives exalted expression to a fiction drawn from the realms of the profane.

—Amsterdam based Visual artist and archivist Tjebbe van Tijen (1944) works since 1988 under the name Imaginary Museum Projects consisting of regular lectures, performances and publications on subjects like social memory, psycho-geography, media history, mapping of human violence and visual language. Especially interesting in this project are the “Museums in our Minds Scrolls” that he is making. To view the strips of images, he build a special wooden viewing device with handles that one had to turn to scroll through the strips, a manual scroll-bar really.

In his celebrated book “Le Musée Imaginaire”, Andre Malraux  developped the idea that the world of reproductions forms a “museum without walls“ a museum in your head. 

One of Tjebbe van Tijen first “actions” was “the continuous drawing” organized by him and students of the London ‘Sigma Centre’ in 1967. The “continuous drawing” came out of a Londen sewer and travelled to The Netherlands. Two parallel lines, continuously branching and looping creating organic forms. —Read More:

…These developments, Malraux contends, conferred on art—and them very word art—both a new function and an unprecedented prestige. The point is crucial to Malraux’s argument. The paintings and mosaics of Byzantium, like the art of other major religions, had given form to a sense of transcendence that preceded them and could be experienced without them. They had drawn their strength, their authority, and their very raison d’être from a faith in another world that pre-existed them.By the time of Botticelli, Malraux argues, there has emerged the first unambiguous depiction of a transcendent world that came into being solely through the artist’s achievement. Christian faith is not as yet under open attack (and Malraux argues that this did not occur until the eighteenth century). Yet through its newly discovered powers, art has now begun to construct an exalted ‘other world’ independent of any pre-existing absolute—a world, as Malraux writes, outside of which ‘man did not fully merit the name man’24 that came into being solely through the power of art itself.

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