Carl Einstein champions the “primitive” (1925)

Carl Einstein (1885-1940) was a German-Jewish historian and art critic who is well-known for championing and promoting modernist art. Like many modernists, he was impressed with new discoveries that pointed to a long tradition of sophisticated arts and culture in Africa (LINK to Frobenius or Benin Bronze page). He fought in the First World War and spent much of it working in the colonial office of occupied Belgium, where he had the opportunity to research African art and legends collected by colonial authorities. As the cover to his collection of African fairy tales illustrates, he was interested in wild myths that would help readers escape the stifling conventions of modern civilization. Through his interest in African myths and sculpture, Einstein was important both for introducing modernist artists to non-western forms and for fetishing “primitive” cultural artifacts as something fundamentally foreign.  

Jeff Bowersox


Einstein Afrik Legenden for website


Source: Carl Einstein, Afrikanische Legenden (Berlin: E. Rowohlt, 1925).


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