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transcended rock art on paper

Prehistory also has its Brueghel the Elder, who, millennia ago, took as his canvas the walls of the Makumbe cave, in Zimbabwe. In 1929, the German anthropologist Leo Frobenius (1873-1938) commissioned the painter Joachim Lutz to reproduce these frescoes. One of these surveys, monumental, teeming with human figures and animals, is one of the centerpieces of the “Préhistomania” exhibition, which has just opened at the Musée de l’homme in Paris.

The curators drew from two exceptional collections. On the one hand, in that of the Frobenius Institute, in Frankfurt am Main, where some 8,000 records made during the numerous expeditions of its founder, Leo Frobenius, are kept. An explorer at heart, he knew how to surround himself with talented artists, including many women trained in the Fine Arts.

On the other hand, they took from the National Museum of Natural History’s own funds. First the countless sketches of Abbot Breuil (1877-1961), pope of prehistory, who tirelessly travels through the decorated caves of France and elsewhere. Then the rolls of Canson paper by Henri Lhote (1903-1991), lover of the green Sahara and its luxuriant Neolithic fauna. And, finally, the solitary Gérard Bailloud (1919-2010), who ventures “on the borders of Chad” in 1956 and brought back some formidable ocher paintings.

Resonance with contemporary creation

The exhibition, through which we discover prehistoric art from around the world, and not just “classics” like the bison of Altamira, is not intended to answer two burning questions, warns Jean-Louis Georget (Sorbonne-Nouvelle), one of the commissioners: “When do the works reproduced date from and what is their significance? »

“The great god of Sefar”, survey (7.5x4m) carried out in Tassili n'Ajjer (Algeria) by Henri Lhote's teams, in the 1950s-1960s.

Rather, indicates Richard Kuba, curator of the Frobenius collections, it aims to resurrect the “visual shock” generated by the hanging of these records in museums from the 1920s; and the way in which these hybrid objects, at once scientific documents, archives and original works, were able to resonate with contemporary artistic creation.

“Prehistomania” thus traces their confrontation with modern art when, in 1937, the MoMA in New York had brought together one hundred and fifty prehistoric records, from a purely aesthetic point of view. She herself brings them into dialogue with works by Paul Klee, Jean Arp and current artists. “Humans are sometimes reduced to a line, to a symbol”underlines Egidia Souto, co-curator of the exhibition. “The abstract and the concrete are there from the beginning, forty-five thousand years ago”recalls Richard Kuba.

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