Christian von Mechel, The Electoral Picture Gallery at Düsseldorf: Paintings on One of the Walls in the First Gallery, 1775, engraving, 21.3cm x 25.8cm Wellcome Library, London Photo: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0

Page, Canvas, Wall: Visualising the History of Art

Michaela Giebelhausen, PhD, Course Leader, BA Culture, Criticism and Curation, Central St Martins, University of the Arts, London

Also published in Susanna Pettersson (ed.), Inspiration – Iconic Works. Ateneum Publications Vol. 132. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Ateneum Art Museum, 2020, 31–45

In 1909, the Italian poet and founder of the Futurist movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti famously declared, ‘[w]e will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind’.[1] He compared museums to cemeteries, ‘[i]dentical, surely, in the sinister promiscuity of so many bodies unknown to one another… where one lies forever beside hated or unknown beings’. This comparison of the museum with the cemetery has often been cited as an indication of the Futurists’ radical rejection of traditional institutions. It certainly made these institutions look dead. With habitual hyperbole Marinetti claimed: ‘We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!… Why should we look back […]? Time and Space died yesterday.’ The brutal breathlessness of Futurist thinking rejected all notions of a history of art.

This essay considers how the history of art, embodied in art-historical canons, schools, periods, and aesthetic standards, has been conceptualised through writing, the organisation of collections, and the decoration of new museum buildings. It examines some of the moments in which the page, the canvas and the wall offer seminal and selective visualisations of the history of art and deploy notions of time and space that are complex and contradictory, and far from dead.

[1] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. ‘Manifesto of Futurism’, in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory: 1900–1990. Oxford UK and Cambridge US: Blackwell Publishers, 1992, 145–47.

Featured image: Christian von Mechel, The Electoral Picture Gallery at Düsseldorf: Paintings on One of the Walls in the First Gallery, 1775, engraving, 21.3cm x 25.8cm. Wellcome Library, London
Photo: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0

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