Modernity meets Prehistory

Modernity meets Prehistory

Where do the origins of art lie? The German ethnologist Leo Frobenius pursued this question at the beginning of the 20th century. In more than two dozen expeditions he and his team explored the cave art in Europe, Africa and Asia. Lászlo Almásy is probably Frobenius’ best-known travel companion. The Hungarian explorer discovered the "Cave of the Swimmers", which subsequently gained undreamed-of fame in the 1996 film adaptation of »The English Patient«.

Among the expedition teams were many artists. They produced over 8,000 painted copies of these sensational images that take us 20,000 years into the past. Today, they are still in the possession of the Frobenius Institute in Frankfurt am Main.

For modern artists, the discovery of the cave art was a crucial experience. Many were inspired by these primordial beginnings of art. They adopted abstracted shapes and other stylistic means of rock art and were convinced that thus the anthropological core of art could be approximated. Alfred H. Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, recognised this connection between modernism and prehistory and was the first to exhibited the Frobenius Collection together with works of contemporary art in 1937.

The exhibition »The Big Bang of Art« is presented in cooperation with the Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt, and once more looks into this artistic discourse. Around 80 historic copies of rock paintings enter into a dialogue with works of modern art. Among them are works of Joseph Beuys, who described himself as a "reborn cave artist" and whose largest work complex, the “Block Beuys”, resides in the Landesmuseum Darmstadt.

Furthermore, works by Joan Miró, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Hans Arp, Willi Baumeister and André Masson are set in relation to the atmospheric cave art, including paintings from Altamira in Spain and from the famous »Cave of the Swimmers« in south-western Egypt.

The exhibition takes us into an archaic visual world familiar to many from the Hollywood film »The English Patient«. In it the »Cave of the Swimmers« is the magical site of a great, tragic love affair between the above-mentioned Hungarian explorer Ladislaus (Lászlo) Almásy and the British Katharine Clifton, who accompanies Almásy's expedition to the Gilf-el-Kebir Plateau for the Royal Geographical Society.

Original paints and painting utensils from the Frobenius expedition in 1933, found on site during subsequent excavations, will be on display.

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Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt
Friedensplatz 1
64283 Darmstadt


Dr. Martin Faass
Dr. Jessica Schmidt 


24 March until 25 June 2023


12 Euro, reduced 8 Euro
Group Rate: 10 Euro

Children and youths up to 18 years have free admission



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