Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin

17 Mar — 6 Aug 2017 at The Jewish Museum in New York, United States

Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Jewish Museum
Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Jewish Museum
14 DEC 2016

This exhibition of contemporary artworks presents photography, video, sculpture, and painting seen through the lens of influential philosopher Walter Benjamin’s magnum opus The Arcades Project.

The German Jewish writer Walter Benjamin (1892–1940), one of the most important philosophers and cultural critics of the twentieth century, began The Arcades Project in 1927 as a short piece about Paris's nineteenth-century iron-and-glass vaulted shopping passages. With their labyrinthine architecture and surrealistic juxtapositions of disparate objects and people, past and present, the arcades offered an ideal prism through which to examine the era’s capitalist metropolis and the phenomenon of modernity that had its origins there. Benjamin worked extensively on his manuscript, which grew into a sprawling compendium of quotations, reflections, and notes. When he was forced to flee Paris to escape Nazi persecution, he entrusted it to his friend Georges Bataille. Some years after Benjamin’s untimely death, the text was discovered and published.

The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin will explore The Arcades Project and its ongoing relevance through works of contemporary art representing the subjects of each of the book's thirty-six chapters. Featuring work by artists including Walead Beshty, Andrea Bowers, Chris Burden, Lee Friedlander, Andreas Gursky, Mike Kelley, Collier Schorr, Cindy Sherman, Taryn Simon, and Mungo Thomson, among others, the exhibition will combine archival material from the Walter Benjamin archive in Berlin, architectural models, and artwork to evoke the elaborate structure of Benjamin's text. New works by Nicholas Buffon, Haris Epamanimoda and Daniel Gustav Cramer, Sanya Kantarovsky, and Adam Pendleton will also be included.

Transposing Benjamin’s arcades to the galleries of the Museum, the exhibition invites the visitor to take on the role of the flâneur, the archetypal leisured city dweller who strolled through Paris at ease, coolly attentive and open to happenstance. In addition to traditional wall labels, the poet Kenneth Goldsmith will annotate each work with appropriated texts, extending Benjamin’s reflection on Paris as the capital of the nineteenth century into New York as the capital of the twentieth.