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Fantastic Art Revisited: Exhibiting Old Masters and Contemporary Art

A symposium accompanying the exhibition 'Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art'

The Kitchen, 512 W 19th Street, New York

October 27, 12:30 PM

Oliver Tostmann, presenting at Fantastic Art Revisited

Oliver Tostmann, presenting at Fantastic Art Revisited

Fantastic Art Revisited: Exhibiting Old Masters and Contemporary Art is a symposium organized by Nicholas Hall and Yuan Fang, to take place on the closing day of the accompanying exhibition Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Artat David Zwirner. 

The symposium brings into focus the legacy of Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s 1936 MoMA exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism. A key point of reference for Endless Enigma, Barr’s exhibition brought art by Dada and Surrealist artists into the context of what he called ‘fantastic art’ by European Old Masters, whose works displayed unexpected thematic and formal relationships with those of the avant-garde. It was, in fact, one of the earliest modern museum exhibitions to explore the continuous conversation between art of the past and art of the present – a dialogue that has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years across the museum and commercial art world. 

The half-day event will consist of presentations by curators and academics from leading European and American institutions. Divided into two sessions, thepresentations will cover a diverse range of topics referencing a single work, subject or concept touched upon in Endless Enigma; the first session explores the earlier history of fantastic art, while the following session presents topics pertaining to museology and display. Subsequently, presenters will participate in a roundtable discussion about thematic exhibitions that involve the juxtaposition of Old Masters with Contemporary art, offering a critical assessment of the practice and its conceptual basis. At a time when the notion of the universal museum has been called into question and new kinds of art history have been written to provide alternatives to the grand narrative of Modernism, how do thematic shows as such challenge the way we understand art of the past? Do temporary museum exhibitions like the 1936 Fantastic Art show at MoMA and Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)at the Met Breuer (2018) have an effect on the way curators and collectors think about their permanent collections? How can contemporary exhibition practices and methodology influence traditional fields of collecting, which are typically rooted in connoisseurship? What can be extracted from Endless Enigmathat could be informative for the future of Old Masters? Concluding the day will be a chance to view Endless Enigma before the exhibition closes, followed by a private cocktail reception in the exhibition space.   


Session I - Lingering Fantasies: Fantastic Art Across Centuries

Doors open for registration

Nicholas Hall and Yuan Fang

Emma Capron 
2016–18 Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow, The Frick Collection

“Bosch and his Fantastic Past”
Till-Holger Borchert
Director, Musea Brugge, Bruges

Seicento Witches: Between Magic and Melancholy”
Hannah Segrave
Andrew W. Mellon Pre-doctoral Fellow in European Painting, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Monstrous Bodies, Monstrous Fruit: Bosch, Bruegel and Galileo in the Genealogy of Surrealism”  
David Freedberg
Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art and Director of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, Columbia University

      Coffee break


Session II - Fantastic Displays: Old and New in Dialogue

Olivier Berggruen
Independent curator and art historian

“Surrealism and the Old Masters: Counterweights or Amplifiers?The Wadsworth Atheneum as a Laboratory of the Arts”
Oliver Tostmann
Susan Morse Hilles Curator of European Art, Wadsworth Atheneum

“Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism: ‘A Serious Affair’”
Anne Umland
The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art

“Like with Like: Life, Art and Time at Met Breuer”
Luke Syson
Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Chairmanof European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Roundtable Discussion
Moderated by Olivier Berggruen, with selected earlier participants and J. Patrice Marandel, independent art historian and curator

Closing Remarks
Richard Rand
Associate Director for Collections, J. Paul Getty Museum 

Chance to view the exhibition Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art at David Zwirner, 537 W 20th Street, New York

Fantastic Art Revisited: Exhibiting Old Masters & Contemporary Art 
Saturday, October 27, 2018
The Kitchen
512 W 19th Street New York


Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism
December 9, 1936–January 17, 1937
The Museum of Modern Art


Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art
September 12, 2018–October 27, 2018
David Zwirner
537W 20th Street New York



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