Lisa Saltzman

October 7, 5:30 pm

There is a piece by Paul Klee, the Angelus Novus, of 1920. That it is known and known not as the “new angel” but as “the angel of history,” is largely thanks to the work of the German-Jewish philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin, who, having conjured the image in prose in the posthumously published, influential essay, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” anchored it in our collective imaginations.   For no one saw more of the picture than Benjamin. Soon after acquiring the Angelus from Klee’s Munich dealer in 1921, the little work on paper became one of Benjamin’s most precious of possessions.  So cherished was Klee’s Angelus that Benjamin mounted it above his writing desk in Berlin. Later, it was among the few belongings, beyond his own unfinished manuscripts, that he took with him in his battered briefcase when fleeing Nazi Germany. And in 1940, it was among the few items that he entrusted to a friend for safekeeping as he prepared to flee Paris, fearing that he might not survive the exilic existence into which the Third Reich had propelled him.

Klee’s Angelus is now safely housed in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, after a long journey that began in Paris, where Benjamin entrusted the picture to Georges Bataille, who bequeathed it to Theodor Adorno, who sent it to Gershom Scholem, in what was then still Palestine, whose widow donated it to the museum in 1987.  Few have since seen the actual picture, as it is too delicate to be on view. That said, by total chance, Lisa Saltzman, Professor, and Chair of History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, got to see Klee’s Angelus several years ago.  And all that emerged from that encounter inspired her to embark on a new project, one which begins with mining the stories we have inherited, and the stories we continue to tell, about Klee’s fragile little picture. Saltzman’s talk at The Athenaeum will take us into those stories.  And, in so doing, it will also provide a glimpse of the larger project inspired by that serendipitous encounter with Klee’s little picture, also featured in a photograph by Trevor Paglen, currently on view in his exhibition "Vision After Seeing" at the Athenaeum. 

Lisa Saltzman is a Professor of History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. She received her BA from Princeton in 1988 and her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1994.  She has received fellowships from the DAAD, the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, the Clark Art Institute, and the Guggenheim Foundation.   

At Bryn Mawr, she teaches courses in modern and contemporary art and, from 2003-2009, served as the Director of the Center for Visual Culture.  Saltzman is the author of Anselm Kiefer and Art after Auschwitz (Cambridge University Press, 1999), Making Memory Matter: Strategies of Remembrance in Contemporary Art (University of Chicago Press, 2006), and Daguerreotypes: Fugitive Subjects, Contemporary Objects (University of Chicago Press, 2015) and is the co-editor, with Eric Rosenberg, of Trauma and Visuality in Modernity (University Press of New England, 2006).

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