[FINISHED] Préhistomania

17 November 2023 to 20 may 2024
The exhibition is now over.

Experience the human adventure of discovering prehistoric art. An exhibition that traces the fabulous history of truly unique works of art!

The exhibition

At the beginning of the 20th century, scientists, intellectuals and artists set out on a quest to discover the origins of humankind. Theirs was a fascinating adventure into the heart of the artistic universe of the earliest humans.

Prehistoric art, and more particularly cave and rock art, captivated an entire society. Paintings from caves and rock shelters all over the world came to light, bursting onto the scene at the most prestigious museums of modern and contemporary art, in particular thanks to surveys.

The surveys were works of art in their own right! Produced as part of expeditions by ethnologists and prehistorians, they trace the state of a wall and a type of figuration at a given time. Most were done by women. Though often forgotten, these artists helped to bring the public pictorial works from caves that were otherwise difficult to access.

© MNHN - F. Dubos

This work is now featured in the exhibition. Roughly a hundred surveys—some as long as 15 metres—paintings, drawings, archives and photographs will lead you down the path of discovery of those who recorded them. Discover the milestones in the spread of this global art form, which continues to influence artistic creation, research and the human imagination even in the present day.

Your visit

The journey begins with a global overview of rock art. Enter the caves in the footsteps of the men and women who explored them, see emblematic surveys and experience the aesthetic shock that rocked the world at the start of the last century.

To understand how these surveys were recorded, proceed to the next leg of the journey. From the Sahara to southern Africa, follow the missions of Frobenius, Breuil, Lhote and Bailloud, thanks to a wealth of works and personal objects from the collections of the Frobenius Institute and the Musée de l'Homme.

On returning from their expeditions, these surveys were immediately published and exhibited. Two exhibitions—one at the Musée d’ethnographie du Trocadéro (1933) and another at MoMA in New York (1937)—marked a turning point in their history. Relive these historic events and admire avant-garde works that resonate with the recorded works.

The final period began in the 1940s. From that point forward, the public's relationship with rock art changed: it became more readily accessible and the surveys faded from sight. While researchers today continue to do surveys and study rock art, what public role might such records play in an age of life-size cave reconstructions and augmented reality?

Silhouettes de mains et pieds, relevé d'Albert Hahn (expédition Frobenius), Papouasie, 1937 (224 x 490 cm)

© Institut Frobenius, Francfort-sur-le-Main


Scientific Committee 

  • Richard Kuba, researcher and curator of collections at the Frobenius Institute, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main; 
  • Jean-Louis Georget, professor of German civilisation and the history of anthropology, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris; 
  • Egídia Souto, lecturer in African literature and art history, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris. 

Exhibition curation

  • Marie Mourey, conception and production supervisor, exhibition co-curator..

Mécènes et partenaires

Exposition réalisée par le Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle - Musée de l'Homme en partenariat avec l'Institut Frobenius pour la recherche en anthropologie culturelle. 

Ce projet est soutenu par la Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian – Délégation en France, qui l’a cofinancé dans le cadre du programme EXPOSITIONS GULBENKIAN pour soutenir l’art portugais au sein des institutions artistiques françaises.

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