“Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?”

View of “Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?,” 2010, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Background: Reconstructed panels from Aby Warburg’s “Mnemosyne Atlas,” 1924–29. Foreground: Anonymous Roman statue of Atlas, ca. 49 BC. Photo: Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores.

LONG FABLED as the father of iconology—indeed, of modern art history—Aby Warburg has of late assumed the role of its crazy uncle. In contradistinction to the plodding, fact-finding, tamed iconography that followed in his wake in the early twentieth century, in recent years Warburg has been revalorized as advancing a radical anachronism, discontinuity, and antipositivist turn in the understanding of images and objects. A leading figure in this revival is Georges Didi-Huberman, who in 2002 published a major study of the visionary German art historian and is a curator of one of the past year’s most curious and fascinating exhibitions: “Atlas—How to Carry the World on One’s Back?,” which premiered at Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and then traveled to the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany, where I saw it this summer. (It is currently on view at the Sammlung

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