Carl Einstein (Neuwied, Germany, 1895 - Lestelle-Betharram, France, 1940) is probably the least classical art historians of the twentieth century. Einstein was one of the most relevant and multifaceted personalities of the twentieth century artistic avant-garde. His books, articles and essays were key pieces to the critical study of the avant-garde and the fostering of the study and promotion of art history in the past century. Einstein worked as a novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, art and literature critic as well as the author of a screenplay. However, it is in the field of art history that he is found to be among the most interesting innovators; Apollinaire said he had "one of the most perceptive minds." In his numerous texts he gave expression to the introduction of African art in the West, or the approval of Cubism as a full movement.
His intellectual work, rediscovered in recent decades, is being honoured at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in the first international exhibition that provides a visual overview of Einstein’s work, a key figure in the visual arts, but also of literature, theatre, film and political action. The purpose of the exhibition The Invention of the 20th Century. Carl Einstein and the Avant-garde is to offer a visual overview of Einstein’s intellectual work. For this, pieces have been collected by the most important artists of the last century who knew Einstein, with whom he worked and/or on whose careers he contemplated and wrote about. The one hundred and twenty pieces bring together, among others, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, George Grosz, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Paul Klee, Otto Dix, Hans Arp and Paul Klee.
The exhibition is organised into sections on African art -pieces that are reproduced in his famous 'Negerplastik' from 1915- Dadaism, and Verismo, Cubism, Surrealism and on the role of the arts during the Spanish Civil War, as Einstein was involved in the conflict as a war technician in 1936.
The pieces are accompanied by documentary material about his art writings, most notably El arte del siglo XX (1926), a work that made him one of the leading historians of the avant-garde, and the magazine Documents (1929-30), about the surrealist movement. As a result the exhibition becomes a retrospective of the history of art from that century through the eyes of the central figure of thought.