Katja Müller-Helle

Geöffneter Geigenkorpus, Geigenbauwerstatt Bölli, Wien

Opened violine corpus, violin workshop Bölli, Vienna

Dr. Katja Müller-Helle

Postdoctoral Researcher

Research Project

Orchestrated Destruction—Transgressions of Avant-Garde Culture

Rebellion, transgression, and scandals are the normal conditions of avant-garde culture. The jarring sequence of events that saw everything—from paintings to museums—coming under attack, not only staked out the battlefield of artistic autonomy, it also set the theorems of the avant-garde, such as art’s release into daily life or the transgression of the boundaries of the art object in social praxis. These theorems will be analyzed on the basis of an extreme case where transgression becomes destruction—that is to say, the demolition of musical instruments in avant-garde culture.

When Nam June Paik, Arman, or Philip Corner destroyed classical instruments in rigorously composed actions, with the later prospect of their demonstrating this transgression in musealized relics, and when these are subjected to theoretical, historiographic classification as objects of transgression, the project of material destruction becomes a complex process of Evidenz-creation involving object, picture, notation and museum. In practices of destruction, misuse, reframing, and recombination musical instruments are treated as material repositories of culture; at the same time, as vehicles for affect, anti-bourgeois critique, or transgressive states of consciousness, they become part of a history of theory of excess.

Accordingly, this research project does not make the presumption that Evidenz is simply given, as an anthropological constant. The production of Evidenz is understood here as a process by which objects—in the moment of their destruction­—become their own anti-image and, in their subsequent documentation, musealization, and theoretization, illuminate processes of Evidenz-creation, which is seen in a whole spectrum of events, from the smashing of the tail-piece of a guitar to its reinterpretation as a theoretical figure of transgression.


Dr. Katja Müller-Helle studied Art History and German Philology in Bonn, London (UCL), and Berlin. 2002: Intern at the Department of Prints and Drawings of the British Museum, London. 2005: Research at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence (Max Planck). 2006: MA in Art History at the Humboldt-Universität, Berlin. 2007–10: PhD research fellowship at the research group “Senses—Technology—Mise-en-Scene” at the University of Vienna. 2009: Research at the History of Art Department at Columbia University, New York. 2010–12: Research scholar at the Department for Art History, Freie Universität, Berlin, Chair of Prof. Dr. Peter Geimer. 2012: Prize for art criticism awarded by C/O-Berlin—International Forum For Visual Dialogues (Talents 29). 2012: PhD (summa cum laude) awarded by the Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte at the Humboldt-Universität, Berlin; dissertation: “Fotografische Zeitspeicher. Eine Imaginationsgeschichte der Bewegungsfotografie bei Auguste Chevallier, Camille Flammarion und Anton Giulio Bragaglia.” Since January 2013: Postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies BildEvidenz. From December 2014 till August 2015 and from January till March 2018 Fellowship at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Research Interests

  • History and theory of photography
  • Historiography of early movement photography
  • History of the theory of pictorial imagination
  • Destruction art


Katja Müller-Helle (ed.), The Legacy of Transgressive Objects, Berlin: August Verlag 2019. http://www.augustverlag.de/de/catalog/legacy-transgressive-objects/

Transgression als Passion. Akustische (Selbst-)Überschreitungen in Kunst und Popkultur seit 1960, in: Verhaltensdesign. Technologische und ästhetische Programme der 1960er und 1970er Jahre, hrsg. von Jeannie Moser und Christina Vagt, Bielefeld: transcript 2018, S. 25-39.
Online abrufbar unter: https://www.transcript-verlag.de/978-3-8376-4206-3/verhaltensdesign/

Black Box Photography, in: PhotoResearcher, Journal of the European Society for the History of Photography, Nr. 29, 2018, S. 24-33.

Zeitspeicher der Fotografie. Zukunftsbilder 1860-1913, Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink 2017.

Review in: CAA Reviews, April 10, 2018: http://caareviews.org/reviews/3191#.W6k9qlKLlE5 Medienwissenschaft: Rezensionen, Nr. 2-3, 2018: https://archiv.ub.uni-marburg.de/ep/0002/article/view/7880/7682 r:k:m-Journal, 9. Februar 2018: http://www.rkm-journal.de/archives/20971

Trick 17. Mediengeschichten zwischen Zauberkunst und Wissenschaft, Lüneburg: Meson Press 2016. (with Jan Müggenburg, Florian Sprenger and Sebastian Vehlken)

→ Complete list of publications


Katja Müller-Helle

Center for Advanced Studies BildEvidenz

Arnimallee 10
14195 Berlin

Image credit: Archive Katja Müller-Helle