Robert Kehl

Robert Kehl M.A.

Doctoral Researcher

Research Project

History as Art—Document, Relics, and Witness in Art Since 1980


One main consequence of the concept of cultural memory is the de-centering of historiography with respect to its grasp of the past. History, according to this concept, is a conventional outcome of processes of negotiation within numerous social fields, whose vanishing point of conflicts and needs is always their own present-day. The modern postulate of artistic autonomy—in either a functional or a formal-aesthetic sense—presupposes this view, by virtue of the diverse, posited differences of art: the maxims, for instance, of scientific objectivity, of logical rigor, of historiographic factual accuracy, of the strict differentiation between reality and fiction, and so on, should no longer be conceded authority and historical events often only come into play by implication. But how, then, can such art claim supra-subjective relevance? What is history, as art?

The intention of this doctoral project is to concretize this question in two ways: firstly, the focus on contemporary artistic strategies concerning the treatment of documents, witness, and relics constitutes a test case that will make it possible to measure the distance to historiography (for the latter are its prime objects). Secondly, artistic engagement with National Socialism and the Shoah will form the fulcrum of the work, because it is precisely in this connection that art is (or is not) believed to have particular representational capacities.


Robert Kehl studied Art History, Gender Studies and Philosophy at the Freie Universität, Berlin, the Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, and at the Università La Sapienza in Rome; his MA thesis was on processes of historical reference in the painting of Luc Tuymans. 2006–11: Staff member at Visitor Service at the Jewish Museum Berlin. 2010–12: Student assistant at the Chair of the Art of Africa (Prof. Dr. Tobias Wendl) and at the research project “Medialisierungen der Aktionskunst von Joseph Beuys” (Prof. Dr. Klaus Krüger / Dr. Matthias Weiß). Since July 2012: Doctoral researcher at the Centre for Advances Studies BildEvidenz.

Research Interests

  • History and memory in contemporary art
  • The performative art of Joseph Beuys
  • The genesis of the autonomous portrait in the early modern period



Robert Kehl

Center for Advanced Studies BildEvidenz

Arnimallee 10
14195 Berlin

Room 109
Tel.: +49(0)30-838-57638