The Lecture Project emerged from conversations between Enrique Martínez Celaya and art historian Daniel A. Siedell, and reflects a shared commitment to re-assert the intellectual and ethical responsibilities of art and criticism. Inaugurated in March 2010, the Lecture Project brings twenty prominent thinkers and writers to Martínez Celaya's studio to present formal lectures that address ideas that have influenced the choices artists have made inside and outside the studio.
Lecture 1 - "The Tragedy of Abstract Expressionism"
Daniel A. Siedell | March 17, 2010
In 1952 the critic Harold Rosenberg declared that these new painters had "broken down every distinction between art and life." Yet this breakdown brought with it serious consequences for the practice of painting. "The Tragedy of Abstract Expressionism" explores this darker side of this movement, suggesting that the work of these artists must be regarded as a desperate attempt to acting meaningfully in the world through painting.
Belief in painting can no longer be presumed after Abstract Expressionism. There is no going back to an age of aesthetic innocence. After Kline it must be wrought and wrestled from disbelief, from doubt, from skepticism, from the possibility that the entire project is meaningless, a deception. The problems inherent in postwar painting might very well be due to a failure to recognize this. Re-asserting painting by returning to craft and traditional forms is no alternative. But neither is painting that works in quotations marks, which is "provisional," or "ironic." Painting is now a matter of the will, a form of consciousness, an act of conviction. To paint in an authentic manner after Abstract Expressionism is to wrestle through the night with an angel, knowing not whether it is of light or darkness, and to refuse to let go until a blessing is given. In the process the painter will be wounded and perhaps crippled but will depart blessed."
Daniel A. Siedell, The Tragedy of Abstract Expressionism
Daniel A. Siedell is Director of Whale & Star. Previously he was Professor of modern and contemporary art history, theory, and criticism at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and Director of Special Projects at Whale & Star, Miami, Florida. He was Chief Curator at the Sheldon Museum of Art (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) for eleven years, where he organized numerous exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. He has a B.A. in art history from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, M.A. from SUNY-Stony Brook, and a Ph.D. from The University of Iowa. His dissertation addressed the history, criticism, and theory of Abstract Expressionism. Siedell was recently appointed a Fellow at the Center for the Theology of Cultural Engagement, Portland, Oregon. Among Siedell's many publications on Abstract Expressionism is Weldon Kees and the Arts at Mid-Century (University of Nebraska Press, 2004). His essay "In Search of the Historical Abstract Expressionism" has just been published by the Journal of Aesthetic Education.
Lecture 2 - "Judd's Credible Art"
David Raskin | May 19, 2010
David Raskin is Professor and Chair of Art History, Theory, and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he has taught since 2000. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas-Austin and participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program. His writings have been translated into German, Spanish, and Norwegian, and he has spoken about art in such far-flung venues as Victoria, Cork, Stockholm, and Lincoln.
"Credible art is art that creates possibilities from realities, by which I mean that each work is useful only insofar as it continues to satisfy experience. This open position is scientific, like Popper’s, in that makes judgments about art a matter of trial and error, and social, like Dewey’s, in that truth and reality are what it is reasonable to believe."
David Raskin, Judd's Credible Art
Lecture 3 - "Yves Klein Le Philosophe"
Klaus Ottmann | October 6, 2010
The lecture will attempt to describe the intellectual milieu of one of the most influential artists of our time: Yves Klein, also known as Yves le monochrome, the painter of monochrome blue paintings. Klein was an agitator of ideas, who used his considerable charisma to propagate social change through art. Like most artists, Klein was a “conceptual personality.” When he theorized about his artistic practice, he did so by speculating out of a general milieu that included philosophical, scientific, and political ideas. With his writings and public talks, as with his art, Klein intended to promote his vision of a future of absolute artistic and social freedom and his belief in “le grand Art absolu et total,” the great, absolute, and total Art.
"Klein's exhibition of Le vide (the void) at Galerie Iris Clert in April of 1958 was followed two years later by the now famous photograph of the artist leaping into space. It appeared on the front page of Dimanche– his mock Sunday edition of the Paris newspaper France-Soir–which was sold on newsstands throughout Paris on November 27, 1960."
"Klein’s leap off the projecting ledge of the roof of a house on rue Gentil Bernard in the Parisian suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses in mid-October 1960 – and caught on film by two hired photographers, Harry Shunk and John Kender – was actually preceded by a leap from the second story of the house of the art dealer Colette Allendy on January 12, 1960. This “real” jump was meant to be witnessed by Pierre Restany; however, because he was late, the only witness was Klein’s companion, Bernadette Allain. Due to a bruised ankle, Klein decided to “stage” his second jump by having his fellow judokas hold a tarpaulin to catch him. The subsequent manipulation of the negative at the request of the artist to eliminate the judokas and the tarpaulin prior to publication in Dimanche had a decisive influence on the emergence of postmodern photograph."
"Klein’s leap was a symbolic death that took art into the infinite air of a new freedom, unconstrained by the old rules of academic painting – of lines, nationalism, narrow-minded academism – and toward a sensibility of pictorial immateriality in the name of the void. Klein’s leap at Fontenay-aux-Rose in October 1960 is to be regarded as a decisive act towards becoming another – the immaterial painter. According to Rotraut Klein-Moquay, his last words, spoken by the artist minutes before he died from cardiac arrest at the age of 34 on June 6, 1962, were: I will have the largest studio of the world. From now on, I will only create the immaterial."
Klaus Ottmann, Yves Klein le philosophe
Klaus Ottmann is the Curator-at-Large and Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. He has curated over forty exhibitions, including Life, Love, and Death: The Works of James Lee Byars (2004), Wolfgang Laib: A Retrospective (2000 – 2002), and Still Points of the Turning World: SITE Santa Fe's Sixth International Biennial (July 2006 – January 2007). He is currently working on monographic exhibitions of works by Rackstraw Downes and Jennifer Bartlett for The Parrish Art Museum, scheduled to open in 2010 and 2011. Ottmann received a M.A. in philosophy from the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany in 1980 and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Division of Media and Communications at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland in 2002. He is also the editor-in-chief of Spring Publications, Inc., a small publishing house based in Putnam, Connecticut that specializes in books on psychology, philosophy, religion, mythology and art. His most recent publishing projects include a book on the philosophy of French artist Yves Klein and the first English translation of Philosophy and Religion (1804) by German idealist philosopher F.W.J. Schelling.
Lecture 4 - "David Smith And/In the Landscape"
Karen Wilkin | December 15, 2010
From 1940 until his death in 1965, David Smith lived in the hills above Bolton Landing, near Lake George, in upstate New York. The open landscape framed by wooded hills surrounding his home and studio, "Terminal Iron Works," informs his work in subtle and often unpredictable ways. One of the best known images of Smith shows him seated on the terrace of his house looking at a field studded with his powerful steel constructions; studying his work against the Adirondack landscape was an integral part of his process. More surprisingly, Smith's sculptures often allude directly to landscape, a theme not usually associated with work in three-dimensions. This talk examines the unexpected conversation between Smith's potent abstract constructions in steel and the natural world.
"Some of Smith’s later pieces, when seen outdoors, are like emphatic additions to their surroundings that stamp themselves out against the fields and trees. Smith may have conceived them to interrupt or punctuate the landscape, but it’s clear that he was not content simply to impose himself on nature. In some 1960s works he seems to have chosen to embrace or claim particular portions of his surroundings by incorporating them bodily into his constructions. There are sculptures like elevated frames for landscape views, austere open rings made, like many of Smith’s late works, of stainless steel. He seems to have loved the permanence of stainless, perhaps even its intransigence and obdurate hardness. Most of all, he valued its brilliant surface, its ability to reflect its setting and take on the hues of its surroundings. Stainless offered a way of getting color into sculpture, here the transient hues of the natural world, paradoxically made integral with structure. Outdoors, the stainless sculptures both come alive and become disembodied. The gestural “drawing” with the grinder that enriches their surfaces captures and shatters the light, turning rigid steel structures into ephemeral bursts of radiance."
Karen Wilkin, David Smith And/In the Landscape
Karen Wilkin is a New York-based independent curator and critic, specializing in 20th century modernism. Educated at Barnard College and Columbia University, she was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship, to Rome. Ms. Wilkin is the author of monographs on Stuart Davis, David Smith, Anthony Caro, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Giorgio Morandi, and Hans Hofmann, and has organized exhibitions of their work internationally. She is the Contributing Editor for Art for the Hudson Review and a regular contributor to The New Criterion, Art in America, and The Wall Street Journal.
Ms. Wilkin teaches in the Master of Fine Arts program of the New York Studio School and has lectured at such institutions as the National Gallery, Washington, DC; the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Britain; the Ecole des Beaux-art, Paris; the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and Glimmerglass Opera. Her exhibition, Color as Field: American Painting 1950-1975 organized for the American Federation of Arts, was seen on a year-long tour of the U.S. in 2008-2009. Ms. Wilkin is contributing editor, along with William C. Agee, of the Stuart Davis Catalogue Raisonné, Yale University Press, 2007. Her current projects include a Jules Olitski retrospective for the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, (in collaboration with E.A. Carmean Jr) and touring exhibition, The Four Musketeers of American Modernism: John Graham, Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and their Circle for the Addison Gallery of American Art, Philips Academy, Andover, MA, (in collaboration with William C. Agee and Irving Sandler). A monograph, Anthony Caro: Interior and Exterior, was published by Lund-Humphries, London, this spring, part of a five volume series on Caro, which Ms. Wilkin edited.
Lecture 5 - "'Without Music, Life Would Be an Error': Nietzsche's Musical Philosophy"
Bruce Ellis Benson | January 26, 2011
In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche insists that Socrates would only truly be a philosopher if he were to become a musician. For Nietzsche, music—and all art—reveals what philosophy cannot and affects us in ways that dialectic could never reach. It reveals the tragic, gives us insights, brings us joy, and takes us out of ourselves. By becoming musicians—in a broad sense—we transform ourselves. Although Nietzsche may have called himself an “immoralist”—and certainly didn’t believe in good and evil—he has a strong sense of what it would mean to be “better” human being, through art.
"Music pushes us beyond thought to a place in which we can live. To be caught up in the rapture of music’s ecstasy is the ultimate goal. Thus, we are placed “into the flow” of life, rather than removed from it (as logical or dialectical thinking would do—at least according to Nietzsche). The “thinking” that takes place from that “point of view” is far more able to “grasp” (to whatever extent this is truly possible) what is truly “real” about life. It is from this ecstatic place that we are able to “see” in a more profound way."
Bruce Ellis Benson, Nietzsche’s Musical Philosophy
Bruce Ellis Benson is Professor of Philosophy at Wheaton College and Visiting Professor at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). His philosophical work is influenced by Hegel, Edmund Husserl and Phenomenology, and the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer. He is the co-founder of the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology. Benson has served as Visiting Scholar at the New School for Social Research, New York. He is the author of Pious Nietzsche: Decadence and Dionysian Faith (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Graven Ideologies: Nietzsche, Derrida, and Marion on Modern Idolatry (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2002). He is at work on a study of art and improvisation.
Lecture 6 - "Agnes Martin: On a Clear Day"
Suzanne Hudson | March 23, 2011
This lecture will discuss the American artist Agnes Martin, focusing in particular on her monumental print series, On A Clear Day--a work notable for its formal and biographical significance, as it represents her return to art-making after a hiatus of many years. Well known as a Minimalist for her finely drawn grids, Martin was nonetheless born the same year as Jackson Pollock; she understood the Abstract Expressionist ethos to be much closer to her work than that of the generation through which her work found its audience. Martin's relationship to questions of the incorporation of subject matter and the form that creative expression assumes will be explored in relation to these broader contextualizations.
"Even more broadly, my work stands against a high modernist depoliticization of form; I mean to recover the congruence of Martin’s project with the repoliticiziation of nature and the recasting of spirituality in the 1960s and 1970s, raising questions of what do we do with the experience of nature as something sensory and felt but also political and even collective. And, how can we think about such questions in relation to abstraction?"
Suzanne Hudson, Agnes Martin, On A Clear Day
Suzanne Hudson is assistant professor of modern and contemporary art history at the University of Southern California. She is cofounder of the Contemporary Art Think Tank and president of the Society of Contemporary Art Historians, an affiliate society of the College Art Association. In addition to her work as an art historian, she is an active critic whose work has appeared in international exhibition catalogues and such publications as Parkett, Flash Art, and Art Journal; she is also a regular contributor to Artforum. Hudson published Robert Ryman: Used Paint (MIT Press) in 2009 and is currently at work on a manuscript dealing with abstraction and spirituality in 1960s America, as well as Contemporary Art: 1989–Present, coauthored and coedited with Alexander Dumbadze (forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell in 2012).
Lecture 7 - "Arshile Gorky and Abstract Expressionism: A Contested Story"
Michael R. Taylor | May 18, 2011
This lecture will explore Arshile Gorky’s complex and often misunderstood relationship with the Abstract Expressionist movement. The initial reception of Gorky’s work after his death in 1948 paved the way for his gradual assimilation into the canon of Abstract Expressionism as it was formed in the 1950s by, among others, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Thomas Hess, Sam Hunter, and Dore Ashton. Gorky’s work was acclaimed by these critics and art historians as an important precursor to the large-scale abstract paintings of his friends and colleagues, such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Although universally accepted at the time, this reading of Gorky’s work has been contested in recent years, since it deliberately downplays the artist’s longstanding allegiance to Surrealism during his lifetime, leading to a fundamental misreading of his work and its meaning.
"Despite Gorky’s keen interest and active participation in the Surrealist movement during the 1940s the literature on the artist has remained remarkably ambivalent about his allegiance to the group. This slippage in the critical reception can partially be explained through the cultural nationalism of the American critics associated with Abstract Expressionism, most notably Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, and Thomas B. Hess, who in the 1950s began to champion Gorky’s work as an authentically American form of abstraction. In his influential 1951 study of the development of abstraction in Western art, Abstract Painting: Background and American Phase, Hess published the first extensive account of the new movement and positioned Gorky as a precursor to Abstract Expressionism while omitting any reference to his ties to Surrealism."
"The earliest memoirs and critical appraisals of Gorky’s life and work were, for the most part, written by American artists and writers who knew him in the 1930s, including his student Ethel K. Schwabacher, his friend and former pupil Willem de Kooning, and his onetime ally Stuart Davis. These artists had little or no interest in Surrealism and were thus not part of Gorky’s circle of friends and supporters in the 1940s, having been supplanted by new friends and colleagues, such as Breton, Duchamp, Ernst, Lam, Matta, and Tanguy. Indeed, de Kooning and Davis were openly hostile to Breton’s exiled group and sought to diminish Gorky’s role in the Surrealist movement. Their accounts of the artist focused instead on his noble and often larger-than-life persona during the tough years of the Great Depression, when he first revealed himself to be an eclectic, virtuoso painter in both figurative and abstract modes. It was during this period of self-abnegation that Gorky inspired others through his steadfast commitment to his craft, despite his impoverished circumstances, and came to embody the romantic notion of the bohemian avant-garde painter who sacrifices everything for his art."
Michael R. Taylor, Arshile Gorky and Abstract Expressionism: A Contested History
Michael R. Taylor is Director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. He was previously Muriel and Philip Berman Curator of Modern Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His most recent exhibitions at the Museum include Picasso and the Avant-Garde in Paris (2010); Marcel Duchamp: Etant donnés (2009); Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective (2009); Salvador Dalí: The Centennial Retrospective (2005); and Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne (2002). Dr. Taylor studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, where he wrote a masters thesis on Richard Hamilton and a doctoral dissertation on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. He has published widely on Duchamp, Dada, and Surrealism. In 2009 he co-curated with Carlos Basualdo the Bruce Nauman exhibition at the American Pavilion for the 53rd Venice Biennale (winner of the Golden Lion award for best national pavilion). Future projects include an exhibition on Surrealism in the 1940s that focuses on myth, magic, and eroticism. In 2010 Dr. Taylor’s book Marcel Duchamp: Etant donnés won the George Wittenborn Prize for outstanding research and scholarship in the field of art history.
Lecture 8 - “Private Pain, Public Witness: The Sculpture and Installations of Doris Salcedo”
Mary Schneider-Enriquez | December 7, 2011
Doris Salcedo creates sculptures and installations incorporating simple domestic furniture as the vehicle through which she addresses the societal rupture resulting from the violence afflicting countless countries. With no evident narrative, Salcedo’s sculptures using chairs, tables and chests, some filled with cement, some shrouded by intricate weavings of hair and threads, some constructed and carved of stainless steel, convey the horrific consequences of violent conflict from her Colombian homeland, to Bosnia, the Mideast and beyond. This talk will explore Salcedo’s trajectory beginning with her earliest works using mundane domestic furniture such as chairs and tables, to her Untitled series of cement-filled, haunting assemblages of, for example, a bureau, bed and chair, her Unland series of tables, her politically-charged performance, Nov. 6-7 from 2002 of 280 chairs slowly cascading over the outside walls of the Colombian Supreme Court building, her stainless steel works at Documenta XI, and most recently, her installation, Plegaria Muda 2009-10, touring internationally this year and next. This lecture will probe and unravel the manner in which Salcedo conjures an enduring statement to the searing effects of societal violence, in work at once familiar and unsettling, in a language devoid of vivid, visual clues or narrative details.
Mary Schneider-Enriquez is Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Harvard Art Museum. She previously served as Latin American art advisor to the Art Museum since 2002 and visiting lecturer in fine arts at Brandeis University. She has served as a member of the Advisory Committee for Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies since 1995 and has been a member of the Board of Trustees at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, since 1999.
She is also a member of the Harvard Art Museum’s World Visuality Committee, a group dedicated to addressing societies and their artistic traditions that have previously been underrepresented at Harvard. Schneider-Enriquez has written extensively over the last sixteen years for Art News, ArtNexus and Art in America. She has curated numerous exhibitions of Latin American artists, including the Chilean artist Robert Matta and numerous survey exhibitions.
Lecture 9 - "Fooled Again: Trompe l'oeil Revisited"
Ivan Gaskell | January 11, 2012
Now that abstraction in various forms has held sway during much of the last hundred years, representational art does not have the authority it once had. However, many people are still fascinated by the capacity of art to represent things we not only cannot see or can only imagine—gods, angels, demons, unicorns, mermaids—but things we encounter in everyday life. People have long taken pleasure not only in representations of such things that are self-evidently hand-made—paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures—but in representations in which evidence of human making is not immediately apparent. In such cases, the artist provokes the viewer to mistake the representation for the thing represented itself. In this lecture, Ivan Gaskell looks at such deceptive phenomena in Western art practice, and asks what might actually be going on when we look at such pictures—the trompe l’oeil that fools the eye.
Ivan Gaskell is Professor of Cultural History and Museum Studies at the Bard Graduate Center, New York City, where he also Head of the Focus Project, coordinating research, teaching, exhibiting, and publishing. His work on material culture addresses intersections among history, art history, anthropology, museology, and philosophy. His many publications include Vermeer's Wager: Speculations on Art History, Theory, and Art Museums, and six co-edited books in the series Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and the Arts. He has contributed to numerous journals and edited volumes, and has curated many experimental exhibitions. He regularly writes contemporary art reviews for artUS.
Lecture 10 - "Kiefer in Barjac"
Matthew Biro | May 16, 2012 at 7:00 PM
Between 1993 and 2007, “La Ribaute,” Anselm Kiefer’s studio-estate in Barjac, France, also became his most developed artwork, the site where the artist created, collected, and re-imagined his art, while working with a fluctuating team of assistants. A former silk factory on a hill that Kiefer transformed into a vast complex of living spaces, studios,workshops, and storage facilities, it was also an environment in which he created a new type of “land art” consisting gigantic concrete structures, some reduced to postwar-like ruins, amidst the rural French countryside. Because of its monumentality, its environmental and experiential qualities, and the fact that it synthetized multiple media, “La Ribaute,” has been called a “Gesamtkunstwerk,” Kiefer’s total work of art. This assessment is, as we shall see, correct, but with qualifications, which need to be drawn from the concept’s history.
Matthew Biro is Chair and Professor in the Department of the History of Art and the University of Michigan. Originally trained as a continental philosopher, he came to art history through an interest in aesthetics and visual thinking. He is the author of two books, Anselm Kiefer and the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger (New York and London: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and The Dada Cyborg: Visions of the New Human in Weimar Berlin (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), and his articles on modern and contemporary art and philosophy have appeared in Art History, the Yale Journal of Criticism, RES, Art Criticism, and New German Critique, among other places. His reviews of contemporary art, film, and photography have appeared in Artforum, Contemporary, Art Papers, The New Art Examiner, and he has also written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Clio, CAA Reviews, and the European Legacy. He is currently working on a book about the photographer Robert Heinecken.
Lecture 11 - "Hegel on Tragedy"
Julian Young | September 12, 2012 at 7:00 PM
Taking Antigone as his paradigm, Hegel views great tragedy as the articulation and resolution of ethical dilemmas. I look at the elements of this theory: “ethical substance,” the tragic conflict, the tragic flaw, and the tragic “resolution.” And then I defend the theory against a number of criticisms: that in ignoring “catharsis” the theory is excessively intellectual, that it ignores the central role of fate in Greek tragedy, that in proposing a “resolution” it misses the essence of the “tragic vision,” and that there must be something wrong with a theory that denies tragic greatness to Shakespeare.
Julian Young is the Kenan Professor of Humanities at Wake Forest University. He is the author of ten books, mostly on nineteenth- and twentieth-century German philosophy, as well as The Death of God and the Meaning of Life. His most recent work is Friedrich Nietzsche: a Philosophical Biography. He has appeared on radio and television in Ireland, New Zealand and the USA, and has written for the Guardian, the New York Times and Harper's Magazine. He is currently completing The Philosophy of Richard Wagner, and plans a book on tragedy.
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