Conference: Eccentric, realist, populist, procedural: the politics of figuration in American Art 1929-1980.

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Datum/Zeit
Date(s) - 18/05/2018 - 19/05/2018
Ganztägig

Veranstaltungsort
Dorotheenstraße 26, 10117 Berlin, Hörsaal 207

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Terra Foundation for American Art events in Berlin:

 

Conference

Eccentric, realist, populist, procedural: the politics of figuration
in American Art 1929-1980.

18th and 19th May 2018, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Keynote speakers: Darby English and Andrew Hemingway

This conference addresses figuration in American art as a broad tendency that encompasses representational approaches as well as artworks that are underpinned by the human figure in a procedural sense, even where the body might appear obscure or highly mediated. Through the periodisation of this conference, the aim is to address figuration in relation to various flashpoints of social crisis in the United States, beginning with the impetus towards realism and its variants including social surrealism during the Depression, and then traversing towards the mid-century moment when American abstract art gained global prominence at the onset of the Cold War. Despite marking an apparent erasure of the figure, we know that non-representational artworks continued to be read in relation to the body in the 1950s-1960s, whether positively as in Harold Rosenberg’s analysis of action painting, or negatively as in Michael Fried’s accusations of a lurking anthropomorphism within minimalist sculpture. Through the 1960s and 1970s, the figure persisted in a whole range of new painting, sculpture and performance practices from Ed Kienholz’s assemblages to Romare Bearden’s collages to Paul Thek’s wax sculptures to Senga Nengudi’s R.S.V.P. series, all of which went beyond a strictly representational or realist paradigm and instead sought out mimetic and/or highly mediated ways of approaching the figure. Moreover, the post-war period also raises questions of geography and artists’ groups, such as the dogged persistence of artists working with eccentric and skewed forms of figuration in Chicago from the 1950s.

Across this fifty year period, the meaning and critical purchase of figuration became a contested ground for debate. On the one hand, it was associated with regression and the irrational, and on the other, with progress and the rational. Although such views cannot be assigned a fixed political value, figuration does not stand as a neutral category within this history. This conference seeks to explore such issues in relation to the various struggles over who counts as human during this period, and to consider how artists working with the figure engaged with this, in both reactionary and critical modes. How did figuration act as a means to humanise, or conversely de-humanise individuals and social groups? Such debates took shape within a variety of politico-historical conjunctures, from the leftist Cultural Front to the black arts movement, from Cold War debates around humanism to artists producing work in opposition to the Vietnam War. And following on from this, how has representation of the human figure frequently been situated as a responsibility to bear, or conversely, a burden to shed, within struggles around race, class, sexuality and gender in the United States?

Contact: Dr. Larne Abse Gogarty
larne.abse.gogarty@hu-berlin.de

Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow
Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
Georgenstraße 47, Room 3.28
Postal address: Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin
Tel: 030. 2093-66235