Graduate Seminar: Crisis and Figuration: Art and the Politics of the Body
This seminar investigates the issue of figuration in modern art, in particular through interwar European art (1918-1940) and the so-called “return to order”—although we will also consider the questions of figuration, representation, and embodiment in an expanded chronological and geographical frame. The “return to order” has long seen as a harbinger, and servant, of totalitarian politics, this facet of modernism has over the past decade come in for a reevaluation. Taking advantage of this recent wave in revisionist studies of interwar art, we will consider the relationship of abstraction to figuration within modernism and, more broadly, modernism’s relationship with the human body, from both the left and the right. Drawing on works in a wide variety of media, as well as on architectural projects, we will attend to the intersections of, and the differences between, figuration, realism, and work in indexical media. In addition, we will investigate the question of temporality in the work of the interwar avant-garde, which has long challenged the established notion of modernism’s future-oriented vision. While focused on interwar European art, this seminar will also touch upon the questions of figuration and representation within global modernism as well as in art of the later twentieth century; student projects on these and related topics are encouraged.