Art, Architecture and Visual Culture

Julian Stallabrass

This chapter analyses three models of documentary knowledge on colour photography in the work of Luigi Ghirri, Raghubir Singh, and Susan Meiselas, who represent respectively analytic, synthetic, and experimental modes. Bound by humanism and colour, each surveys very different states of nationhood: for Ghirri, Italy at a time of deep political turmoil and then consumer quietism between the 1970s and 1990s; for Singh, a vision of synthesis amid one of the most diverse nations on Earth, recently freed from colonialism; for Meiselas, a collapsing dictatorship and the uncertain establishing of a new polity. Their different photographic solutions are set against the long denigration of colour with relation to knowledge, and to the thinking of Adrian Stokes about ‘surface colour’, a colour which for him yielded depth and knowledge and was associated with humanist painting.

in Art and knowledge after 1900
Contemporary art and the problem of arthistorical periodisation
Peter Osborne

This chapter proposes a new way of thinking about and periodising Western art after 1900 that concentrates on neither aesthetics nor knowledge, but rather upon art as an ontologically distinctive but nonetheless historically developing form of truth. The first section provides a critical outline of the periodising schema of twentieth-century art produced by the mainstream aesthetic tradition and its ‘postformalist’ and ‘postmodernist’ successors. The second sketches some basic philosophical differences between this ‘aesthetic’ approach and its ‘historical-ontological’ alternative. The third section offers a periodising schema for the non-aesthetic lineage of contemporary art, based on the primacy of conceptual art as an emblematic rejection of the aesthetic conception of art and upon the heteronomy of the avant-gardes. From this standpoint, it is argued, contemporary art appears as a distinctively postconceptual art, the developmental unity of which is fundamentally problematised by the conflictual processes of globalisation of which it is a part.

in Art and knowledge after 1900
Lucy Kent

A new wave of spirituality swept Europe and the United States during the early twentieth century, manifesting in a wide variety of movements such as Theosophy, Christian Science, Spiritualism and the Baha’i faith. As a central premise, these philosophies shared a mystical belief in the spiritual interconnectedness of all existence. This well-documented Western ‘mystical revival’ had a profound impact on the modernist avant-garde. This chapter examines the techniques developed by several modern artists as a means of conveying the spiritual ‘oneness’ that they believed underpinned the visible world. Inspired by their spiritual convictions, they were confident that making a sense of transcendental unity palpable to others was the true and higher purpose of art. The communication of this hidden knowledge through their work, they felt sure, would further the enlightenment of humankind and change society for the better.

in Art and knowledge after 1900
Marie Vassilieff ’s androgyny
Lauren Jimerson

Through dress, comportment and lifestyle, Vassilieff divorced herself from expectations of middle-class femininity and asserted agency. This chapter explores androgyny as it permeates Vassilieff’s oeuvre. Before World War One, Vassilieff painted female as well as rare male Cubist nudes based on studies of black and white models at her academy. She merged and conflated their features into aberrantly androgynous bodies. These works engage with Henri Bergson’s theory of duration, but reject his misogynist gender concept of élan vital which influenced her Cubist peers. Moreover, unlike Picasso’s female nudes which are vectors of raw, sexual energy for male consumption, while also doubling as spaces of violent hostility, Vassilieff’s epicene bodies contest the binary notions of male/female endorsed in Cubist works and expose sex in flux. After the war, Vassilieff incarnated herself as a nude doll, a mixed-media sculpture of ambiguous sex. Wresting the doll from its associations with girlhood and femininity, she exploited it as a device to disrupt gender roles. Through her self-portraits, she presented a self-image that was mutable, subversive and modern.

in Painting her pleasure
Three women artists and the nude in avant-garde Paris
Author:

While sexuality and the nude were prime subjects for male artists in the early twentieth century, for female artists, revealing sexual desire on canvas was deemed unacceptable. Art historical scholarship argues that women did not represent physical pleasure or criticize masculine conventions of the nude. This was an audacious move that risked a woman’s career and reputation. Yet, Marie Vassilieff (1884–1957), Émilie Charmy (1878–1974) and Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938) probed sexuality in a forthright manner and questioned gender identity in their representations of the human form. They depicted the nude in a sexually dissident way, while ushering in new subject matter for female artists – the male nude, the Black body, the pregnant nude and nude self-portrait. Treating these subjects was an act that defied the very foundations of the nude practice and the tradition of art itself. As a result of their unorthodox practices, each artist encountered censorship. While art historians have long scrutinized issues of gender and sexuality in the early twentieth century through the lens of male artists and their work, attention to Vassilieff, Charmy and Valadon offers rare female insights regarding these topics at a time when most women’s voices were stifled. Examining their work sheds light on the myriad and complex ways in which women responded to the evolution of gender roles and sexual mores that informed and shaped our modern society. These sexually conscious and rebellious women painters contravened social decorum, challenged traditional and avant-garde artistic practices and partook in the making of the modern nude.

Lauren Jimerson

Charmy devoted much of her career to the female nude, developing several distinct styles. Her most sensual renderings of the body were not intended for public viewership, but instead were created for her own private pleasure. Charmy forged innovative artistic methods for the expression of her desires, some of which resonate with rhetorical strategies in Colette’s novels. Examining Charmy’s art and Colette’s literature in tandem, I uncover the ways in which Colette, through rhetoric, and Charmy, through brushwork, probed the subject of woman’s sexual satisfaction and same-sex sexuality. Uniquely, Charmy’s work is distinguished by an accent on tactility. Painting the nude provocatively with luscious impasto and striking applications of color, her paintings are highly tactile renderings of the body. Examining her work in relation to Luce Irigaray’s psychoanalytic and phenomenological concepts, I posit that Charmy crafted an aesthetic of female jouissance. Substituting her own body for a model’s she crafted audaciously bold self-portraits, even while pregnant. Charmy collapsed the long-established binaries of artist/model and subject/object, expressed autoeroticism and unbridled female pleasure. She redefined the boundaries of self-representation and introduced a new subject to the history of art – the pregnant nude self-portrait.

in Painting her pleasure
T. J. Demos

We are living in emergency times, when one person’s emergency can mean another’s oppression; one’s security, another’s erasure; one’s tragedy, another’s economic opportunity. Variously understood, climate change’s visual cultures are particularly complex at a time when they include remote sensing of atmospheric carbon and representations of global warming’s differentiated sociopolitical impacts on the ground, geospatial scientific data, and artistic mediations and activist interventions. The situation is further complicated by the fact that aesthetic practices (referring to the organisation of appearance) have overwhelmed the boundaries of institutionally recognised modes of creativity, now unfolding on the streets and in the digital public sphere in ways that reconfigure and expand conventional artistic approaches, as in new blurrings of art and activism. In its most ambitious and far-reaching sense, art – and more broadly, aesthetic practice – holds the promise of providing insight and inviting perceptual and philosophical shifts in how we comprehend ourselves, the world, and the relations between them. As such, ecocritical analysis, still very much in development as an interdisciplinary formation, must take an expanded approach in considering competing modellings of creative practice if it is to aid in defining and responding to the conflictual emergencies of climate breakdown. Adopting that working hypothesis, this chapter reflects on disparate creative practices – from those of Extinction Rebellion to Decolonize This Place and Forensic Architecture – and the political rifts they occasion, deploying a politico-ecological visual culture and art history, resonating with the larger project of the environmental humanities and embracing a capacious understanding of social-justice-based climate activism.

in Art and knowledge after 1900
A new theory of objects
Margaret Iversen

It is said that Freud’s attention to everyday objects – what he called the rubbish heap of our observations – contributed to the invention of a new theory of objects. This chapter expands upon that claim, presenting an overview of three artistically relevant psychoanalytic theories of the object: the found object, the part-object, and the transitional object. Freud’s theory of the object, especially his view that the finding of an object of desire is always a re-finding of it, was developed by Surrealist André Breton, who conceived of the encounter with the found object as revelatory of the finder’s repressed fears and desires. The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein was interested in the very young infant’s inner world of objects or part-objects, pre-eminently the mother’s breast. She gave prominence to the infant’s phantasised attacks upon and repairs to the object. The English art critic Adrian Stokes devised a critical vocabulary informed by her work. Donald Winnicott gave the name transitional object to a blanket or soft toy that facilitates the child’s transition from fantasy to reality, and eases the sense of separation and loss during weaning. He argued that the child’s ‘intermediary’ experiences are revived in adult creativity. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the objects and intermediary spaces created by the work of artists Cornelia Parker and Danh Vo.

in Art and knowledge after 1900
Abstract only
A man as her muse
Lauren Jimerson

Defiance was Suzanne Valadon’s modus operandi. She intrepidly disobeyed gender norms in her artistic practice as she opposed both traditional and avant-garde methods for the representation and display of the body. Through various styles and media, she captured different manifestations of the nude. She did not limit herself to one type of model, but instead depicted bodies of different ages, races and genders. She dared to explore the male nude, confronting the subject head-on in several monumental paintings and numerous drawings. Moreover, Valadon painted the Black female body in a realistic manner, testing societal attitudes about race. Then, Valadon depicted her aging form from an embodied perspective in a series of fiercely candid nude self-portraits. Focusing on key works in relation to issues of age, race, gender, embodiment and sexuality, this chapter sheds light on Valadon’s polemic practice and demonstrates how she mobilized the nude as a vehicle for disruption. Her work exposes femininity and masculinity as socially constructed, and thus prefigures some of the ideas later presented in feminist, existentialist Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949). Before the development of gender theory, and with varying degrees of success, Valadon subverted gendered hierarchies and upset the normative cultural frameworks for the representation of the nude. In certain works, she accomplished a profound sense of embodied subjectivity.

in Painting her pleasure

Transcultural things explores visual and material modes of vernacular self-expression in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth—a confederate polity created in 1569 as the Polish, Ruthenian, Lithuanian, and Prussian nobilities found themselves drawing closer together culturally. This book examines how the process of their becoming an interconnected political community was activated and legitimized by material culture and, specifically, by objects like maps, illustrated histories, costumes, and carpets. These artefacts came to act as signifiers of localness and the Commonwealth’s cultural distinctiveness, yet they were often from abroad, particularly the Ottoman Empire. Highlighting objects’ mobility, adaptation, and cultural reappropriation—by which the ‘exotic’ becomes local and the foreign turns ‘native’—this study points to the exogenous underpinnings of cultural self-identification and the only allegedly local artefacts that mediated it. Transcultural things foregrounds the often-overlooked extrinsic aspect of nativism, positioning Poland Lithuania—a realm often regarded as ‘Orientalized’—as a useful methodological laboratory for challenging theories of national and societal cultural distinctiveness. This analysis thereby reveals how a discourse of distinctiveness emerged in response to transcultural flows of people and artefacts as well as how, for Polish Lithuanian elites, making sense of one’s own world was fundamentally informed by other cultures—and was therefore, inevitably, embedded in a global context.