2013 SECAC: The State of Postwar and Contemporary Art in the United States

Chairs:  Catherine Dossin, Purdue University  and Victoria H.F. Scott, Emotory University


Hans Kock’s Early Sculpture and the Influence of Heidegger’s Ideas on it
Daria Dittmeyer, Independent Scholar, Hamburg

German sculptor Hans Kock (1920–2007) is well known for his works located in the public space of the states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein in Northern Germany. After World War II, when German artists had to find a new formal and ideological direction, he began to study architecture, but since 1948 he started studying sculpting at the Landeskunstschule Hamburg as a student of Gerhard Marcks. Symbiosis of stereometry coming from architecture and organic figure became characteristic for Kock’s work and led him to a specific abstract language of forms which was unique in the German post-war period. Kock was much interested in philosophy. He got to know Martin Heidegger, portraying him first in 1961. The sculptor and the philosopher had an intense exchange of ideas until Heidegger’s death in 1976. Their correspondence, kept by the Hans Kock Foundation at Gut Seekamp in nearby Kiel, has not been a subject of research until now. It contains valuable information about both the philosopher’s and the artist’s thinking. Dittmeyer sheds light on the development of Kock’s public sculpture in the early years, in particular the formal consequences for his art resulting from his contact with Heidegger and his own philosophic ideas.


New Rodin? Oskar Hansen, Alina Szapocznikow, and the Memorial for Auschwitz 
Lola Arellano-Weddleton, Ph. D. student, Bryn Mawr College

Between the Thaw in 1953 and the Anti-Zionist Campaign of 1968, numerous juried competitions were held in Poland, seeking to create memorials at sites of Holocaust atrocities. In the unsuccessful competition for a memorial at Auschwitz in 1957–58, chaired by English sculptor Henry Moore, Oskar Hansen’s critically regarded ‘open form’ design was only rejected after much debate, despite deviating from the socialist realist forms that predominated public sculpture at the time. In tandem with Hansen’s design, this paper considers Alina Szapocznikow’s early career as a public sculptor and her many unsuccessful proposals (among them, a proposal for Auschwitz), which are nonetheless enthusiastically considered within her oeuvre. Where Hansen drew inspiration from sculptural developments originating from Western Europe, Szapocznikow embraced socialist realist practice; though she departed from this as her career progressed, echoes of her early figurative forms can be found in her aggressively bodily later works. Moore suggested that only “a new Rodin” could have undertaken the challenge of creating a memorial at Auschwitz. As Szapocznikow enters the Polish and international canon, it is a moment to reconsider the relationship between the public reception of an artist and that artist’s participation in public memory.


Public Sculpture in Sweden 1945-1975
Jessica Sjöholm Skrubbe, Senior Lecturer & Researcher, Stockholm University

This paper presents the phenomenon of public sculpture in Sweden 1945–1975, with special attention to its institutional prerequisites, meaning production and how it operates in public space. The institutionalization of public sculpture in Sweden’s welfare state combined bourgeois idealistic cultural ideas with demands for social reforms directed towards the artists and an agenda for cultural democracy concerning the public. This art ideology could easily be incorporated in the discourse of the welfare state. Analysing the referentiality of public sculpture, this paper proposes that the established notion of sculpture, defining modernist sculpture as the counterpoint of the traditional monument, is in need of critical revision. This argument evolves through a discussion of the main tropes of public sculpture in Sweden 1945–1975. The analyses demonstrate how ideology was invested in practice and meaning production as well as in the historiography of public sculpture. Conventional notions of gender and gender dichotomy as well as modernist art ideals have played an important role in this ideology. Finally, the paper discusses the ambivalent relation between a sculpture and its spatial context and insists that physical, social and cultural aspects of the spatial situation are of crucial importance to the interpretation of public sculpture.


The Existential Location: Evocations and Objects in Dubuffet’s Hourloupe Pieces
Roja Najafi, Ph. D. Candidate, University of Texas at Austin

From 1962 to 1974 Jean Dubuffet turned mainly to spatial public sculpture. This shift began with his interest in experimenting with the new sculpting material, polystyrene. Sculpting urged Dubuffet to address the ambiguities between the object and the figuration of the object. This is not the first time that Dubuffet’s art tackles the boundaries between man-made aesthetic reality and the real world. His materiality constantly engages one’s eye-body-mind in an endless commute between the abstract material and the referential figure. The Hourloupe series challenges the viewer in a new special locus: the abstruse space between evocations and objects—imaginary and real. On its most elementary level, sculpture is the exposure of our eye-body-mind with things: our being-in-the-world, as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty describe. Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception explains the ontology of the body as a “strange object, which uses its own parts as a general system of symbols for the world.” If we accept this as an idea of sublimation, the physicality of Dubuffet’s Hourloupe pieces de-sublimates the accepted aesthetic forms, especially that of a figure. This paper explores the nature of Dubuffet’s Hourloupe pieces in relation to their abstracted objective reality within the existentialist backdrop of the postwar period.


Eclipse of the Monument: Memory Sites in Post-Wall Berlin
Rachel Boate. Ph. D. Candidate, New York University Institute of Fine Arts

The wave of collective optimism following the fall of the Berlin Wall quickly gave rise to graver discussion surrounding the reunification of a nation with a divided history. With the surge in proposals for state-sponsored commemorative projects, leaders in the early ‘90s grappled with the task of erecting monuments that venerated two former “Germanys” with remarkably disparate pasts. For how can a conventional memorial speak to the incongruent historical conditions of both former East and West? While monuments historicize and memorialize the past, serving as material repositories that ossify temporal experience, memory sites operate as site-specific artworks, whose very forms echo the fragmented history they seek to evoke. By emphasizing absence and ephemera, these works of art reflect not only Germany’s divided past, but also its lack of a singular, collective memory. Reconsiderations of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Reichstag (1995) and Sophie Calle’s Die Entfernung–The Detachment (1996) explore alternative strategies to memorializing a national heritage following 1945. They operate as memories of a divided past, rather than monuments thereto. By revealing the very process of time, incompletion of history, and fluidity of memory, they unify the German people as subjects of history, regardless of East or West.


Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial: Imagination and Memory
Natasha Goldman. Lecturer & Researcher Associate, Bowdoin College

Completed in 2005, the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (hereafter referred to as the Berlin Holocaust Memorial), designed by Peter Eisenman, was a watershed in memorial architecture. Walking around the sculpture becomes a part of the work itself, which, in turn, is a catalyst for memory. The invocation of bodily movement among stelae, in turn, triggers the possibility of memory. Here, Goldman analyzes the ways in which theorists of memory invoke bodily perambulation in order tobetter understand the function of the visitor among Eisenman’s stelae. Henri Bergson’s durée, which embraces past, present, and future, emerges as a vital concept. Paired with the walking city dweller of De Certeau, durée becomes manifest in the space of a sculpture. This text joins an ongoing debate about the role of abstraction in art after the Holocaust. Goldman hopes to show that walking “and even stumbling” on, over and through memorials, generates a flow of memory that encounters past, present and future.

Time: 11/02/2013, 8:00 AM—11:45 AM

Location: Sheraton Greensboro Hotel, Bear Creek Boardroom