Problems in Art of the 20th Century
Issues in Postwar Art: Abstraction, New Realism, Hybridity
210 Tappan
M 1:00-4:00pm
3 Credit Seminar

Two key tendencies are apparent in the art of the long postwar period extending from the 1940s through to the 1960s. On the one hand, there is the commitment to radical abstraction and the autonomy of the art work that was dominant in the immediate postwar period; on the other, its apparent opposite, that came to the fore in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the commitment to open, heterogeneous and anti-formalist experimentation and a 'new realist' desire to fashion work that engaged with the fabric of everyday life. This course examines the complex nature of these commitments and the ways in which they both differed from and interacted with and one another. Throughout the period in question, some kind of reference to and engagement with a wider non-artistic reality was as significant for artists and critics as the impulse to radical abstraction and the rejection of conventional forms of artistic depiction. The hybrid practices of the late 1950s and early 1960s may have actively challenged widely held modernist assumptions about the formal autonomy of art. At the same time, the aesthetic and ideological imperatives driving this reaction against formal purism were already at work in the more radical experiments in painting and sculpture of the immediate postwar period. At this juncture too one finds a fascination with the vernacular and the non-artistic that often mingled with a refusal of representational clarity and a valuing of autonomous artistic process. In focusing on these developments in postwar art, the course aims to develop a broader understanding of the issues shaping artistic practice and theoretical speculation about art throughout the mid- and later twentieth century.