100 Years of Abstract Art Conference Sessions


Session 1: On the Origins of Abstract Art

By the end of the nineteenth century many artists felt a need to create a new kind of art, which would encompass the fundamental changes taking place in society, technology, and science. The sources from which individual artists drew their theoretical arguments were diverse and reflected the social and intellectual preoccupations in all areas of Western culture at that time. Be it in the field of art history, musicology, architectural history, photography, or Gestaltpsychologie, the papers in this session will shed new light on developments which led to the emergence of abstract painting


Charlotte de Mille, Courtauld Institute/University of Sussex, UK
“On the Musical Origins of Abstract Art: Riegl, Rhythm and Non-Representation”
Ole W. Fischer, University of Utah, USA
“Nothing behind the Veil of Truth?: Henry van de Velde, Adolf Loos, Hermann Muthesius and the battle over abstract ornament in modern architecture”
Susan Laxton, University of California, Riverside, CA, USA
“The Authority of the ‘Never-Seen’: Photograms and the Advent of Abstract Photography”

Session 2:  Metaphysical Considerations and Philosophical Reflections
The relation between abstract art and metaphysics has been of the greatest importance for both conceptual as well as historical reasons. For centuries it was believed that visual art could express important insights about humanity’s role and position within the cosmos. The subsequent development of radical new abstract tendencies in twentieth-century art has led to disruptions of traditional ways of understanding art’s relation to reality. The papers in this session focus on philosophical problems of meaning and ontology in abstract art and also on how they might reveal broader metaphysical “truths” about humanity’s relation to the cosmos.
Agata Pietrasik, University of Warsaw, Poland
“Emphathy for Abstraction: Wilhelm Worringer Revisted”
Ketevan S. Kintsurashvili, independent scholar, Tiblissi, Georgia
“Formalist Theory, Abstract Art, and Clive Bell’s ‘Knowledge of Three-Dimensional Space’”
Manfred Milz, University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
“Concrescence of Prehensions: Whitehead’s Process Metaphysics in Robert Motherwell’s Plastic Automatism”

Session 3:New Perspectives on the Classical Avant-garde
Wassily Kandinsky, František Kupka, and Kazimir Malevich – the pioneers of abstract art – each shared the belief that art should serve not the reproduction of visible reality but rather the expression of the absolute. Around 1912-13, abstract art was viewed as a medium for advancing human creative evolution and leading into a new age of spiritual renewal. The interwar period saw a secularization of the spiritual concerns of early abstraction; artists turned to science and technology and the ideals of modern industrial production. This session examines the utopian ideals that were closely intertwined with the production of abstract art, in particular anarchism, but also looks at gender issues within the avant-garde, formal considerations, and interpretations of iconic signs derived from abstract painting.
Nina Gourianova, Northwestern University, IL, USA
“The Anarchic Vision of Creativity”
Naomi Hume, Seattle University, WA, USA
“Frantisek Kupka’s Anarchist Colors”
Rose Carol Washton Long, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York, USA
“Kandinsky, Anarchism, and the Narrative of Modernism”
Michael Hoff, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, Germany
“The Opacity of Representation: How to Understand Kandinsky’s Achievements of 1913 from Today’s Perspective”
Anja Baumhoff, Loughborough University, UK

“Abstract Painting – Gender Neutral or Male by Definition? The Cases of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee”

Daniela Stöppel, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

“From the Black Square to Traffic Signs: The Functionalization of Abstract Art in the 1920s”

Session 4: Interculturality and Abstract Art in a Global Perspective
Common to many of the early abstract artists was a belief that these new forms of artistic expression would be the basis for a universal visual language, one accessible to all regardless of nationality or culture. This concept, popular in the late 1950s and 1960s, was based on various anthropological, psychological, and aesthetic considerations. The papers in this session discuss intercultural approaches such as the influences of Japanese art and Zen Buddhism upon the work of Piet Mondrian and Agnes Martin as well as the various artistic practices of abstract art in Australia and South Africa.
Karin Wimmer, LMU München
“From Automatic Drawing to American Abstract Art: André Masson, Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly”Mona Schieren, Hochschule für Künste, Bremen
“‘Incorruptible Forms’: The Abstract Work of Agnes Martin”
Andrew McNamara, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
“Evading the perceptual-conceptual divide as a strategy of Minimal-Conceptual Art in Australia”

Session 5: Post-war Approaches to Abstract Art
In the post-war period, abstract art reached a new importance with the emergence of Abstract Expressionism in the United States and Art Informel in Europe. Thanks to the efforts of the art critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg and art historian Werner Haftmann, abstract art began to gain mainstream acceptance in the 1950s. The papers in this session look at new approaches to abstract art in postwar Germany and France.
Franziska Müller, Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder, Germany
“Ernst Wilhelm Nay’s Vom Gestaltwert der Farbe: An example of artistic and philosophical concepts and cultural and educational policy in Postwar Germany”
Benjamin Lima, University of Texas, Arlington, USA
“Informel Painting as Material: The Case of Gruppe 53”
Natalie Adamson, University of St Andrews, UK
“Pierre Soulages’ Black Mirrors of Light”
Esther Levinger, University of Haifa, Israel
“Political Action and Abstract Art: the Work of Marc Devade (1970-1983)”

Session 6: Abstract Art and the Ideological Battles of the 20th Century
With the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany, the establishment of the doctrine of Socialist realism in the Soviet Union, and the growing dominance of Regionalism and American Scene painting in the United States in the 1930s, abstract art became the subject of heated political and ideological debates. It was denounced as leftist and degenerate in Germany, decadent and bourgeois in the Soviet Union, and foreign and communist in the United States. These ideological debates gained new momentum after the end of World War II. Discussion in this session focuses on the role that abstract art played in cultural diplomacy during the Cold War, advancing concepts of freedom and democracy and other more progressive tenets.
Dorothea Schöne, Universität Hamburg, Germany
“‘Free Artists in Free Berlin.’ German-American Support of Art and Culture in Berlin: From the late 1940s to the mid 1950s”
Elena Korowin, Kunsthochschule Karlsruhe, Germany
“Russian Avant-Garde Art as a Means of Cultural Diplomacy between the Soviet Union and West Germany”
Kirill Chunikhin, Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany
“The Representation and Reception of American Art in the USSR during the Cold War”

Session 7: Abstract Art in the 21st Century
In recent decades, the engagement of contemporary artists with scientific practices, ranging from an iconological handling of scientific images and the use of new digital media to art projects executed directly in the laboratory, has sparked investigations into the complex role of visual representation and the interpretation of abstract patterns in both fields. Because of the technological advances and a desire to articulate the “visual,” many aspects of visual culture now overlap with the study of science and technology, including hybrid electronic media, cognitive science, neurology, and image and brain theory. Discussion in the concluding conference session will center on approaches to abstract art in contemporary artistic practices.
Wendy Kelly, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
“What is the Role of Abstraction within the Concerns of Visual Art Language Contemporaneously?”
Pamela Scorzin, Fachhochschule Dortmund, Germany
Christian Janecke, Hochschule für Gestaltung, Offenbach, Germany
“The Legacy of Abstraction in Art in Today’s Photography”
Birgit Mersmann, Jacobs University, Bremen, Germany
“Digital Abstraction”
Gordon Monro, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
“The Abstraction of Behaviour”