Art Nouveau Sculpture: Obrist and his contemporaries

Wednesday evening talks in June
Talks Series
9th June 2010 - 30th June 2010
Henry Moore Institute Seminar Room, 6pm

June 9: Jeremy Howard (University of St Andrews)
'Visualising the Visionary: Aspects of Obrist's Art... and Ilk'

June 16: Sarah Turner (University of York)
'Walter Crane: Craft, Sculpture and Transnationality at the Fin de Siècle'

June 23: Katherine Kuenzli (Wesleyan University)
'Abstraction and Theatricality: Hermann Obrist and Henry van de Velde at the 1914 Werkbund Exhibition'

Obrist contributed four sculptures to the theatre that Henry van de Velde designed for the 1914 Cologne Werkbund Exhibit. While the theatre building has generated a good deal of scholarship, scant attention has been paid to Obrist's sculpture, which represented the only works of abstract sculpture at the landmark exhibit. The Werkbund exhibition in Cologne coincided with a heated, public debate between van de Velde and Hermann Muthesius over the principles governing modern construction. At the Werkbund conference Muthesius advocated the creation of industrial prototypes, whereas van de Velde advocated individual expression and artistry. Obrist sided with van de Velde, and the theatre embodied their allegiance. In the historiography of modern architecture, the 1914 theatre has been viewed as an expression of outmoded, elitist individualism and opposed to the Werkbund's drive to create industrial prototypes. However, this paper will analyze the collaboration between van de Velde and Obrist as expressing new forms of collectivity steeped in Wagnerian aesthetics and modern psychology and argue that the two artists shared a common commitment to the total work of art or Gesamtkunstwerk. Discarding Wagner's illusionistic set designs, not to mention his nationalism and his racism, Obrist and van de Velde equated the Gesamtkunstwerk with an abstract formal language, which they put in the service of a pacifist, internationalist, and socially-progressive vision.

June 30: Katherine Faulkner (Courtauld Institute of Art)
'George Frampton: New Sculpture and Art Nouveau'

Audio recordings of each talk are available in the Henry Moore Institute Research Library.

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