My research and teaching center on the nature and long reach of abstraction and the avant-garde through the shifting priorities of the contemporary within art and culture. Broader questions of the nature of modernism, abstraction and the potential of art to have an impact first emerged among the historical avant-gardes of the 1910s through 1930s, but these also extend into global contemporary art, (critical) heritage and memory. Already in the 1920s and 30s, a sizeable group of artists across Europe, all pioneers of abstraction and intermedial environments, were determined to change the world through art. They challenged nationalism, isolationism, and militarism and explored different aesthetic orders of transnational or cosmopolitan belonging with global aspirations. Particular interests are Piet Mondrian, Georges Vantongerloo, and De Stijl, as well as Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky, and artist-couples Katarzyna Kobro and Władysław Strzemiński and Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Hans/Jean Arp. I am fascinated by how these artists imagined they could migrate among or merge different artistic disciplines, making abstraction a cross-disciplinary, intermedial phenomenon encompassing the visual arts, architecture, music, literature, philosophy, and utopian theories. How and why do artists transgress the disciplinary boundaries of their medium, engage new aesthetic considerations, or find inspiration in scientific discoveries and historical and socio-political events? Where should we look today for artists who push their work into new territory, engaging the question of abstraction anew?
Current interests include contemporary forms of abstraction and critical heritage world-wide, particularly those that manifest in environments and installation art. Such spaces often galvanize inspired engagement, social practice, and equity and diversity, frequently through combinations of conceptual, embodied, and networked modalities that enable people to connect across national borders. Other interests include the notion of “multiple modernities” that inspire present forms of global art making and environmental activism, as well as the implications of “Bioart” and 3D printing, the latter sometimes described as the next industrial revolution. The possibilities of 3D printing and digital fabrication in art, architecture and design, and of an attendant “Maker Culture” that pursues creative innovation through technology and shared forms of creativity, are vast—with new aesthetic modalities emerging out of new relationships between form, content, materiality, medium, mediation, process and creativity. Similarly, bioartists blur boundaries between art and science, but also engage ethical questions by working with genetic materials, creating new, transgenic life forms, as seen in the work of Joe Davis. My broader interests are reflected in curatorial projects and exhibitions to which I have contributed through catalogs and consulting, such as a large Vantongerloo retrospective (Duisburg and The Hague, 2009-10), a major De Stijl exhibition (MNAM, Centre Pompidou, 2010-11), and an exhibition on Mondrian and his Studios (Tate Liverpool, 2014). I curated and co-curated “The Desire of the Museum” (Whitney Museum of American Art, 1989), an exhibition of Vantongerloo’s De Stijl-period sculptures, paintings, architectural drawings and models, furniture, and design (Centraal Museum, Utrecht, 2002), “International Abstraction: Making Painting Real” (Seattle Art Museum, 2003-04), “Resonance: Nature, Glass, and Standing Waves in the Art of Joe Davis” (Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Seattle, 2011), “Videowatercolors: Carel Balth Among His Contemporaries” (Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, 2011-12), and Joseph Sassoon Semah (Kunstmuseum, The Hague, 2020-21).
Modern and Contemporary Art
The historical avant-gardes and their legacy
Critical theory and interdisciplinarity