Art Lecture by Joseph Henry—Dreams of Non-Contingency: Primitivism and Sachlichkeit in Wilhelmine Germany

Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at 4:30pm
Boger Hall, Room 112


Joseph Henry is a PhD Candidate in Art History at CUNY Graduate Center and a 2022–23 Diamonstein-Spielvogel Fellow, Department of Drawings and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As prewar Germany industrialized its economy and expanded its colonial reach, it tried to stop time. In 1908, Wilhelm Worringer famously theorized a world historical style of “abstraction,” whereby “primitive man” sought to cease temporal flow through the regularity of form. Concurrently, designers and architects of the Deutscher Werkbund conceptualized an idiom of Sachlichkeit, whereby industrial commodities avoided historicist reference to stress their own machine-based tectonics. This talk looks to the work of the Expressionist artists known as "Die Brücke,” positioned precisely between Werkbund design and modernist art history, as mediators of this new impulse toward what Worringer called freedom from “all contingency,” from history itself. Examining scenes such as the 1914 Werkbund exhibition and Die Brücke’s primitivizing oeuvre, this presentation excavates a structure of feeling in Wilhelmine Germany wherein racial alterity and capitalist form utterly coalesced.

Sponsored by the Samuel Silipo ’85 Distinguished Visitor’s Fund, Department of Art and Art History, Center for the Arts, and College of Social Studies.