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Harvard Gazette: Professor Joseph Koerner, The Burning Child

February 5, 2018
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A time of change, a longing for home in Vienna

Professor Joseph Koerner’s documentary in progress, "The Burning Child," traces the rise of creativity and the forces countering it in early 20th-century Vienna.

Original article

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Documentary traces the rise of creativity and the countering forces a century ago

By Clea Simon Harvard Correspondent

DateJanuary 30, 2018

Home is not only where the heart is. Home is where we feel safe, a sanctuary where we can express ourselves and act on our deepest dreams. That, according to Professor Joseph Leo Koerner, is what makes interior design both fascinating and revealing.

For Koerner, Harvard’s Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Art and Architecture, home and homemaking provide a unique window on Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, a time of unprecedented change that helped shape modern Europe. His artistic and scholarly studies form the basis of the Vienna Project, which has included lectures and courses and will culminate in a screening of a current cut of his documentary “The Burning Child” on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Harvard Art Museums.

The 20th century, explains Koerner, began in Vienna as a period of unrivaled creativity. The ancient imperial city was in the throes of modernizing through both groundbreaking aesthetics, starting with the Vienna Secession artistic movement of 1897, and psychoanalytic theory, pioneered by Sigmund Freud’s book “The Interpretation of Dreams” in 1899. The work of Secession artists such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele and architects like Adolf Loos saw these ideas dovetail, as the interior of the mind — the subconscious — became fertile ground for art and interior design and reflected emerging concepts of creativity and mental health.

However, within a few decades, these creative ideas ran up against rising fascism and anti-Semitism, and the Jewish identity of many scholars, theorists, and artists became a cudgel to be used against them. When Hitler entered Vienna in 1938, says Koerner, he was greeted with enthusiasm by many Viennese. The Jewish and Gentile populations’ ideas of home — of origin and identity — were cast in deadly opposition.

This tension forms the basis of Koerner’s film, which is still a work in progress. Based in part on the story of his own father, who fled Vienna in 1938, it begins with a beleaguered people who seek safety. “On the most fundamental level,” said Koerner, “if you live in a conflicted and unstable political place, the place which you cultivate is your home. You learn to play piano, and you imagine you’ll be safe within those four walls. All the people I document, including my grandparents, thought the same thing.”

Calling his film “the story of Jewish Vienna,” Koerner said he was motivated by a painting his father made from memory, depicting the home he had left behind. At the center of his film is a “personal journey through the city, talking to archivists to find out what happened to that one room that the painting shows, what happened to that apartment that my father had to leave — this one painting that he created that sits in my own home.”

The film incorporates other stories as well, including that of the Jewish family’s Christian neighbors and that of a shoemaker, who finds what he believes to be a ritual well. For all of these characters, concepts of safety and sanctuary — of home and identity — come into conflict. “Interiors,” said Koerner, are the focus, “not as they relate to the outside landscape, or even the urban hustle-bustle, but also as a capsule against conflicts — conflicts that are literally 3 inches away” on the other side of an apartment wall.

The title refers to a dream documented and analyzed by Freud. In it, a mourning father, who falls asleep while sitting in a vigil by his child, envisions his child coming to him with the horrifying message, “Father, I am burning.” The father then wakes to find his child’s corpse is indeed on fire. “The dream is terrible,” said Koerner, describing it as a dream about generations, “about fathers burying their sons. “The dream is also about a waking world that’s more nightmarish than the dream.

“In one way, the film is the story of Viennese interior design, and I broaden that to include the Viennese understanding of the interior,” said the filmmaker. “I’m interested in that as the story of homemaking, a dream about how to be at home in the world.”

 

 

Exhibition - Looking Back: The Western Tradition in Retrospect

January 20, 2018
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On View
January 20, 2018–May 6, 2018
University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

The history of art is usually presented as a forward march, with individual works studied as points along a path of progress to the present. This installation—matching the Harvard survey course it accompanies—reverses that familiar direction. The sequence proceeds from recent art back to the Renaissance. This retrospective history of art is meant to capture the point of view of artists themselves, who have, for generations, tried—variously—to preserve, transform, surpass, or overturn what came before them. A reverse perspective also accords with how humans are situated in history, looking back inescapably from a position in the present moment, but also powerfully shaped by the past. And it echoes the time sequence of geological sediment through which one has to dig from new layers to older ones.

Looking back on selected artworks from the Western tradition allows us to observe that even the most radical contemporary departures depend heavily on the art of the past and therefore that the Old Masters are relevant still. Visitors are invited to travel the sequence in both directions, from present to past and from past to present, experiencing the different connections, stories, and dislocations that arise.

The installation’s related course is taught by Jeffrey F. Hamburger, the Kuno Francke Professor of German Art and Culture; and Joseph Koerner, the Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University.

The University Teaching Gallery serves faculty and students affiliated with Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Semester-long installations are mounted in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate courses, supporting instruction in the critical analysis of art and making unique selections from the museums’ collections available to all visitors.

This installation is made possible in part by funding from the Gurel Student Exhibition Fund and the José Soriano Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.

See also: General News

Exhibition - Rome: Eternal City

January 20, 2018
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On View
January 20, 2018–May 6, 2018
University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Rome, known as the “common fatherland,” was the goal of pilgrims, travelers, and artists from all over Europe. One of the most celebrated was Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), a Venetian who spent his entire career in Rome. He produced on average two etchings a month (fourteen are featured in this installation), and his image of Roman grandeur left an indelible stamp on the European imagination. His vedute (city views), meant for Grand Tour visitors, show the most famous monuments of Rome, many now Christianized, as well as the palaces and villas of Roma moderna. Palazzo Barberini and Villa Albani housed notable collections of ancient sculpture and were centers for the study of the antique. An interior view of San Paolo fuori le Mura shows how Constantinian churches, such as St. Peter’s, originally looked, while another of San Giovanni in Laterano shows such a church after its Baroque transformation.

The Stadium of Domitian succumbed to ruin in the Middle Ages but left its trace on the urban landscape as Piazza Navona. Pope Innocent X (1644–55) transformed it with a palace and church built over the ancient seating. Piranesi shows the finished square while an earlier printmaker, Dominique Barrière (1618–1678), shows it in 1650 with Bernini’s Four Rivers fountain almost complete but the church of Sant’Agnese not yet begun.

Rome was the best watered city in the world thanks to its system of aqueducts. Pliny, in his Natural History, favorably compared the achievement to the building of the pyramids in Egypt. Both the Trevi Fountain and the Acqua Paola adopt the triumphal arch motif to celebrate the arrival of the waters.

Then as now visitors could mount to the top of St. Peter’s. A splendid drawing of 1641 by Israël Silvestre (1621–1691) shows the Vatican palace and Bernini’s unfinished bell tower. The square in front of the church shows the obelisk that was moved there in 1586 but not yet Bernini’s colonnade, begun two decades later.

The installation’s related course is taught by Joseph Connors, Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University.

The University Teaching Gallery serves faculty and students affiliated with Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Semester-long installations are mounted in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate courses, supporting instruction in the critical analysis of art and making unique selections from the museums’ collections available to all visitors.

This installation is made possible in part by funding from the Gurel Student Exhibition Fund and the José Soriano Fund.

See also: General News

David Bindman & Suzanne Preston Blier: Art of Jazz: Form / Performance / Notes

January 16, 2018
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Picture it: Saturday afternoons in the late 1970s, on a train bound from Yale University to New York, artist Romare Bearden, jazz critic Albert Murray, and writer Henry Louis Gates , Jr. are bound in deep conversation, pontificating on the nature of jazz – not just as a form of music, but as a fundamental expression of the African-American vernacular. Jazz is not just a sound: it is a state of mind, a way of being, and seeing the relationship between the self and the world.

Now imagine that conversation found its way into a book and took form in a conversation of the visual arts. Art of Jazz: Form / Performance / Notes (Harvard University Press), edited by David Bindman, Suzanne Preston Blier, and Vera Ingrid Grant looks at jazz through the eyes of artists including Bearden, Stuart Davis, Carl Van Vechten, Archibald Motley, Andy Warhol, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Hugh Bell, Josef Albers, and Ming Smith along with a host of other artists who collaborated with musicians to create a look for America’s great art form.

 

 

See also: General News

Professor Sarah Lewis, NYT Book Review, The Rise: Dear Match Book: In Search of Works That Will Inspire the Artist in Me

November 9, 2017
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In “The Rise,” Sarah Lewis, an art historian and curator, examines innovation with exhilarating range and fierce curiosity. She presents historical and contemporary examples such as the modern dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor, and the physicist Andre Geim — the first individual scientist ever to win both the Nobel and the decidedly less illustrious Ig Nobel prizes. What binds the book together, in addition to Lewis’s exceptional storytelling skills and quiet lyricism, is the clarity and care with which she describes the power of failures to lift creativity.
 In “The Rise,” Sarah Lewis, an art historian and curator, examines innovation with exhilarating range and fierce curiosity. She presents historical and contemporary examples such as the modern dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor, and the physicist Andre Geim — the first individual scientist ever to win both the Nobel and the decidedly less illustrious Ig Nobel prizes. What binds the book together, in addition to Lewis’s exceptional storytelling skills and quiet lyricism, is the clarity and care with which she describes the power of failures to lift creativity.

 

Link to article

Professor Eugene Wang granted Harvard Global Institute award

October 3, 2017
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Harvard Global Institute grants expand scope

Eight projects to address climate change, urbanization, and human consciousness

In its third year of awarding grants, the Harvard Global Institute (HGI) will fund eight projects that engage faculty across six Harvard Schools and extend its geographic scope and research capacity.

The Harvard Global Institute was established by President Drew Faust in 2015 to promote University-wide, interdisciplinary scholarship on pressing global challenges. With support from the Dalian Wanda Group and its chairman, Wang Jianlin, HGI is funding ambitious projects that bring together Harvard faculty and Chinese collaborators to research matters related to air quality, climate change, biodiversity, health, and urbanization.

 

Professor Sarah Lewis Receives 2017 Infinity Award from The International Center of Photography

September 28, 2017
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The International Center of Photography (ICP) just awarded Sarah Lewis’s much-lauded Aperture issue “Vision & Justice” the 2017 Infinity Award in the Critical Writing and Research category). 

To celebrate this achievement, the ICP has released a short film about the winning book, which features footage from Lewis’s classes.  Here’s the linkhttps://mediastorm.com/clients/2017-icp-infinity-awards-critical-writing-and-research-vision-and-justice-by-sarah-lewis-and-michael-famighetti.


Also, check out the New York Times feature about “Vision and Justice,” the hugely-popular course Lewis is teaching this term:  https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/reclaiming-race-and-history-th...

 

Suzanne Blier bestowed chieftaincy title.

August 30, 2017
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For her work on Ife art and history, Suzanne Blier was bestowed this August the chieftaincy title Otun Yeye Obalufon (“First/Right Mother of Obalufon”) by Oba Aderemi Adedapo, Secretary General of the Yoruba Council of Yoruba Obas.  

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