History of Art and Architecture

Guest Colloquium - Kristin Romberg, University of Illinois

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 12:00pm

202 Frick Fine Arts Building

From Alfred Wegener’s The Origin of the Continents and Oceans, 1915 (English edition, 1924)

This paper reorganizes the terms through which we understand one classic relationship of influence: New-York minimalism’s oft-noted and well-documented interest in Russian constructivism. Of the three “disciplines” shaping constructivism’s founding program—construction, faktura, and tectonics—the first two have often been convincingly mobilized in characterizing the transhistorical rapport. But what happens if we foreground the third term, tectonics, instead? The constructivist concept was part of a larger cluster of tectonic thinking in the 1910s and 20s that included the “low theory” of proletarian culture advocate Aleksandr Bogdanov and Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift. It strategically redirected the usage developed in German architectural theory in order to define an aesthetics organized around acceptance of the condition of global embeddedness, or interdependence. All manner of tectonic thinking was suppressed in the late twenties only to resurface in historically inflected ways in the 1960s. I propose that minimalism was one such case, and further, that rethinking minimalism through tectonics sheds light on its position with regard to the social movements of that era.

Kristin Romberg is assistant professor of art history at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is currently completing a book about the Russian constructivist Aleksei Gan entitled Constructivist Realism: Aesthetic Theory for an Embedded Modernism and working on two exhibition projects: Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Propositions on Revolution at Krannert Art Museum.