Art Historian Hal Foster at The Kitchen: “We Live in the Age of Trauma”

11/29/2011 8:58 AM |

Hal Foster speaking last night at The Kitchen.
  • Hal Foster speaking last night at The Kitchen.

Last night Hal Foster, Princeton professor and 20th century art historian, spoke at The Kitchen in Chelsea and read from his two new books, The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha and The Art-Architecture Complex. The soft-spoken historian, author and editor of innumerable volumes that appear on art history syllabi the world over, began humbly: “It’s bad enough to have one book coming out, but it’s really embarrassing to have two.”

Foster started by introducing The Art-Architecture Complex, which examines the work of world-famous architects Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano, before reading a selection from its preface. For Foster those three architects epitomize a new kind of international style, a contemporary throwback to the internationalism of Le Corbusier. “I want to think about what it is for architects to design an image, a style,” he said. “I admire these architects, but I’m critical as well.”

In addition to a close reading of those architects’ work, Foster’s new book examines contemporary architecture’s relationship with Minimalism, specifically “how Minimalism and museums have converged over the last few decades, for better or worse.” And, finally, he examines how architecture is affected by and affects the art it contains. An over-arching concern seems to be the kind of contemporary subjectivity that new architecture not only responds to, but helps to develop. In this way, its project is intimately related to that of The First Pop Age.

In that book Foster examines five post-war artists—Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Gerhard Richter and Richard Hamilton—”who were on to what it meant to be a person in the new world of the image.” But, as he emphasized, these artists were also very conscious of and interested in art history, noting specifically “Pop art’s ambivalent commitment to the tableau, to painting.” Taken together, Foster offered, the works of these five canonical figures of the second half of the 20th century “point to a new kind of cultural literacy.”

After reading a section from The First Pop Age Foster took questions from the audience and The Kitchen’s director and chief curator Tim Griffin. Pressed to find commonalities between these books on Pop art and Minimalism’s influence on architecture, Foster offered: “I was really initiated into the world of art by Pop and Minimalism.” For him, then, post-war art can be seen as “a dialectic between Pop and Minimalism.”

Asked about Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, Foster acknowledged it as a good example of the “convergence of Minimalism and architecture,” of minimalists moving into architecture and architects learning from Minimalism. But, he offered, the 9/11 memorial takes a similar idea in a completely different direction. Here, he returned to an earlier question about his book title, The First Pop Age. “There might be a second Pop age, but we live in the age of trauma.”

(Photo: Ben Duhac/Tumblr)