U of C hosts conference on abstract art

By Katherine Anne Robinson

The University of Chicago will host a gathering of French and American philosophers, art historians and artists on October 12 and 13 for a convention on the nature of abstract art.

The conference, called “Why Abstract Art? Reflections on Alain Besançon’s The Forbidden Image,” will focus on, among other things, how theology and philosophy intersect with the development of abstract art over the course of the 20th century. It is sponsored by the University’s department of Romance Language and Literatures, the Committee on Social Thought and the France-Chicago Center.

According to Thomas Pavel, department chair of Romance Language and Literatures, the discussion, founded on the ideas expressed in Besancon’s book, will focus on the “why.” “Why did it happen?” said Pavel, referring to the enigmatic development of the abstract art movement.

Alain Besancon of the Institut de France and author of many books on Russian history, cultural criticism and art history will participate in the discussion. His book, The Forbidden Image, which links the reason for abstract art to the iconoclast tradition, will be the subject of the conference.

According to Pavel, even people with a general interest in contemporary culture, but who are not especially well versed in the intellectual history of art, could find the conference enlightening. “People who are interested in the present art and in the future should be interested. But, even more generally, people who question, who wonder what kind of time we are living in and the meaning of modernity will be interested” said Pavel.

University of Chicago professor and conference participant Robert Pippin agrees: “I think anyone interested in human culture at all would be interested in the question of why modern art began to look so different from, even discontinuous with, virtually all prior figurative art.”

Pippin, a specialist on Kant and Hegel, will critique the ideas Besancon presents in his book along with a number of other American and European scholars. Other conference participants include Joel Snyder, a professor in the U of C’s art history department, and Marc Fumaroli, a member of the French Academy and a Visiting Professor on the Committee for Social Thought who has written extensively on early modern European literature and art.

The conference will take place from 9:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday October 12 and from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 13 in the Classics Building, 1010 E. 59th Street, room 10. Those interested in attending should contact Thomas Bartschereer at thom@uchicago.edu.