Sublimation – Mind, Matter, Concept in Art after Modernism | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz & Kunsthalle Mainz

During the “long Sixties,” a term coined by Arthur Marwick to describe the period from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, artists, critics, and theorists criticized established approaches addressing works of art as autonomous aesthetic objects designed primarily for visual contemplation in the allegedly neutral space of a gallery. They confronted, in other words, the Modernist conception of art espoused by influential American art critic Clement Greenberg and his followers. One particular strain in this critical reevaluation is the tendency to use volatile materials or substances that may evaporate or sublimate, thereby destabilizing notions of the visual character and the objecthood of art.

These tendencies are often subsumed within the generalizing notion of the “dematerialization” of art – a term introduced in 1968 by critics Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler. This conference seeks to address the shortcomings, omissions, and generalizations of this view by focusing on the complex negotiations between materiality and immateriality informing art practices of the time.
As a frame and a starting point, the conference draws on the philosophical concept of “sublimation” and explores its analytic potential as a means for critical reflection. In chemistry and physics, sublimation is defined as the phenomenon by which a solid substance converts to gas without adopting a liquid state. Beyond this literal sense, the term “sublimation” has been used to describe a psychological process with cultural and social impact in philosophy and psychoanalysis.

By analyzing practices that engage with volatile materials and chemical processes against the background of contemporary philosophical reflections on sublimation, this conference will highlight the significance of matter and materiality in conceptualism and contemporaneous experimental art practices of the 1950s through to the 1970s in the United States and elsewhere. We argue that the concept of “sublimation” is a key term for an interdisciplinary reflection on such practices.

This conference is made possible through support from: The Terra Foundation for American Art, The Research Unit Historical Cultural Sciences (HKW), and the Internal University Research Funding program, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.

The event is public and free of charge. Full details including the programme can be found here.

Dr. Christian Berger
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, IKM – Abteilung Kunstgeschichte
The Courtauld Institute of Art, The Sackler Research Forum

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Annika Schlitte
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Philosophisches Seminar