Nicholas Hartigan and Vivian Li, U-M History of Art doctoral candidates, give short talks followed by Q & A.
Nicholas Hartigan: "Alexander Calder's Flamingo and the Rise of Public Sculpture in America"
On October 25th 1974, Alexander Calder arrived at his most recent public sculpture installation atop a 40-horse beer wagon with a full circus in tow. Hundreds of spectators waited to receive him and to hear luminaries praise the new artwork, a fifty-three-foot red steel sculpture titled Flamingo, which marked the first completed project of the United States government’s new “Art in Architecture” program. Since 1974, this program and the many other public and private initiatives inspired by it have produced hundreds of public sculptures in cities and communities across the United States. And yet, while public sculpture has become much more ubiquitous, it has also become much less grand in its goals. At issue is the purpose and perceived function of public sculpture, which has changed dramatically in the intervening years.
This talk will pay close attention to Calder’s Flamingo in order to explain the motivations and aspirations behind the initial boom in public sculpture. It will also consider how the sculpture has been received over time, and discuss how Calder’s artwork is simultaneously held as a highly successful federally funded public sculpture, but also one that would likely never receive a commission today.
Vivian Li: "Bearing Witness: Constructing Revolution in Communist China"
Rent Collection Courtyard (???), a 96-meter long sculptural installation comprising of 114 life-sized clay figures, depicts in six consecutive tableaux downtrodden farmers being exploited for rent by their landlord in pre-Communist revolution China. Created in 1965, the Chinese Communist state in the following year extolled Rent Collection Courtyard as the paradigm in art and sculpture. Centered on “the people,” or renmin, the iconic Rent Collection Courtyard epitomized the new rubric for art in the 1950s and 1960s. After the Communist Revolution in 1949, the Chinese state championed the popularization of art, or “art for the people,” and sought to represent a different international modernism to that of Euro-America.
Through a combination of close visual analysis, archival research, and interviews with Rent Collection Courtyard’s team of sculptors, this talk analyzes how Rent Collection Courtyard willed the particular notion of the victimized people into being through the act of seeing the sculpture group and its subsequent transfers into other media. More broadly, this talk will explore what kind of viewing experience was art supposed to offer in Communist China and how this experience was defined by sculpture.