Abstraction and Race at Mid-Century: Comparing Histories of Art and Design

Kristina Wilson

DUC 276, 10:30am-11:30am



This lecture compares the methodological impulses of art history and design history in order to interrogate how race is understood in each. The lecture focuses on the specific case of two contemporaneous types of abstraction that are typically segregated in the scholarly literature: in the late 1940s and 1950s in the United States, abstract forms occupied the heart of avant-garde artistic practice in both painting and design. Painters as varied as Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner, and Norman Lewis created expressive, abstract canvases, while designers for the Herman Miller Furniture Company – including George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, and Isamu Noguchi – developed furniture out of abstract geometric forms. Building on art historical scholarship by Ann Eden Gibson, Michael Leja, and others, Professor Wilson will propose that the alleged universality of mid-century abstract design can be understood to be invested in the construction of racial identity.

Kristina Wilson

Professional Project Sponsored by the American Culture Studies Program and the Department of Art History and Archaeology.

Jennifer Gallinat

Administrative Coordinator