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Against Positive Images

(p.viii) (p.1) Introduction
Abstractionist Aesthetics
Phillip Brian Harper
NYU Press

The introduction lays out the problem to be addressed and summarizes the argument to be made in the rest of the book, taking as its point of reference a 2011 controversy over a proposed public sculpture for Indianapolis by Fred Wilson, which members of the city’s black community saw as presenting a “negative” African American image. Explicitly appropriating as its primary element the figure of a newly unenslaved black man featured in the city’s existing Soldiers and Sailors Monument of 1902, the sculpture design made racial representation itself an object of critical inquiry, and so perfectly exemplified the aesthetic abstractionism championed in this book, which the introduction characterizes in terms of Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation effect.” Noting that critics of the design nevertheless willfully disregarded its critical engagement with the earlier sculpture, the introduction ultimately suggests that visual art is severely limited in its capacity to mobilize abstractionist critique.

Keywords:   abstractionism, alienation effect, Bertolt Brecht, Fred Wilson, visual art

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