Brutal Aesthetics – Hal Foster and Kent Minturn in Conversation

Speakers: Hal Foster (Author, Princeton University) and Kent Minturn (Art historian and critic, Columbia University)

Book cover i Hal Foster, 'Brutal Aesthetics: Dubuffet, Bataille, Jorn, Paolozzi, Oldenburg', (Princeton University Press, 2020)

To mark the Barbican’s forthcoming exhibition Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty, the first of the artist in the UK in over 50 years, The Courtauld Research Forum is hosting a conversation between acclaimed art historian Hal Foster (Princeton) and Dubuffet scholar Kent Minturn (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University). Based on Hal Foster’s 2020 monograph Brutal Aesthetics: Dubuffet, BatailleJornPaolozzi, Oldenburg (Princeton University Press). 

In Brutal Aesthetics, leading art historian Hal Foster explores how postwar artists and writers searched for a new foundation of culture after the massive devastation of World War II, the Holocaust, and the atomic bomb. Inspired by the notion that modernist art can teach us how to survive a civilization become barbaric, Foster examines the various ways that key figures from the early 1940s to the early 1960s sought to develop a “brutal aesthetics” adequate to the destruction around them. With a focus on the philosopher Georges Bataille, the painters Jean Dubuffet and Asger Jorn, and the sculptors Eduardo Paolozzi and Claes Oldenburg, Foster investigates a manifold move to strip art down, or to reveal it as already bare, in order to begin again. What does Bataille seek in the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux? How does Dubuffet imagine an art brut, an art unscathed by culture? Why does Jorn populate his paintings with “human animals”? What does Paolozzi see in his monstrous figures assembled from industrial debris? And why does Oldenburg remake everyday products from urban scrap? A study of artistic practices made desperate by a world in crisis, Brutal Aesthetics is an intriguing account of a difficult era in twentieth-century culture, one that has important implications for our own. 

Hal Foster is the author of numerous books, including, mostly recently, What Comes After Farce? Art and Criticism at a Time of Debacle(Verso, 2020), and Brutal Aesthetics (Princeton University Press, 2020), his 2018 Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery in Washington. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he teaches at Princeton University, co-edits the journal October, and contributes regularly to the London Review of Booksand Artforum. 

Kent Minturn is a New York-based art historian and critic, currently teaching for Columbia University’s  Art Humanities program. He has published widely on Art Brut and Jean Dubuffet, including a recent essay in Octoberon the artist’s relationship with the late French philosopher, Hubert Damisch. In the spring of 2019 Minturn led a seminar on “Modernism’s Reception of the Art of the Insane” at The Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.  

Organised by Professor David Peters Corbett (The Courtauld) and Eleanor Nairne (The Barbican) 

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