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Objects in Air

Artworks and Their Outside around 1900

Margareta Ingrid Christian unpacks the ways in which, around 1900, art scholars, critics, and choreographers wrote about the artwork as an actual object in real time and space, surrounded and fluently connected to the viewer through the very air we breathe. Theorists such as Aby Warburg, Alois Riegl, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the choreographer Rudolf Laban drew on the science of their time to examine air as the material space surrounding an artwork, establishing its “milieu,” “atmosphere,” or “environment.” Christian explores how the artwork’s external space was seen to work as an aesthetic category in its own right, beginning with Rainer Maria Rilke’s observation that Rodin’s sculpture “exhales an atmosphere” and that Cezanne’s colors create “a calm, silken air” that pervades the empty rooms where the paintings are exhibited.

Writers created an early theory of unbounded form that described what Christian calls an artwork’s ecstasis or its ability to stray outside its limits and engender its own space. Objects viewed in this perspective complicate the now-fashionable discourse of empathy aesthetics, the attention to self-projecting subjects, and the idea of the modernist self-contained artwork. For example, Christian invites us to historicize the immersive spatial installations and “environments” that have arisen since the 1960s and to consider their origins in turn-of-the-twentieth-century aesthetics. Throughout this beautifully written work, Christian offers ways for us to rethink entrenched narratives of aesthetics and modernism and to revisit alternatives.

304 pages | 69 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Art: Art Criticism, Art--General Studies, European Art

History: History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: Germanic Languages


"In Objects in Air, Christian offers a compelling and innovative investigation of the history and theory of the physical and represented space that fills, permeates, or surrounds two- and three-dimensional works of art."


"Objects in Air is a book deserving of praise. Christian brings tremendous nuance to her analysis of the texts at hand."

German Studies Review

“In this thoroughly original book, Christian traces discourses on the external spaces and atmospheres that surround works of art. She thereby elucidates the artwork’s ec-stasis—its reaching out into its environment—as an aesthetic category in its own right. A stylistic and intellectual pleasure to read, Objects in Air adds significantly to our understanding of early twentieth-century aesthetic thought.”

Lucia Ruprecht, author of Gestural Imaginaries: Dance and Cultural Theory in the Early Twentieth Century

Objects in Air is an important and finely conceptualized study of turn-of-the-century writing about the aesthetics of visual phenomena and the conceptualizing of art history. It brings to light a new understanding of the artwork as making its impact, not as a self-contained bounded object, but by way of expanding outward beyond itself in space and time. The carefully honed historical analysis of thinking about the work of art in its spatial and temporal milieus stands as a study in aesthetic theory in its own right, timely and engagingly readable.”

Alex Potts, author of Experiments in Modern Realism: World Making, Politics and the Everyday in Postwar European and American Art

“This book takes the reader on a journey with surprising views on art and modernism. Focusing on the aerial dimensions, the in-between, and the environmental space of works of art, Christian provides an exciting reframing of the aesthetic and kinesthetic dimensions of art and art theory. She turns our attention to what might be the dance within objects of art: movement, breath, and unboundedness of form.”

Gabriele Brandstetter, author of Poetics of Dance: Body, Image, and Space in the Historical Avant-Gardes

Table of Contents

Introduction. Artworks and Their Modalities of Egress: The Air within and without Artworks
  Politics of Extravagation
  Mesologies of Form
  Medium and Milieu, or the Material Spaces of Air
  World Loss, Sitelessness, and the Artwork’s Environments
  Aurai and Aura (Form and Space)
  Empathetic Artworks, Extensive Subjects

1. Aer, Aurae, Venti: Warburg’s Aerial Forms and Historical Milieus
  Anima Fiorentina
  Milieu as Air Ambiant
  The Accessories’ Milieu
  Botticelli’s Milieu
  The Physiology of Influence
  Disciplinary Milieus

2. Luftraum: Riegl’s Vitalist Mesology of Form
  Horror vacui
  Indehiscent Forms
  Cubic Space (“Air-Filled Empty Space”)
  Air Space
  External Unity

3. Saturated Forms: Rilke’s and Rodin’s Sculpture of Environment
  Reticence and Radiance
  Aesthetico-Biological Endeavors
  “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
  Aesthetic Metabolisms
  Absorbed Milieus
  Gravid Forms
  Forms Striving for Incompletion
  Temporal Ecstasis

4. The “Kinesphere” and the Body’s Other Spatial Envelopes in Rudolf Laban’s Theory of Dance
  Spatiomaterial Radiance
  Psychophysiologically Saturated Space
  Anima, Air, Atmosphere: Laban and Kandinsky
  Luftkur, Plein Air
  Dance’s Biological and Architectural Lifeworlds

Coda. Space as Form



German Studies Association: DAAD/GSA Book Prize in Literature and Cultural Studies

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