Sandra Shapshay (CUNY) on “The Sublime Aesthetics of Monuments”

May 2021, Monday 17th, 5:00pm to 7:00pm

Venue: BigBlueButton room

Abstract: This presentation explores the use of sublime responses in works of public commemorative art, like monuments and memorials. Traditional monuments have long aimed to provoke a “monumental” response that seems a close cousin of the sublime. And several recent, prominent memorials—Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (2005) in Berlin, Michael Arad’s National 9/11 Memorial (2011) in New York, and the MASS Design Group’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice (2018) to the victims of anti-Black, racial terror lynching in the United States, in Montgomery, Alabama—seem clearly intended to overwhelm the spectator utilizing pronounced, sublime aesthetic codes. Yet it would be inapt to say that their intended aesthetic effect is truly that of the sublime, for the overall valence of the sublime is positive, pleasurable and uplifting, and the overall valence of (appropriate) experience with these memorial works is negative, painful, verging on horror. Utilizing what I’ve called a “two-tiered theory of the sublime,” (Shapshay, BJA 2021) as well as an analysis of a related aesthetic category, “the monumental” (Shapshay, JAAC 2021) I shall offer an analysis of what seems to be transpiring in these cases that seem to verge on but also veer away from provoking a sublime response, and thus hope to shed some light on the uses of the sublime response in art.


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