Concrete Aesthetics
From Representation to Presence: Artistic Research on Performative Spaces

→ Exposé (PDF, English)


Differenz der Differenz (The Difference of Difference)
Introduction to: Kunstautonomien. Luhmann und Bourdieu (Autonomies of Art. Luhmann and Bourdieu). Silke Schreiber: Munich, 2010 (also Diss.: Munich 2008)
→ Text (PDF, German)

The project was funded by a dissertation grant from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation and received the Munich University Society Dissertation Award. Published with the financial support of the German Research Foundation and the 
Böhringer Ingelheim Foundation.


World Machine
History and Theory of Sculptural Space
→ Exposé (PDF, German)

In sculpture, the transition from representation to presence can be traced as an exemplary consequence of the autonomisation of social systems. Sculptural art from the Middle Ages emancipated itself from architecture by purposefully staging itself as a significant image (instead of as a decorative ornament). In modern times, this supporting context is increasingly replaced by that of space, for example in the ‘figura serpentinata’ from the Renaissance or the multi-perspective action sculptures by Bernini, which, in the dynamisation of the work and the viewer, already carry performative traits. On the threshold of the 19th to the 20th century, Rodin manages to undertake the transformation from symbolic to concrete: When he fragments older sculptures and reassembles their to create new forms then these montages are no longer images referring to the world, but—as Rilke already remarked—just “things”. This aesthetic development runs parallel to a process of social differentiation, which sustains and accelerates it. Art pays its price for freedom in relation to politics, religion or economy with a semantic overdetermination of the visible world. The allegedly compact, natural things dissolve beneath the surface into contingent significances and the visual coherence of objects merely shrouds the plurality of meanings. This multiplication of social reality becomes a serious problem for art. Because the attribution of its references to the referenced object has been destabilised, it is confronted with the question of the possibility of depicting the ‘real’. In painting, the answer is: Retreat into abstraction. Art still manages to show the demontage of an external system of ordering—and the successful construction of an own, aesthetic ordering from within. Art becomes a world machine.

In the case of sculpture, the question needs to be looked at more closely. On the one hand, the division of the human being into a multitude of social roles plunges man into a crisis. And along with the belief in the wholeness of the ‘individual’, the confidence in the depiction thereof disappears. On the other hand, sculptural art as a producer of concrete objects cannot simply escape into abstraction. The relationship of its objects to the world has to be fundamentally (re-)determined. When Duchamp merges artwork with everyday objects and thus drives the mimesis of realism ad absurdum, he strikes this nerve. His readymades reference nothing but themselves—they are no symbol that can point out a fictive space from the perspective of a real one; they are what they are. They shed off imagery and replace it with the pure presence of the object.

Sculpture cannot move back behind that point. Whichever external references it displays: It cannot conceal the self-reference to its physical form. Every observation of the work recursively discovers its objecthood and the space it shares with the viewer. This awareness is the basis for the widening of sculptural concepts in the 1960s, and evidently also performative practices that interconnect objects, bodies and observers within the actual space can start from here.

2010 – 2012 my research was funded by a postdoctoral grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. Research stays in Rome and Florence were supported by Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max Planck Institute for Art History) and Villa Romana.


Christian Hartard / Donnersbergerstraße 43 / 80634 München (Munich) / Germany
studio@hartard.com / www.hartard.com

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