Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wednesday Archive #6 - The birth of the modern

The general consensus among academics dates the development of an early modern aesthetic in Johann Dieter Wassmann’s work to 1889. Beyond the presence of modernist concerns in his assemblage works, and later photography, his awareness of the changing nature of art can clearly be seen in his collected ephemera, currently held in the archives of the Wassmann Foundation, Washington, D.C.

The idea that innate images and objects may store substantial metaphorical content is as old as art itself, but it was the modern era that saw their removal from historical context, with essence alone left to both represent and raise doubts about traditional linkages. Johann’s very process of gathering material, either for future works or purely for enjoyment, involved just such a process of removal, stripping away historical ties, opening up potential new meaning for a modern world.

The engraving above is one such image, conjuring a wealth of surreptitious possibilities. Researchers at the foundation have since shown the engraving to be cut from E. Atkinson’s NATURAL PHILOSOPHY (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1887), a translation of A. Ganot's COURS ÉLÉMENTAIRE DE PHYSIQUE, one of several editions Johann owned. The image is, however, nothing more than a demonstration of concave mirrors, but in clipping it from the surrounds of its purpose, he has liberated it, and the viewer, from the historicism of its creation.

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