“Crash and Burn: Destruction in American Art” at Courtauld Institute of Art

June 5 & 6, 2015
Courtauld Institute of Art, London

Destruction has long occupied a central position in the construction of an American national image. From Cotton Mather’s description of Boston as ‘the City of Destruction’ to the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, the sheer visual force of destruction has repeatedly left an indelible mark on the collective psyche. As historians such as Richard Slotkin and Kevin Rozario have demonstrated, violent and destructive episodes have been inextricably linked with the apparently opposing forces of creation and regeneration so central to American self-imaging. This symposium elaborates on such historical accounts to examine how the idea of destruction has shaped and been shaped by American art and visual culture.

Organized by Hélène Valance, Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and Alex J. Taylor, Terra Foundation Research Fellow in American Art at Tate, the symposium attempts to establish a genealogy for the destructive impulse as it was specifically activated in American art, charting its evolution from the colonial era to the present. How do American artists reconcile destruction with their own processes of creation? What motivated artists to incorporate destruction into their art, and how have these contextual meanings changed over time? The symposium interrogates destruction as a theme addressed by artists through their work, but also considers those external forces that have seen the artwork itself subjected to the forces of destruction. Papers address works of art of all mediums and periods, as well as a wider range of visual and material culture. (Click here to view and download the complete program.)

The embedded video features the symposium’s welcoming remarks—please click here to view all of the symposium sessions on YouTube.