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Modernism after Wagner

2010
Author:

Juliet Koss

Modernism after Wagner

The first critical history of Wagner’s concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk and its impact on European modernism

References to the Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work of art,” abound in discussions of modern art and culture. In Modernism after Wagner, Juliet Koss explores the history and legacy of Wagner’s concept, laying out its genealogy and the political, aesthetic, and cultural context from which it emerged, and tracing its development and reception through the 1930s.

This is an extraordinary book: thoughtful, deft, and learned, it offers a compelling revisionist account of the history and destiny of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The implications for our understanding of the Gesamtkunstwerk are transformative: this book challenges us to rethink not only a conventional history, but our propensity to parrot a conventional party line of that history.

David J. Levin, University of Chicago; Executive Editor, The Opera Quarterly

References to the Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work of art,” abound in discussions of modern art and culture, often describing a seamless melding of a variety of art forms that overwhelm the emotions, impede critical thought, and mold a group of individuals into a powerless mass. Famously set forth by the composer Richard Wagner in 1849, the term has been applied to such disparate settings as the cinema palaces of Berlin in the 1920s and Andy Warhol’s Factory scene in New York in the 1960s.

In Modernism after Wagner, Juliet Koss explores the history and legacy of Wagner’s concept, laying out its genealogy and the political, aesthetic, and cultural context from which it emerged, and tracing its development and reception through the 1930s. Beginning with Wagner’s initial articulation of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the wake of the 1848–49 revolution, Koss addresses a series of linked episodes in German aesthetic theory and artistic practice that include the composer’s efforts to build a theater to house his music dramas, culminating in the construction of the festival theater at Bayreuth in 1876; German aesthetic theory and criticism in the visual arts, theater, film, and radio from the 1870s to the 1920s; the founding of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony in 1901 and that of the Munich Artists’ Theater in 1908; performances and parties at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 1930s; and the legacy of the Gesamtkunstwerk under National Socialism. Attending to Wagner’s absorption into Fascist aesthetics, Koss foregrounds the revolutionary origins of the Gesamtkunstwerk and its emancipatory potential.

Rigorously researched and highly accessible, Modernism after Wagner places the Gesamtkunstwerk at the heart of modern art and culture.

Modernism after Wagner

Juliet Koss is associate professor and chair of art history at Scripps College in Claremont, California.

Modernism after Wagner

This is an extraordinary book: thoughtful, deft, and learned, it offers a compelling revisionist account of the history and destiny of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The implications for our understanding of the Gesamtkunstwerk are transformative: this book challenges us to rethink not only a conventional history, but our propensity to parrot a conventional party line of that history.

David J. Levin, University of Chicago; Executive Editor, The Opera Quarterly

A radically revisionist, and convincing, case that the 19th century ideal of the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk) and the modernist concept of estrangement are locked in dialogue rather than opposition, Juliet Koss’s book is necessary reading for historians of modern spectatorship across the spectrum of art and architectural history, media and cultural studies, politics, and critical theory.

Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art

This book constitutes a major intervention in the study of modernism both within, and well beyond, the fields of architecture and art history. Modernism after Wagner traverses astonishingly diverse terrain. Avoiding the elegiac register of recent studies, Juliet Koss brings to an impossibly expansive subject a welcome historical precision, laced with mordant wit.

Tim Barringer, Yale University

Modernism after Wagner contributes to a growing scholarly interest in ways of theorizing the interaction between a work of art and its audience.

German Studies Review

The book is a visual feast, chock-full of beautifully reproduced blueprints, photographs, and other illustrations, all of which contribute greatly to the presentation of Koss’s ideas.

Modern Drama

Koss’s elegantly written and thought-provoking contribution is a must-read not only for those concerned with the history and theory of modernism. Anyone engaged with artistic and political imaginings of an improved world will also find Modernism after Wagner an invaluable prehistory as they think through whatever “emancipatory potential” might reside in our crisis-ridden present for a better, if not utopian, future.

CAA Reviews

Each chapter presents a rather self-sufficient, richly documented and highly suggestive case study. One could imagine any one of them being included on a variety of course syllabi, whether in course in art, design or theater history, aesthetics, German cultural history, or in courses examining the concept and history of modernism in general, and not only after or according to Wagner.

Design and Culture

Koss’s account is historically grounded and critically acute.

Architectural Research Quarterly

Modernism after Wagner provides a far-reaching and extensive analysis of theaters, artistic performances, and, in particular, cultural theorizing, which expands from Wagner’s original conceptualization of the Gesamtkunstwerk. She has done a great service by bringing this unrecognized development within modernism to light and, in the process, highlighted many structures and performances that were not well illuminated in the literature.

Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

Koss successfully restores the original conception of Wagner’s ideas on the Gesamtkunstwerk and shows their relevance for the understanding of modernism in its very own interdisciplinary efforts.... At the same time, she calls for a reconsideration of how modernism itself had to be understood more fully in relation to the theoretical and historical development of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The particular relevance of Modernism After Wagner lies in a recognition of the significance of this concept for today’s central collaborative method of interdisciplinarity in many fields, not only in the academic arena.

Leonardo Reviews

The book’s real strength lies in Koss’s accounts of a variety of dense relationships among people theorizing about art and its role in society and people trying to create artistic experiences that might, they hoped, change how people thought about their world.

German History

Modernism after Wagner is clearly written, well illustrated, and nicely designed.

European Architectural History Network

An important contribution to modernist theatre studies.

Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism

The book as a whole is a tour de force—probing, perceptive, and revelatory. . . Koss’s work has its own revolutionary import, freeing Wagner and his ideas and presenting a dramatically new view of one of the main currents of Modernist thought.

Harvard Design Magazine

Modernism after Wagner

Contents

An Introduction to the Total Work of Art

Ubiquitous Gesamtkunstwerk—Reverent Misunderstandings—Nationalism and Internationalism—Medium Specificity and Interdisciplinarity

1. The Utopian Gesamtkunstwerk
Revolutionary Dresden—Origins and Sources—The Gesamtkunstwerk of the Future—The Audience of the Future
2. Building Bayreuth
Theoretical Architecture—Gottfried Semper and Munich—The Bayreuth Festival Theater—The Modern Auditorium—The Mystical Abyss
3. Empathy Abstracted
Aesthetic Empathy—Empathy and Relief—Psychological Empathy— Empathy and Abstraction—Self-Estrangement and the Fear of Space
4. The Nietzschean Festival
Georg Fuchs and the Cult of Nietzsche—The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony— Peter Behrens, Theater Reformer—The Stage of the Future—The Prinzregententheater in Munich
5. Retheatricalizing the Theater
Ausstellung München 1908—The Munich Artists’ Theater—Abstraction on a Shallow Stage—Hildebrand and Relief Sculpture—Critical Responses
6. The Specter of Cinema
Projections in Munich—Advertising and Consumption—Hugo Münsterberg and the Photoplay—Reproducing Sound—Absorption and Distraction
7. Bauhaus Theater of Human Dolls
Theater at the Bauhaus—Automata, Marionettes, and Dolls—Spectators and Estrangement—The Triadic Ballet—Costume Parties and the Gesamtkunstwerk
8. Invisible Wagner
Intoxication and Addiction—Sorcery, Conducting, and Hypnosis— Theodor Adorno, Phantasmagorical History, Failure—Dilettantism— Haunting Modernism

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography

Index