Freyja Hartzell will give a Work-in-Progress talk on Thursday, November 15, at 12:15 pm. Her talk is entitled “Cell or Soul? Riemerschmid’s Patterns as Embodied Perception.”

Drawn from current work on the final chapter of her book manuscript, Living Things: The Modern Art of Richard Riemerschmid, Professor Hartzell’s talk will explore the curious relationship between the early and late stages in the career of the influential Munich designer, whose long and prolific career began in the 1890s and closed with his death in 1957. “Cell or Soul? Riemerschmid’s Patterns as Embodied Perception” draws together the significance of nineteenth-century studies in biological science and the nature of perception with practical and theoretical trends in modern art and design developing over the course of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. While Riemerschmid’s turn-of-the-century textile designs resemble microscopic botanical images, his final patterns for fabrics and wallpapers appear to collapse and stylize the textured surfaces of his previous design materials, such as ceramic and wood, into two-dimensional printed images. Transgressing the boundaries of art and design, these printed products simultaneously invoke and contest key modernist principles: self-referentiality, medium specificity, and the flatness of the image versus the corporeality of the object. In their hybridization of image and object, as well as their generation of haunting optical illusions that seem to point towards later works of Op Art, Riemerschmid’s last patterns actively defy modernist conventions of “purity”—whether in “art” or “design.” The complexity of his work is the complexity of modernism.

Freyja Hartzell is an Assistant Professor at Bard Graduate Center. Her research focuses on European design, architecture, and art from 1750 through the present, with an emphasis on German design and domestic architecture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.