Following on from a cycle of exhibitions curated from the collection of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the seventh Max and Iris Stern International Symposium will selectively outline recent critical accounts of the history of abstraction and examine their reflection in current art practices.

A little over a century following its “invention,” abstraction still maintains a strong presence in the fields of art history and artistic production, where it continues to generate new interpretations. Over the last few years, several museums have devoted important exhibitions to its history, with a focus ranging from the canonical forms of modernism to abstraction’s diverse iterations during the postwar period. This historical engagement with abstraction has also extended to more current times, as institutions and galleries have been examining the development of abstraction in the art of the last three decades. Such interest can presumably be linked to abstraction’s increasing visibility in contemporary culture, a phenomenon that has lately led one art historian to describe our epoch as the third “golden age” of abstraction. A number of publications and exhibitions have also provided significant updates on various historical interpretations of abstraction, in which the latter is understood not solely as characteristic of specific objects (particularly artworks), but rather as a broader, definitional trait of the problematic development of modern finance and technology.

Among other topics, participants will discuss issues of subjectivity and corporeality within modernist paradigms of abstraction, as well as their evolution in the postwar socio-political and economic context (particularly through various practices based on materiality and performativity). These aesthetic phenomena will be further explored in light of the historical progress of industrial development and bio-political power. Other subjects will include the availability and periodic return of abstraction’s idioms, at a time when critical commentary seeks to renew the terms of its response to the commercial logic of formal recycling. From re-enactments of modernist aesthetic strategies to the use of contextual apparatuses related to archive, process, performativity and the merging of artist and curator functions, participants will discuss various types of intervention that could contribute to a renewed understanding of the models of abstraction.

The seventh Max and Iris Stern International Symposium will coincide with the launch of the publication La Question de l’abstraction.



Artist John M Armleder was born in Geneva in 1948. He founded the Ecart Group with Patrick Lucchini and Claude Rychner in 1969, followed by Ecart editions and publications and Galerie Ecart from 1973 to 1983. His earliest performances and videos are in keeping with the spirit of the Fluxus movement. In the 1980s, his works began to feature various combinations of abstract pictorial idioms and ready-mades, making use of the context and the curatorial device to support certain distancing and heterogeneity effects. Armleder’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at a number of institutions, among them Le Magasin (Grenoble), MAMCO (Geneva), the Contemporary Art Museum (St. Louis, Missouri), South London Gallery (London, England), ICA (Philadelphia), Kunstverein Hannover (Hanover, Germany), Tate Liverpool, MoMA (New York), Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and National Galerie (Berlin). He curated the exhibition All of the Above at the Palais de Tokyo (Paris) in 2013. Armleder teaches at the Hochschule für Bildende Kunst (Braunschweig, Germany) and the École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (Switzerland). He was awarded the Prix Meret Oppenheim in 2011.

BOIS, Yve-Alain

Yve-Alain Bois teaches Art History at the School of Historical Studies of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. He was formerly the Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Professor of Modern Art at Harvard University (1991–2005). A specialist in twentieth-century European and American art, Yve-Alain Bois is recognized as an expert on a wide range of artists, from Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso to Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman and Ellsworth Kelly. He has curated and co-curated a number of influential exhibitions, including Piet Mondrian, A Retrospective (1994); L’informe, mode d’emploi (1996); Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry (1999); and Picasso Harlequin 1917–1937 (2008). His books include Painting as Model (1990); Formless: A User’s Guide (with Rosalind Krauss, 1997); Matisse and Picasso (1998); and Art Since 1900 (with Benjamin Buchloh, Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss, 2004). Bois is currently working on several long-term projects, including a study of Barnett Newman’s paintings, the catalogue raisonné of Ellsworth Kelly’s paintings and sculptures, and the modern history of axonometric projection. Yve-Alain Bois was a co-founder of Macula (1976) and has been editor of October since 1991.


Melanie Gilligan is an artist and writer born in Toronto in 1979. Her work as an artist incorporates a variety of media; however, her specific focus in recent years has been on writing and directing narrative video works and performances in which she examines cultural, political and economic shifts that shape our times. Her writings on art, politics and finance have appeared in magazines and journals such as Artforum, Texte zur Kunst and Grey Room, and in recent volumes such as Canvases and Careers Today (Sternberg Press) and Intangible Economies (Fillip). In 2008, she released Crisis in the Credit System, a four-part fictional mini-drama about the recent financial crisis, made specifically for Internet distribution. Her recent serial video works Popular Unrest and Self-Capital are both narrative dramas that reflect on the state of politics in the current capital crisis. Solo exhibitions include Kölnischer Kunstverein (Cologne), Chisenhale Gallery (London), Transmission Gallery (Glasgow), VOX centre de l’image contemporaine (Montréal), The Banff Centre (Banff), Presentation House Gallery (North Vancouver) and Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (Toronto). In 2009, Gilligan received a Paul Hamlyn Award for Artists and in 2010, she won the Illy Present Future Award.


Jaleh Mansoor is Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia. She received her PhD from Columbia University in 2007 and has taught at SUNY Purchase, Barnard College, Columbia University and Ohio University. Her research on painting in the context of Marshall Plan Italy opens up onto problems concerning materialist abstraction. Mansoor’s areas of teaching and research include modernism, European and American art since 1945, Marxist theory, historiography and critical curatorial studies. She works as a critic for Artforum and is a frequent contributor to October, Texte Zur Kunst and The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest. Mansoor has written a number of monographic studies on the work of Piero Manzoni, Ed Ruscha, Agnes Martin, Blinky Palermo and Mona Hatoum. She co-edited an anthology of essays addressing Jacques Rancière’s articulations of politics and aesthetics, entitled Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics (2010). She is current working on two projects, one that addresses formal and procedural violence in the work of Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni; and another on the problem of labour, value and “bare life” in the work of Santiago Sierra and Claire Fontaine, among other contemporary practices that examine the limits of the human.


Mai-Thu Perret was born in Geneva in 1976. She earned a B.A. in English literature from Cambridge University and completed the Whitney Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum in 2003. A large part of her multidisciplinary artistic output revolves around a project called The Crystal Frontier, based on a utopian commune of women established in the New Mexico desert. In recent years, her works have been featured in solo exhibitions at numerous institutions, including Le Magasin (Grenoble), MAMCO (Geneva), Haus Konstruktiv (Zurich), University of Michigan Museum of Art (Ann Arbor), the Aspen Art Museum, SFMOMA (San Francisco), The Kitchen (New York), Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen (Switzerland), Bonnefantenmuseum (Maastricht) and Renaissance Society (Chicago). She was also a co-curator of Vides (Voids). A Retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Kunsthalle in Berne. Perret participated in the 54th Venice Biennale, ILLUMInazioni / ILLUMInations, in 2011. She has taught in the Master of Arts in Fine Arts at HEAD (Haute école d’art et de design) in Geneva since 2009 and has won many awards, including the Prix Manor (2011) and the Zurich Art Prize (2011).


Nicola Pezolet is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University, where he teaches history of architecture. His current research projects explore the rise of the discourse on the “synthesis of the arts,” first in Europe, then in Latin America and Canada. He earned a PhD in History, Theory and Criticism of Art and Architecture from MIT in Cambridge in 2013. His dissertation, under the supervision of Caroline Jones and Romy Golan, focuses on the post-World-War-II French Reconstruction and the integration of modern works into architecture. He was awarded fellowships by the SSHRC and FQRSC, as well as the Social Science Research Council, which allowed him to live and do research in Paris in the archives of the Fondation Le Corbusier, Centre Georges Pompidou and Cité de l’Architecture. Some of his research, on the formative years of the Situationist International, has already been published in the journals October and Grey Room. This fall, he is teaching a seminar course at Concordia University on modern architecture and the evolution of the notion of “total artwork” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Paul Schimmel is Vice President and Partner in the international contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth’s new Los Angeles venture, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel; previously, he was Chief Curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) from 1990 to 2012. He has organized major one-person retrospectives for artists such as Chris Burden, Willem De Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg, and several significant thematic exhibitions, among them Helter Skelter: LA Art in the 1990s (1992); Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949−1979 (1999); Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974−1981 (2011); and Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949−1962 (2012). Schimmel has been the recipient of numerous awards, including two from the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC), six from the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and the Award for Curatorial Excellence given by the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College (2001). He has served as a National Endowment for the Arts panellist and was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House (2010−2012).