WMU Home > About WMU > WMU News

WMU News

Public art that shocks is topic of Hamner lecture

Oct. 31, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Public art that sparks controversy and what such controversy reveals about American society will be the topic when Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. Michael Kammen speaks at Western Michigan University Wednesday, Nov. 9.

Kammen, who will deliver WMU's annual H. Nicholas Hamner Lecture, will discuss "Visual Shock: Controversial Art in American History and Culture" in a free public lecture at 7 p.m. in Room 1005 of the Fetzer Center. Kammen is the Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture at Cornell University and the Cardozo Visiting Distinguished Professor at Yale University.

Part of Kammen's presentation will look at the 1960s as a pivotal point in the emergence of inconclastic or "in your face" art, says Dr. Mitch Kachun, WMU associate professor of history and coordinator of the event. West Michigan, specifically the Grand Rapids community, was the scene of one such controversy in 1969, when a large sculpture by Alexander Calder, "La Grande Vitesse," was installed in what is now known as Calder Plaza. The work, which generated significant controversy in and out of that city, was the first public work of sculpture acquired with funds from the then-new National Endowment for the Arts.

In his lecture, Kammen will use the Calder experience as one of many examples involving monuments and memorials, modernism, decency and sexuality, museums as sites of controversy and the emergence of feminist art. Kachun says Kammen's current writing project--a book about art and cultural contestation in American history--will include references to both the Calder piece and a newer sculpture by Mark di Suvero, which also is located in Grand Rapids. The book, scheduled for publication in 2006, will focus on diverse responses to art, ranging from that of lay viewers to critics and policy makers.

Kammen is one of today's most prolific and engaging commentators on America's past. His specialty is American history since 1870 as well as historical thought, iconongraphy, and the four seasons as a cultural motif in art, literature and environmental writing.

A past president of the Organization of American Historian, he has been a Regents Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and has served on both the Smithsonian Council and the Advisory Board of the National Park System. The author and editor of more than 20 books, he won the Pulitzer Prize for History for his 1972 book "People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization." His most recent book is "A Time for Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture."

Kammen's visit to WMU is made possible by an endowment established in 1999 by Dr. H. Nicholas Hamner, WMU professor emeritus of history, who retired in 1992. The first Hamner Lecture was held in November 2000. The lecture series he funded is designed to bring to WMU outstanding historians to peak on topics of interest to students, faculty members and the larger community.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
1903 W Michigan Ave
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400