Wirth Institute Welcomes Prof. Michael Yonan

Prof. Michael Yonan from the University of Missouri presents "Franz Xaver Messerschmidt and the Vienna Art Academy"

06 October 2011

By Paško Bilić

On 22 September Professor Michael E. Yonan from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Missouri held a lecture at the Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta. The event was part of the Annual Central European Art History Lecture organized by the Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies in cooperation with the Department of Art and Design. The lecture was also an introductory event for the ˝New Perspectives on the Austrian Enlightenment˝ conference organized by the Wirth Institute and held on 23 and 24 September. At the end of the conference a presentation of a new book by Professor Yonan titled ˝Empress Maria Theresa and the Politics of Habsburg Imperial Art,˝ published by Penn State University Press, was held.

The lecture itself was titled ˝Franz Xaver Messerschmidt and the Vienna Art Academy˝ in which Professor Yonan took the perspective of rethinking the role of Messerschmidt as an artist. The common belief was that the artist was suffering from mental illness. Professor Yonan challenged that belief since it drew directly from the unorthodox sculptures from his ˝character heads˝ bust series. He argued that this image was not the result of the psychological state of the artist but the result of a clash between established norms and values of the Art Academy at that time and the unusual approach to creating male busts by the artist. This also hindered the chances of Franz Xaver Messershmidt achieving a higher status in the Vienna Art Academy and entering the established canons of the eighteenth century sculpture. However, as Professor Yonan pointed out, Messerschmidt, with his unusual approach and style, proved to be a source of inspiration for modern avant-garde movements and artists.