This paper cannot, of course, cover all aspects of Carola Giedion-Welcker’s reception. Reinhold Hohl, in his introduction to Giedion-Welcker’s Collected Writings from 1973, alludes to a more enthusiastic initial reception of her work in the English-speaking world than even in the German-speaking one. This clearly had political reasons during the Nazi years. In the post-war period, her strong presence in the US, while her husband was teaching at Harvard from 1983, could have pointed to a much higher and more sustained profile in America. It would not quite be fair to suggest that she was forgotten: the inclusion of one of her texts in the Henry Moore Institute’s anthology Modern Sculpture Reader is testimony to her (possibly renewed) appreciation in specialist circles, but her achievement has certainly not been valued consistently and equally with the artists whose canonical status she helped to establish.
My aim today is to explore why this may be the case and especially to focus on two seminal books within English-speaking sculptural history that short-change her: one possibly knowingly, the other unknowingly. These two books are Rosalind Krauss’ Passages in Modern Sculpture, 1977, and Lucy R. Lippard’s Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory from 1983.
An intention of this short paper - that is more achievable possibly as an outcome of today’s proceedings and no doubt more comprehensive given the capable help of the other speakers here today - is a reconsideration of Carola Giedion-Welcker, which is certainly warranted (at least in the English-speaking world). This is a development that is underway: Iris Bruderer-Oswald has completed a book-length study investigating Giedion-Welcker and her role within Modernist Art Criticism as a research project at the University of Basel.. This eagerly awaited book will include a biographical sketch by her son, Andres Giedion. I hope this paper will add a little chapter to the now sizable compendium of reappraisals of European perspectives on Modernist art that didn’t subscribe to American High Modernist formalism but were at one point or other drowned out by its dominance and subsequently ignored, misunderstood and/or misrepresented by its critics.