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Lecture by Ara Merjian: "Painting in Chains: Giorgio de Chirico's Nietzschean Interiors"

With wooden fragments pressed close to the picture plane and set in shallow, cloistered spaces, Giorgio de Chirico’s so-called “Metaphysical Interiors” from Ferrara (1915-18) seem to will their own confinement. A close reading of the paintings and their philosophical sympathies tells a different story. It is a story, in fact, of willful claustrophilia. Building upon an intellectual apprenticeship to Friedrich Nietzsche, de Chirico insists in both word and image upon the liberation of finitude. What Nietzsche calls “the prison-house of language” forms not a hampering limitation, but rather – for a select few initiates – a means to boundless exploration.
“My room,” de Chirico writes, “is a magnificent ship in which I can set off on adventures worthy of a stubborn explorer.” Even leaving aside the nautical pennants and maps that crop up in these images, the paintings posit the still and the static as bound up with travel; they insist upon the delimitation of space as the only means to transcendence. The unrelenting interiority of de Chirico’s Metaphysical still lifes is bound up, this paper argues, with a burrowing into architecture as a site of mental adventure, beginning with the wooden support of the canvas itself.
Ara H. Merjian is Assistant Professor of Italian Studies at New York University, where he is an affiliate of the Institute of Fine Arts and the Department of Art History. He is the author of Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City, published by Yale University Press, April 2014, and teaches the Italian and French avant-gardes, the modernist legacies of Nietzschean philosophy, European film theory, and the cultural politics of fascism and anti-fascism.
He is currently at work on two new manuscripts. Heretical Aesthetics: Pier Paolo Pasolini against the Avant-garde examines Pasolini’s fraught position between Neorealism and the Neo-Avant-garde in postwar Italy. Blueprints and Ruins: considers the wide-ranging and often inimical echoes of de Chirico’s painting in European art and architecture of the early and mid-twentieth century. Among some of Prof. Merjian’s published essays are articles on Le Corbusier and Metaphysical painting for Grey Room; Giacomo Balla’s design practice for the Oxford Art Journal; Jean Cocteau’s belle-lettrist criticism for the Getty Research Journal; and Luca Buvoli’s “post-utopian” video practice in Word & Image. Before joining the faculty at NYU, he taught at Stanford and Harvard Universities, and is a contributing critic to Artforum and frieze.



Thursday, May 1, 2014. 05:30PM


Cummings art Building, AR2 435 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA


Department of Art & Art History, Department of French and Italian, Philosophy & Literature, Mediterranean Studies Forum




Free and open to the public.