Posing Problems: George Kubler's 'Prime Objects'

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In his seminal 1962 essay, The Shape of Time, the American art historian George Kubler described the production of art as a series of attempts to ‘solve’ a certain artistic ‘problem’. The origin of these ‘problems’ is located in epochal artworks that are called ‘prime objects’ by Kubler. This essay situates this explanation for artistic innovation in the tradition of art historiography, most notably Jacob Burckhardt whose writings bear striking similarities to Kubler’s concepts and might have even inspired the neologism ‘prime object’. However, I argue that Kubler’s notion of the problem-posing ‘prime object’ virtually inverts the meaning of the term as employed by his predecessor and turns it – contrary to his own claim to write a ‘history of things’ – into a concept that has in some respects more affinities with a neo-Romantic Platonism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-269
JournalJournal of Visual Art Practice
Issue number2-3 Headstone to Hard Drive
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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