Harvard art historian to speak on art in a time of crisis

Fragment of Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (left), and Joseph Koerner, a professor in Harvard’s History of Art + Architecture department

What role does art play in society where freedom had been radically reduced? How much does creative expression matter during a state of siege? To explore these questions, the Townsend Center for the Humanities at UC Berkeley has invited Harvard art historian Joseph Leo Koerner to deliver its annual Avenali Lecture this Thursday, March 15.

Koerner’s lecture, “Art in a State of Siege: Bosch in Retrospect,” will examine how the work of artist Hieronymous Bosch was shaped by the turbulence of the Reformation. The lecture takes place at 5 p.m. in the Morrison Library in Doe Library.

The next day, Koerner will lead a symposium of the same title beginning at 1 p.m. in the Townsend Center’s Geballe Room in Stephens Hall. The symposium will feature Whitney Davis, a professor in Berkeley’s History of Art Department, James Porter, a Berkeley professor in both classics and rhetoric, and Jane Taylor, a professor in the University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Humanities Research. Both the lecture and symposium are free and open to the public.

“Koerner is one of the most prolific and original art historians today,” says Porter. “Koerner’s method distinguishes itself not only through the way it performs brilliant readings of individual works of art, but also through the way it reads these artworks as veritable landscapes that are marked, and often scarred, by deeper cultural, religious and political histories.”

Additionally, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will be a screening Koerner’s documentary film The Burning Child at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 17. The film explores Koerner’s return to Vienna to explore the birthplace of his father, the painter Henry Koerner, and is a meditation on the concepts of home and homemaking that emerged during the upheavals of 20th-century Austria. Tickets are available on BAMPFA’s website.

Koerner, who earned his Ph.D. at Berkeley, is coming to campus as the 2018 Avenali Chair in the Humanities, a program established in 1987 that brings a distinguished figure in arts and humanities to Berkeley each year for a major lecture, panel discussions and meetings with students and faculty. The endowment also supports two department resident fellows.