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Margareta Ingrid Christian Receives the 2024 Laing Award

The University of Chicago Press is pleased to announce that Objects in Air: Artworks and Their Outside around 1900 by Margareta Ingrid Christian is the recipient of the 2024 Gordon J. Laing Award. The award was presented by the University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos at a gala reception on April 24, 2024, in the City View Room of the David Rubenstein Forum at the University of Chicago.

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The Gordon J. Laing Award is conferred annually by vote of the Board of University Publications on the faculty author, editor, or translator whose book has brought the greatest distinction to the list of the University of Chicago Press. Books published in 2021 and 2022 were eligible for the 2024 award. The award is named in honor of the scholar who, serving as general editor from 1909 until 1940, firmly established the character and reputation of the University of Chicago Press as the premier academic publisher in the United States.

In Objects in Air, Margareta Ingrid Christian unpacks how, around 1900, art scholars, critics, and choreographers wrote about the artwork as an actual object in real time and space, surrounded and fluently connected to the viewer through the very air we breathe. Theorists such as Aby Warburg, Alois Riegl, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the choreographer Rudolf Laban drew on the science of their time to examine air as the material space surrounding an artwork, establishing its “milieu,” “atmosphere,” or “environment.” Christian explores how the artwork’s external space was seen to work as an aesthetic category in its own right, beginning with Rainer Maria Rilke’s observation that Rodin’s sculpture “exhales an atmosphere” and that Cezanne’s colors create “a calm, silken air” that pervades the empty rooms where the paintings are exhibited.

In its review, the Choice offered this praise: “Christian offers a compelling and innovative investigation of the history and theory of the physical and represented space that fills, permeates, or surrounds two- and three-dimensional works of art.”

Garrett Kiely, director of the Press commented, “We are very proud to have published Professor Christian’s work, which offers a new way of thinking about how art was conceived and discussed in the early twentieth century. We are excited to see her receive this honor and recognition for her book.”

Objects in Air is that rare thing: a book that not only makes us think differently but see differently. Christian’s examination of debates about the relationship of works of art to the spaces and audiences that surround them throws a dazzling new light on the history of aesthetics, on German art and literature at the turn of the twentieth century, and—perhaps most importantly of all—on the artworks themselves. Objects in Air is a triumph of scholarship,” commented Joel Isaac, chair of the Board of University Publications.

Margareta Ingrid Christian is associate professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago.

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Margareta Ingrid Christian

“I feel incredibly honored to receive the Laing Award and be part of a group of previous recipients whose work I have admired and esteemed for many years. There were many people who helped me write this book. I found wonderful intellectual interlocutors in Germanic Studies and Art History, and other colleagues from the University, and beyond. I would like to extend my deepest thanks to all the people who sat down with me, talked through my ideas, read my work, and advised me. I am also very grateful to the Press which was supportive when I was trying to finish the manuscript as the pandemic started, as archives shut down around the world, and as my book’s title seemed to acquire additional meanings to the ones I had intended,” said Christian.

University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos noted: “With Objects in Air, Christian explores early twentieth-century aesthetic thought on art, in turn offering a compelling vision for how art becomes understood beyond its own boundaries as it converses with and shapes the greater environment that surrounds it. This work is an achievement of humanistic inquiry and more than deserving of the Laing Prize, the University of Chicago Press’s highest honor.”

Christian joins a distinguished list of previous recipients that includes, most recently, Elisabeth C. Clemens, Lisa Wedeen, Michael Rossi, Eve L. Ewing, and Deborah Nelson. For a complete list of winners, visit the Laing Award page.