Stephen B. Petersen

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities

20052006 Forum on Word and Image

Stephen B. Petersen

History of Art


As public declarations of intention, printed manifestos offered a critical outlet for artists' ideas in the 20th century, serving as both rhetorical and visual statements of position in the art world and in society. As a genre, manifestos involve text, graphic design, and the rhetorical presentation of artistic ideas in a social context, thereby intersecting with art, publicity, criticism, and advertising. Dr. Petersen examines European manifestos from the 1950s and early 1960s as instances of verbal and visual communication, and as objects in their own right. His study emphasizes the visual aspect of manifestos, focusing on the postwar period in which they increasingly entered into the field of international mass communication. 


The postwar European artistic milieu, that of the so-called neo-avant-garde, was one in which manifestos, both group- and individually authored, experienced a notable renaissance. Petersen analyzes the history of the manifesto and its Italian nationalist roots in particular, beginning in the 19th century and extending into the 20th century with the Futurist movement and the many other historical avant-gardes who defined themselves in printed statements. How did these printed statements, rife with rhetoric, publicly play out alliances and rivalries in the shifting and sometimes contentious postwar art world? And, ultimately, how did the manifesto fit into international postwar popular culture?