Melvin Edwards and the Mid-century “Damage Thesis”
This paper asks whether a widespread understanding in the early 20th century of the role of the black artist in advancing modern thought should be understood as key to the negotiation Melvin Edwards forged between abstraction and historical specificity around 1963 with his first Lynch Fragment. Into a language of discarded industrial machine parts, Edwards seems to have incorporated mid-century debates about whether “damage” or “folk culture” should define African American identity. Edwards’s sutured organs seem to acknowledge suffering, fragmentation, and breakage, but at the same time, in their coherence, they seem to privilege a modern notion of working through trauma, rather than a postmodern performance of dissolution.
Elise Archias is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her first book, The Concrete Body: Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci (Yale, 2016), was the winner of the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism this year.