American, born in Austria, 1890-1965
Frederick Kiesler trained as an architect before turning to sculpture and design. Like many other European modernists in the 1920s, he was a utopian idealist. Kiesler first gained recognition in 1925 at the International Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris, where he exhibited a large gridlike structure titled City in Space. Its straight lines and flat planes joined at right angles embodied the utopian belief that simple geometric forms in art would help facilitate a more rational and egalitarian society.
Within a few years, however, Kiesler abandoned that approach in favor of curving biomorphic forms. The new surrealist movement rejected rationality and regularity in art and favored forms inspired by sources in nature—plants, animals, microscopic organisms, water, clouds, and rocks.
Winged Victory alludes to the famous Greek statue Winged Victory of Samothrace from the second century BCE in the Louvre. Created to commemorate a military conquest, the white marble female figure strides forward with widespread wings. Her body, wings, and clothing are wonderfully animated as if in an invigorating breeze. Kiesler reinterpreted that iconic monument to victory: here the figure has vanished, leaving only its darkened wings collapsing to the ground.
The motif of wings falling to earth evokes other sources as well, such as the biblical downfall of angels immortalized in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost or the Greek myth of Icarus. In the years after World War II, the myth of Icarus appealed to some artists and writers. On manmade wings of feathers and wax, Icarus became the first human to fly. But he flew too close to the sun, the wax melted, and he plummeted to earth, crashing to his death—much as the utopian aspirations of Kiesler’s generation had been crushed by war. Winged Victory offers a poignant visual metaphor for the collapse of the ideas and ideals of Western civilization as well as the destruction often inherent in victory.
Location: Bass Concert Hall Lobby