Trockel | Rorschach: Experiments in the Interpretation of Form

Lecture by Brigid Doherty, Princeton University
November 21st 2019

In 1921, Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922) published Psychodiagnostik. Methodik und Ergebnisse eines Wahrnehmungsdiagnostischen Experimentes (Deutenlassen von Zufallsformen). Seventy years later, Rosemarie Trockel (b. 1952), exhibited a group of five untitled Wollbilder whose 250 x 160-cm. navy-blue-and-gray surfaces — which were knitted by machine to Trockel’s specifications in a factory in Italy, and then stretched, over linen, in her Cologne studio — allude in various ways to the ten plates of Rorschach’s experiment in the interpretation of so-called “chance forms.” Trockel’s works also relate to some very large 1984 paintings by Andy Warhol that took as their point of departure what Warhol knew, and what he claimed not to know, of the “Rorschach Test” as a test of personality widely referenced in popular culture in the United States beginning in the mid-1940s. Trockel’s Rorschach-Bilder exemplify the depth and complexity of the artist’s engagements with modernism and its aftermath in art, literature, and film, and with central problems in late 19th/early 20th-century German philosophy, psychology, and psychoanalysis.

Brigid Doherty holds a joint appointment as Associate Professor in the Department of German and the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University, where she is also an Associated Faculty member in the School of Architecture, a member of the Executive Committees of the Program in European Cultural Studies and the Program in Media + Modernity, and a member of the Council on International Teaching and Research. From 2012 to 2019, she served as director of Princeton’s Program in European Cultural Studies. In 2019 she received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, Princeton’s highest award for teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. Brigid Doherty earned her PhD from the Department of History of Art at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1996, and her AB, with Honors and Distinction in Modern Thought and Literature and Studio Art, from Stanford University in 1987. In 1986, she was a visiting student in painting at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin (now the Universität der Künste Berlin). From 1996 to 2003, she was assistant and then associate professor (with tenure) in the Department of the History of Art and the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University. Her research and teaching focus on the interdisciplinary study of twentieth-century art and literature, with special emphasis on the history of German modernism and on relationships among the visual arts, literature, and aesthetic and psychoanalytic theories. Her art-historical scholarship includes numerous publications and translations in the study of German Dada and avant-garde art of the 1920s, as well as articles and exhibition catalogue essays on contemporary art, especially the work of Hanne Darboven and Rosemarie Trockel. Her published work on German literature and critical theory includes articles on Rainer Maria Rilke, Bertolt Brecht, and Walter Benjamin. She is co-editor of a volume of writings by Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibilty and Other Writings on Media (Harvard University Press, 2008). In 2005, she held the inaugural Research Forum Visiting Professorship in Modern and Contemporary Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. In 2006–07, she was the David and Roberta Logie Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University and an Affiliate Scholar at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. In 2011 and 2015, she was a Fellow at the Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung in Berlin. Currently, she is a Visiting Scholar at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin. In 2020, she will be the Holly Fellow at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.