Sometimes disappointment deepens, encompasses such
a wide scope that it overmatches our prior expectations, overwhelms our abilities, and threatens to shade into a more general disillusion that would stop us cold. Thus, one ethical task of critical thinking might be to steer us through our disappointment; to prevent it from turning into a permanent disillusionment; to make of our disappointment a plausible beginning, rather than
a certain ending.
Thomas L. Dumm, “Resignation”
Damaged Romanticism revolves around a seemingly simple premise: powerful, positive artwork can spring from profound disappointment. If tempered, loss can be transformed from a descent into despair into a journey of optimism and creative renewal. The concept is underscored by the clash of current events—political and cultural change, natural disasters, financial uncertainty, and war—with historical influences, especially the European romantic movement, which infused the arts and literature of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The resulting exhibition imagines a “damaged romanticism,” where the historical movement’s exoticism and fantasy have been reshaped by the clarity of pragmatic realism.
Featuring painting, sculpture, installation, photography, and video by fifteen artists from around the world, the exhibition showcases the confrontation between classic, highly idyllic, romanticism and contemporary pragmatism. It conveys the complexity of everyday reality by giving form to multifaceted, even contradictory sentiments, placing rebellion, disillusionment, and defiance side by side.
The featured works are stubbornly optimistic and illustrate what we might call an “aftermath aesthetic,” a visual representation of the determination to defeat the deluge, heartbreak, or devastation of life. Built upon the belief that rebirth grows out of experiences of things gone wrong, the exhibition suggests that the future can be better than the present. Embodying a survivor’s sensibility, damaged romanticism leaves no illusions about the difficulty of struggle or the chance for success. Instead, the diverse group of artists presented here explores multilayered responses to the world, identifying damaged romanticism as a powerful mirror of modern emotion.
Damaged Romanticism was organized for Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, by Terrie Sultan, David Pagel, and Colin Gardner. The exhibition and publication are made possible, in part, by the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, the Cecil Amelia Blaffer von Furstenburg Endowment for Exhibitions and Programs, the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, Ellen and Steve Susman, Continental Airlines, and the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany. The presentation at the Grey Art Gallery is made possible, in part, through generous support from the Abby Weed Grey Trust. Public programs are supported by the Grey’s Inter/National Council.