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This issue of the Art Journal focuses on postwar sculpture in Europe and America, a topic that has received relatively little attention. The subject, however, is timely. Since the inception of this project, excellent exhibitions on Holocaust memorials and postwar Paris have been organized that, while they include relatively few sculptures from the forties and fifties, call attention to this period.(1) Indeed, a half century after D day, debates over the war and appropriate forms of remembrance are now escalating.
The growing acclaim garnered by Abstract Expressionism in the fifties and the ascendancy of abstract art as the dominant mode of production sparked heated debates on the viability of abstraction for a world in conflict. Understandably, public sculpture became one locus of the controversy. In this context, abstraction was vehemently contested. "Could I have made a stone with a hole in it and said, 'Voila! The heroism of the Jews'?" asked Nathan Rapoport, the creator of the Warsaw Ghetto Monument of 1947.(2) Or John Berger, echoing a line of leftist criticism, characterized the prevailing abstraction of the contestants for the competition for the Unknown Political Prisoner in 1953 as, "tolerant, uncommitted. remote, anesthetized, harmless and therefore, in the end impertinent."(3) There were, of course, champions for abstraction, and undeniably it became privileged in this period.
A central issue addressed by many of the articles included here is the changing meanings of abstraction in postwar Europe and America. Today, abstraction is rarely held to convey only aesthetic concerns, and conversely realism is no longer viewed as the sole purveyor of social or political messages. In the postwar era, depending upon country and time, realism and abstraction could shift as signifiers of the right or the left, of freedom or repression, of the new or the old. By the fifties in America, for example. some saw realism as a throwback to the leftist concerns of the thirties; others saw it as connected to the Soviet regime or even to the legacy of a Nazi, antimodernist aesthetic. Others praised its existential humanism. Conversely, while some viewed abstraction as representing the individualism of the "free world," some others considered it a regression to the leftist goals of the twenties, and still others viewed it as the epitome of prevailing Greenbergian formalist aesthetics. Indeed, this scenario varied from country to country.(4) With the swiftly changing political scene, …