Small Colossal

Lecture and book launch

Tuesday, 13 November 2012
17.30, Research Forum South Room (followed by a book launch in the Front Hall)
The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN

Henny Abrams, Great Sphinx Replica and the Statue of LibertyHenny Abrams, Great Sphinx Replica and the Statue of Liberty, 1989, Photo: Bettmam/CORBISSpeaker(s): Professor Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby (University of California, Berkeley)
Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission
Organised by: Professor Caroline Arscott

This lecture coincides with the publication of Colossal. Engineering the Suez Canal, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower and Panama Canal, in which Professor Grigsby looks at some of the largest man-made objects in history, the Pyramids, the Statue of Liberty, the Panama Canal, not from an engineering standpoint, but from an art historical perspective. It is crammed with fascinating research that reveals many extraordinary new facts, links and collaborations.

Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby was born in the Panama Canal Zone. She is Professor of the History of Art at U.C. Berkeley and author of Extremities. Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (Yale University Press, 2002) and Colossal. Engineering the Suez Canal, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower and Panama Canal (Periscope Publishing, 2012). Her forthcoming book, entitled Enduring Truths. Sojourner’s Shadows and Substance concerns Sojourner Truth’s sophisticated use of cartes-de-visite during the Civil War. Grigsby is now writing a fourth book called Creole Looking. Portraying France’s Foreign Relations in the Nineteenth Century that examines France’s relationship to the Caribbean and Americas.

Further information:

In this generously illustrated book, art historian Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby gives us the definitive account of a history that leads from Napoleon’s encounter with the gigantic monuments of ancient Egypt to the building of the wonders of the industrial world, the Statue of Liberty, Suez Canal, Eiffel Tower, and Panama Canal. Though now landmarks as famed as the pyramids, Grigsby shows us that all four colossi owe their existence to French engineers and the fantasies of wealth, progress, and colonial expansion they and French financiers and politicians took as a call to destiny.

Grigsby goes beyond the boundaries of art history to take her subject in the round. She sets the exploits of characters like Bartholdi and Eiffel against the backdrop of universal expositions touting the new, science fiction predicting future glories, and cartoons deflating the hyperbole. She explains the systems of numbers – from profits promised and shares sold to calculations of wind resistance – used to promote and then build the colossi. Her book provides more than 200 illustrations, not of ‘art’, but of the engineering of the colossi and the visual culture publicising their construction.

Instead of approaching modernism through the emergence of avant-garde practices in the fine arts, Grigsby looks at a time of tragic drama when technology became an instrument of imperialist enterprise and top-down efforts to control and exploit the world’s resources, including workers. By uncovering the links between the building of the canals and the erection of the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower, she offers a searing lesson in the network of power and influence permeating even cherished icons of human achievement.

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