Gravitational Imagination: Picturing Suspension from Eadweard Muybridge to the Space Age


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


History of Art


Resisting gravity holds an allure. Translating that appeal to the realm of art history, this project charts aesthetic efforts to suspend and harness gravitational force. New visual and temporal possibilities emerged once photographic technology accelerated enough to catch airborne bodies and hold them aloft in the space of an image—documenting a potential which became fully embodied in the Space Age, once humans experienced sustained weightlessness. This represented suspension reconfigured the axes of artistic expression, yielding an ungrounded stillness. From Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of bodies held in momentary flight to Helen Frankenthaler and Marcel Duchamp’s manipulations of gravity, and from Claude Monet’s paintings of horizon-less indeterminacy to Aaron Siskind’s levitational imagery, this project identifies forms of pictorial suspension that arose in the face of industrial momentum. Materializing a stillness made possible by modernity, these objects open space for a “gravitational imagination”—founded in the world but also challenging its limits.