Talk Series: Lytle Shaw on The Source of the Hudson – A Dutch Landscape of American Prospects


Keyed to the Hudson Quadricentennial, this talk will be Shaw’s first from a book in progress on the politics of time in landscape painting—and more generally on what happens to American history and aesthetics when the Dutch, not the English, get read as forbears. He begins with nineteenth-century America’s uses and abuses of seventeenth-century Holland, especially romantic historian John Lothrop Motley’s celebration of the Dutch revolt as a phase freedom took on its inexorable path to the United States and his suggestion that Dutch struggles with elemental matter in land reclamation conditioned the nation to subdue much more tractable human beings in the course of empire. Looking at some vivid images of this muck, Shaw will try to suggest, first, how the ongoing Dutch relation to provisional land was shown otherwise by the century’s best painters (esp. Ruisdael, Van Goyen and Hobbema): not as a heroic and final sorting in service of social domination and economic productivity, but rather as a necessarily contingent arrangement of fluid and mutable substance—all staged in an equally fluid temporality, a non-instrumental “now.”  Why have such models of composition and time been illegible to historians (and art historians)?  He’ll try to answer this in part by exploring the relation between historical narration and the different painterly genres of landscape and history.  But rather than resolve this dilemma in a neat historical frame, Shaw wants instead to push on the conceptual resources latent in landscape painting until they spill out and become an attractive if slippery mound in our own moment of samplings, performances and installations.

Lytle Shaw’s books of poetry include Cable Factory 20, The Lobe, and several collaborations with artists. His essays and reviews have appeared in Cabinet, Artforum, and Parkett and in catalogs for the DIA Center for the Arts, the Drawing Center, and the Sculpture Center. He lives in New York City, where he is assistant professor of English at New York University.