Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Emily Warner

Emily Warner studies American and twentieth-century art, with a particular focus on the relationship between painting and architecture. She earned her doctorate in History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017. She is the recipient of awards from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Henry Luce Foundation and the Dedalus Foundation. Most recently, she taught American art history at Vassar College in New York.

At the Institute of Advanced Studies, Dr Warner will be researching and writing her book, Abstraction Unframed: Abstract Murals at Midcentury. The book asks, What would it mean to take abstract painting - perhaps modernism’s most esoteric, difficult form - off the easel and insert it into everyday life? In the decades around World War II, many American painters, from Stuart Davis to Jackson Pollock, were intrigued by this idea: they sought a new scale for their abstract designs and a more vital connection with their audience. These midcentury murals followed two, opposing strategies: some mirrored the geometry of architectural modernism, while others utilised a turbulent vocabulary that contrasted with the surrounding architecture. The book explores the aesthetic and social effects of unframing abstraction for public spaces, and argues that the abstract mural’s scalar ambiguity - simultaneously monumental and intimate, grand and embracing - gave it a particular resonance at a time when the boundaries between public and private life were blurred. Ultimately, the book aims to rewrite our history of abstract painting, moving away from models of style and influence and towards, instead, reception, viewer encounter and the built environment.