UChicago Press awards top honor to Margareta Ingrid Christian for ‘Objects in Air’

Scholar of German art and literature wins 2024 Laing Award for book examining early 20th-century art criticism

The University of Chicago press awarded the 2024 Gordon J. Laing Award to Assoc. Prof. Margareta Ingrid Christian for her book Objects in Air: Artworks and Their Outside around 1900. President Paul Alivisatos presented the award to Christian at a gala reception on April 24 at the David Rubenstein Forum. 

“With Objects in Air, Christian explores early 20th-century aesthetic thought on art, in turn offering a compelling vision for how art becomes understood beyond its own boundaries as it converses with and shapes the greater environment that surrounds it,” Alivisatos said. “This work is an achievement of humanistic inquiry and more than deserving of the Laing Prize, the University of Chicago Press’s highest honor.” 

Every year, the Laing Award is presented to a UChicago faculty author, editor or translator whose book has brought the greatest distinction to the Press. 

An associate professor in the Department of Germanic Studies, Christian’s work is situated at the intersection of literature, art writing, and the history of science. In Objects in Air, Christian draws from all three disciplines by unpacking how art scholars, critics, and choreographers around 1900 wrote about artwork as an actual object in real time and space—connected to the viewer through the very air we breathe.  

By examining the writings of theorists such as Aby Warburg, Alois Riegl, Rainer Maria Rilke, and choreographer Rudolf Laban, Christian explores how the artwork’s external space was seen to work as an aesthetic category in its own right. 

“I feel incredibly honored to receive the Laing Award and be part of a group of previous recipients whose work I have admired and esteemed for many years,” said Christian. “I would like to extend my deepest thanks to all the people who sat down with me, talked through my ideas, read my work and advised me.  

“I am also very grateful to the Press which was supportive when I was trying to finish the manuscript as the pandemic started, as archives shut down around the world, and as my book’s title seemed to acquire additional meanings to the ones I had intended,” she said. 

In its review, the Choice praised Christian’s Objects in Air as a “compelling” and “innovative investigation” of how space fills, permeates, or surrounds art. 

Joel Isaac, chair of the Board of University Publications commented: “Objects in Air is that rare thing: a book that not only makes us think differently but see differently. Christian’s examination of debates about the relationship of works of art to the spaces and audiences that surround them throws a dazzling new light on the history of aesthetics, on German art and literature at the turn of the twentieth century, and—perhaps most importantly of all—on the artworks themselves. Objects in Air is a triumph of scholarship.” 

“We are very proud to have published Professor Christian’s work, which offers a new way of thinking about how art was conceived and discussed in the early twentieth century,” said Garrett Kiely, director of the Press. “We are excited to see her receive this honor and recognition for her book.” 

The Gordon J. Laing Award is named in honor of the scholar who, serving as general editor from 1909 until 1940, firmly established the character and reputation of the University of Chicago Press as the premier academic publisher in the United States. 

Christian joins a distinguished list of previous recipients that includes, most recently, Elisabeth C. Clemens, Lisa Wedeen, Michael Rossi, Eve L. Ewing, and Deborah Nelson. For a complete list of winners, visit the Laing Award page

—This story was adapted from a press release from the University of Chicago Press.