Anila Quayyum Agha
A Place to Call Home
My research at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Archives of American Art, will include studying major holdings of contemporary artwork, craftwork, and documentation of artists and craftspeople. Although particular interest will be given to individuals who have immigrated to the United States from the South Asian and African diasporas, I will also look at American-born artists who have been influenced by Asian and African motifs and creative processes. Research into artists engaged in political and social dialogues through their artwork, principally African American artists, will also be undertaken. A variety of materials will be explored, from interviews and artist archives to historic textile pattern samples and large-scale contemporary art created in the last several years. I will incorporate research from these sources into concepts for future artworks and learn from the variety of production methods and materials researched during my residency.
Full Dress: Masculinity and Conformity in Antebellum America
In early nineteenth-century America, masculine formal eveningwear evolved into a uniform ensemble of a black tailcoat and trousers and a white shirt, waistcoat, and bowtie: a style that has changed little since. In my dissertation, I investigate the origins of this style of dress in order to consider broader relationships between masculinity and power.
Focusing on the process of sartorial standardization between 1820 and 1850, I examine the origins of the male evening suit in two ways: as an assemblage of material goods that adorned masculine American bodies, and as a symbol of power that emerged out of a particular historical moment. The rise of American cities, urban life, and industrial capitalism led to enormous prosperity and new ideas of equality and democracy among white men, but also to an increased instability of the masculine self, particularly as political authority and American citizenship were being redefined. I interrogate the critical shift in attitudes toward masculine adornment in the early nineteenth century, and the resultant ways in which men in early America chose to model themselves after (or in notable contrast to) their French and British counterparts as they reconceived attitudes about aristocracy, authority, and masculinity.
Antebellum American formality was a performance of class that was often disguised as the embodiment of morality and was part of a greater transition from public acts of piety to more secular performances of social status. When white American men marked themselves as critically different from both their European forebears and their Native and African American neighbors, they created newly American interpretations of both formality and civility. In this way, masculine evening suits articulated white racial formation through material choices in everyday life.
Building on scholarship linking gender studies with American social, political, and material history, I use the exterior body of the formal suit to examine interior relationships between independence, responsibility, and supremacy, focusing on themes of precarity, conformity, and exclusion. Through the examination of masculine evening suits, I consider how these connections are still being continually, materially reinscribed today.
Beatriz Cordero Martín
Beyond Guernica: The Influence of the Spanish Civil War on American Art
For Americans living in the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War was the definitive sign of the spread of fascism in Europe. Concurrently, it became a particularly attractive topic for American artists and writers, a phenomenon that resulted in no small part from the unequal nature of the struggle and the romanticization of Spain in nineteenth-century art and literature. The display of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937) at the Museum of Modern Art from 1939 to 1981 tapped into this preoccupation, captivated the public, and transformed one artistic interpretation of a specific attack on civilians into a universal icon for peace. This project aims to investigate the impact that the Spanish Civil War had on American artists from an ideological point of view. It analyzes how artistic representations of the subject evolved as US politics became more international in scope during the second half of the twentieth century. This study will also consider the significance of Guernica for artists working in the United States and the ways in which Spanish artists encouraged formal experimentation among their American peers.
Food and the Social Body in U.S. Art, 1962–1983
Starting in the early 1960s, food began to literally appear as a material across the spectrum of American art production. This phenomenon emerged in the midst of a wider cultural reckoning around food and the body, as postwar developments in food production and consumption met a newly convulsive questioning of the quality, health, and ethics of the American diet. There has been little inquiry into how the material presence of food within art production alters conventional narratives of postwar art, and little attention has been paid to the specificities of food as a complicated non-art material with its own modalities and associations. Produced by economic and political forces as much as natural ones, food generates and sustains the body while simultaneously knitting it into the social world, from the family unit to larger categories such as ethnicity, class, nation, and gender.
This project argues that artistic engagement with food in this period was deeply significant, reflecting a changing American food culture and an evolving understanding of the body. Artists like David Hammons, Alison Knowles, Suzanne Lacy, Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden, Adrian Piper, and Barbara T. Smith identified food as a special kind of material that could connect economic, political, and social conditions with biological reality. They used the material of food to articulate an experience of the physical body as entangled with, interpellated by, and sustained by its social and political roles. My dissertation brings together food studies, art history, and the cultural history of food in this period to examine the work of a group of artists who used food in dialogue with the living body in order to ask: where does the body end, and the rest of the world begin?
Is there a Homosexual Aesthetic in Contemporary Art?
This study will account for the cultural, social, and political stakes of artists addressing gay and lesbian issues who first began to publicly exhibit their work together between 1969 and 1980. I ask how individual artists across the 1970s made homosexuality the subject of their work while simultaneously resisting the labels of ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ art. Looking backward from the New Museum’s 1982 exhibition, Extended Sensibilities: Homosexual Presence in Contemporary Art, which was the first exhibition in the United States to show work by gay men and lesbians together, I investigate how collective exhibition practices and group associations of gay and lesbian artists developed in relation to the wider institutions of the art world across the 1970s. I contend that there was a tentative, exploratory, and historically contingent understanding of homosexual identities in art in the United States that developed in the period between the advent of modern gay liberation in 1969 and the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in 1981. Excavating this forgotten artistic and sexual experimentation is crucial to challenging the cultural, social, and political pitfalls of reified identity for marginalized communities in the United States in our present moment. Through an extensive program of research in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art into a range of artists, collectives, and gallery spaces operating in the 1970s, this study will form the heart of my new book manuscript on formations of anti-identitarian politics in queer artistic practices in the United States. This book will provide a new perspective on the relationship between institutional representation and cultural resistance in American art since 1969.
Unlike many countries where the ruins of the past provide the foundation for the myths of the present, the United States has historically used its natural beauties to support a national narrative of redemption and transformation. Artists such as Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Church, and Asher Durand used their paintings to favorably contrast the heroic splendor of the new world with the European reliance on the classical and medieval past for national and political legitimacy. This linkage of the natural world with the larger American national project is far from unproblematic, particularly in its depiction of the American continent as essentially “empty,” relegating Native Americans to a world of nature rather than of culture. Its emphasis on the aesthetic or picturesque value of sites also ignores the very real interdependence between the “viewer” and the “viewed,” even as it inspires much of the conservation efforts within the United States to this day, in particular the National Parks System. I will spend two months at the Smithsonian American Art Museum researching paintings of iconic U.S. natural sites in order to produce complementary paintings of those locations that reveal both the degree to which they have changed and to explore the ways in which these paintings have informed the collective narrative of our country. These paintings of natural sites will be included as part of my ongoing project entitled The Disappointed Tourist, which is a crowdsourced series of paintings of destroyed sites that people have nominated to be painted. My goal is to produce a traveling, on-going series of paintings that honors the trauma of the loss of our physical environment (both natural and man-made) to create a positive conversation that harnesses our love for place to create collective aspirations for preservation and creation.
Native Arts for Art's Sake: Indian Arts and Aesthetics, 1900–1920
Muybridge’s Pacific Coast: Guatemala
My current book project, Muybridge's Pacific Coast, investigates landscape photographs made along the western edge of North America between 1866 and 1875. The title comes from a phrase Eadweard Muybridge himself used to market these photographs. As I show, many of the works in these series are visually underwhelming; nevertheless, he published and distributed them to an audience curious to see these locations. The book comprises an introduction and four chapters, each of which is organized around a series of photographs of a specific site that Muybridge photographed for federal agencies or their close associates as part of projects to bring the region into control and profitable production.
My analysis of these images pulls out their thematics of compromised vision and vulnerability even as I document their connection to colonial projects along the coast. Central to my work are the critical strategies of ecocriticism and postcolonial studies. Rather than seeing the work as the exclusive creation of an artist, my readings take into consideration how the landscape itself constrained Muybridge’s practice and contributed materially to the making of the pictures. Central to my argument is the fact that, while the United States had long had an interest in oceanic travel and trade in the Pacific, the expansion of west coast settlement due to the Oregon Trail, the Gold Rush, and the Alaska Purchase forced the country to reckon with treacherous coastal conditions and barriers to settlement along the geothermally-active cordillera of volcanic mountains that stretch down the entirety of the coast of the Americas. In each chapter, I explore the ecology of both the landscapes in which the pictures are being made and the ecologies of wet-plate photography comprising the interactions of light, apparatus, chemicals, glass, paper, air, and water. At the same time, I bring in Indigenous relationships to these same places as they are made visible on the pictures. Each series captured sites that were homelands to Indigenous communities, and while Muybridge and his patrons were committed to a settler colonial view of these lands as territory, the glimpses of Indigenous dwelling in mutual relationship with their environments visible in some of the works open his practice up to alternate readings. Exposing the problematic nature of a colonial understanding of land as an inert and external object to be captured and owned, my readings demonstrate the labor (conceptual and applied) needed to make land conform to this constructed perspective.
“Living on the Edge": Ceramics and the Environment in the American West, 1961–2000
The history of traditional craft media remains an unwritten chapter of the environmental art movement. This is a serious omission as the materiality of craft necessitates a direct connection to the land in order to utilize raw, natural materials. My dissertation investigates three ceramists who negotiated relationships with the land of the American West and the complicated politics of appropriating indigenous traditions of making through their objects. Winfred Ng (American, 1936–1991), a ceramist-turned-designer who, in 1961, established the storefront Environmental Ceramics in San Francisco; David Shaner (American, 1934–2002), a Montana-based studio potter who advocated for low-environmental impact firing and appropriated indigenous North American ceramic techniques; and Rick Dillingham (American, 1952–1994), a studio ceramist who worked alongside artists from indigenous nations in the American Southwest to better understand their ecologically sound production methods. I repurpose the concept of the “ethical pot”—a term popularized by British studio craftsman Bernard Leach in A Potter’s Book (1940) to describe the humility and spirituality of the everyday utilitarian pot—to consider the implications of environmental degradation. Ceramists working in the American West faced a myriad of socio-ecological issues in their practice: corporate mining, nuclear testing and waste, oil spills, an energy crisis, the (de)colonization of indigenous lands, and the cultural appropriation of indigenous histories. The earth and energy-based origins of the medium made environmental concerns a key issue for these artists. The connection between maker, materials, and the land spurred a politically radical approach to artistic production that challenged the divisions between art and life and fostered a desire for socially aware, ethical forms of making that placed these potters at the forefront of the environmental movement.
Deep Cuts: Transgender History in American Art after World War II
This dissertation asks: what happens to traditional narratives of gender in the history of American art when we consider transgender artists and works that specifically illuminate transgender embodiment? This project contends that works by and featuring Forrest Bess (1911–1974), Candy Darling (1944–1974), Greer Lankton (1958–1996), and Cassils (b. 1971) do at least three things: first, they demonstrate why sex and gender cannot be determined through visual information alone; second, they show how social and scientific histories can be interwoven to carefully assess the appearance of sex and gender transformation in art; and third, they highlight the subtleties of sex and gender that can emerge throughout art history when “male” and “female” are seen as just two of many categories of identity. Works of art made in the United States after WWII are the focus of this dissertation because the US became a springboard for contemporary global movements in art and transgender medicine after Nazi occupation forced the centers of both modern art and transsexual medicine to move from Europe to the US. Each chapter in this dissertation progresses chronologically to follow charged shifts away from terms like “transsexuality” and “hermaphroditism” in the twentieth century and toward “transgender” and “intersex” in the twenty-first.
My first chapter addresses how Forrest Bess uses abstract symbolism in his paintings from the 1950s and 1960s in ways that draw new and potent connections between contemporary transgender medicine, early twentieth-century sexual science, and medieval alchemy. The next chapter in this project examines how nude images of Darling signal intersecting histories of drag and transsexuality as well as conflicts between her expressed desire to be seen as a woman and the celebrity her transsexuality engendered within the American avant garde of the 1960s and 1970s. Chapter three contends that Greer Lankton’s dolls, sculptures, and drawings from the 1980s and 1990s picture the artist’s otherwise invisible traumatic experiences of “sexual reassignment” in ways that rhyme with the aesthetics of AIDS and addiction produced by her close friends David Wojnarowicz and Nan Goldin. The last chapter of this dissertation shows how Cassils’s performance works from the early 2000s through to the present question transsexual surgeries while also calling attention to violence committed against contemporary transgender people.
Casting Bronze, Recasting Race: American Sculpture in the Mid- to Late Nineteenth Century
This dissertation studies the role of bronze and naturalism in American sculpture during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. It considers the ways in which sculptor Henry Kirke Brown (1814–1886) and his first pupil, sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward (1830–1910), expressed a commitment to bronze and naturalism that entangled materiality and aesthetic style with national identity. The dissertation demonstrates that bronze became a significant point of interest for nineteenth-century audiences and my project will emphasize how both sculptor and viewer shared an understanding of a work’s relevancy and value through the specific material in which it was created. More pointedly, the project articulates how bronze and naturalism function as representational tools to fashion distinctively American subjects emblematic of the country’s history and values. By analyzing Brown’s and Ward’s use of bronze and their varied styles, I articulate how material and style were combined to articulate, construct, and differentiate racial identities in sculptural representations in mid-to-late nineteenth-century America. In so doing, my dissertation offers new avenues for understanding the ways in which sculptural representation, materiality, and aesthetics had an impact on racial formations within the United States between the 1840s and 1890s, a period art historian Wayne Craven has described as “America’s Bronze Age.” Thus, this study balances the social-political connections between racial imagery and sculpture produced in the U.S. during this period with materiality in order to determine how bronze and an amalgam of sculptural styles are critical vehicles in American sculpture for inscribing racial difference and hierarchy.
Light In media res: The Art of Mobile Color in America, 1910–1970
The many-colored-light devices created by American artists between the 1910s and the early 1960s, such as Stanton Macdonald-Wright’s Color-Light-Machine, Thomas Wilfred’s Clavilux, or even Charles Dockum’s Mobile Color Projector, were considered a new medium for the fine arts by their creators and a cohort of critics. What was termed the new “art of Mobile Color” consisted of the projection of colored light through “visual organs” or other light devices of varying sizes onto screens in improvised, abstract compositions. Mobile Color artists considered their machines a technological improvement on the medium of painting and an alternative to such mediums as photography and film. The most emblematic example of Mobile Color is what the Danish-born artist Thomas Wilfred called lumia, an art which received significant institutional attention in postwar America.
My dissertation examines Mobile Color as an unexplored moment in the history of American art, critically overlooked as a significant early encounter between technology and avant-garde theories of abstraction. In the first half of the twentieth century, Mobile Color artists sought to implement technical solutions to aesthetic problems. My dissertation specifically examines the colored light machines that these artists created, interpreting them as a theory of art and technology put into mechanical form. I aim to contextualize Mobile Color within the art of its time by closely studying the discourse that accompanied these technological experiments at two different moments: their elaboration in the early decades of the twentieth century and their postwar exhibition in American museums.
Appalachian Regionalism: Reimagining Modernism on the Periphery of American Art
“Appalachian Regionalism: Reimagining Modernism on the Periphery of American Art,” identifies the neglected Appalachian region as possessing its own unique regionalism in the history of American Art. I argue that artists working in Appalachia are distinct within the scope of modernism and beyond in that they have produced informed work that combines aspects of folklife, craft, and fine art, as well as religion, labor, and elements of flora and fauna characteristic of the region. Additionally, many of these artists have focused on elements of environmental exploitation, such as mining and timber clearcutting, and their pollutive, socioeconomic, and societal effects. By looking at these artists through a socio-art historical and ecocritical lens, one can trace both the toll that the industrial revolution took on the environment in one of the most exploited areas of the country and the need for its inclusion in Appalachian visual culture. Artists like David Gilmour Blythe, Robert C. Duncanson, Blanche Lazzell, and Charles Burchfield among countless others, focused on the Appalachian environment with a keen modernist eye, in hopes of giving agency to the beauty of the region and drawing attention to its cultural merits. The “Appalachian aesthetic” has been appropriated by American culture for centuries, but never given the credit that it deserves. In the wake of revisionist art histories that seek to be inclusive of marginalized peoples and misunderstood cultures, this project will explore the importance of Appalachian regionalism within American art and make the case for its addition to the canon of art history.
Z. Serena Qiu
Visions of a Pacific Empire: The United States, China, and Japan at American World’s Fairs, 1876–1915
“Mounting Pacific Ambitions” asks how the United States’ spectacular displays of modernity at domestic world’s fairs around the turn of the century expressed transpacific imperial ambition. I assert that the United States crafted its self-image alongside and in response to the evolving imperial presentations of China and Japan on the international stage of expositions—especially as all three countries became increasingly bound in a competition that would reshape the image of Pacific empire from one of dynastic legacy to one of extraterritorial colonization. Through analyses of exposition-related architecture, print media, painting, craft objects, and human exhibits, I demonstrate how China, Japan, and the United States collectively enforced an increasing alignment between imperialism and modernization. Doing so reveals how the coincident emergence of transpacific travel, mass media technologies, and international spectacles in industrial America gave rise to an imperial aesthetic with geopolitical consequences.
Three chapters and a conclusion engage expositions between 1876 and 1915—each staged nearer to the Pacific coast than the last—to explore how the United States’ fervor for world’s fairs enabled competitive imperial posturing with China and Japan. Chapter one asks how American print representations of East Asian labor at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial belie anxieties about industrial progress. Chapter two traces negotiations of sovereignty through anthropological representations at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. Chapter three asks how oil painting at the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition became a key instrument in legitimating imperialist cultural supremacy. The conclusion questions the United States’ iconographic self-positioning as the modern gateway between the Pacific and Atlantic worlds at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
Transmission of Taste and Techniques for Bronze Sculpture from Florence to the United States, 1850–1900
My research will examine the transmission of taste and techniques for monumental bronze sculptures from Florence to the United States, where bronze became a favored medium for public symbols from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. It will examine the contribution of Clemente Papi, Royal Founder in Bronze (1843–1875), who created the most important bronze foundry in Europe in the 1830s and reintroduced the ancient lost wax technique. It will study the how Papi’s work was discussed, publicized, and taken up in the US. Papi exhibited statues at the 1853 New York World’s Fair and created the first US public statues in bronze, all made using the lost wax technique, including that of Daniel Webster (1858, Hiram Powers, Senate House, Boston) and The Falconer (1874, George Simonds, Central Park, New York). American sculptors and writers who spent time in Florence, such as Henry Kirke Brown, Wetmore Story, and Truman Howe Bartlett, looked to Papi and his foundry as a source of important information and inspiration about bronze and the lost wax technique, which was introduced in the US in the 1890s. Important American sculptors such as W.G. Turner, R.H. Park, P. Powers, F.E. Triebel, as well as the Florentine-American G. Trentanove, used Papi’s foundry after his death to cast their statues.
The Political Biography of Dolls: Pedagogy and Reform through Work Projects Administration Programming, 1933–1946
Histories of Progressive Era reform, such as that of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, traditionally end in 1929 and often far earlier. My dissertation argues that a second generation of craft adherents who came of age during the movement’s heyday repurposed its core tenets and used them to design programs through the Work Projects Administration. Entitled “The Political Biography of Dolls: Pedagogy and Reform through Work Project Administration Programing, 1933–1946,” my dissertation examines four WPA programs that used the surge in federal funding to introduce tax-supported institutions to Progressive Era ideas through dolls. I explore how WPA administrators borrowed design and production theories from the Arts and Crafts movement to make the dolls. I push my research further to bring race and childhood into the history of the Arts and Crafts Movement by investigating how the dolls portrayed stereotypes and different categories of identity, teaching children lessons about race, gender, and Americanness through play. I will combine documentary, material, and oral research to conduct my research, consulting resources crucial to my project at the National Museum of American History and the Archives of American Art.
Outbound/Inbound: Tracing Puerto Rican Graphic Arts, 1940s–1960s
My research at SAAM concerns the work of Puerto Rican graphic artists from the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression to the 1950s and 1960s peak in printmaking on the island. I will focus on figures such as Lorenzo Homar, Rafael Tufiño, José Antonio Torres Martinó, and Carlos Raquel Rivera, who, as part of the “Generación del 50,” revolutionized the arts during the period of radical political transition marked by the 1952 designation of the island as an official US Commonwealth. Though deeply tied to the local context, Puerto Rican graphic artists also lived abroad and traveled extensively. My research challenges notions of the Puerto Rican graphic arts movement as a limited insular manifestation and traces the far-reaching networks that local printmakers established with international artists and workshops, particularly from the United States and Latin America, including Antonio Frasconi, Rufino Tamayo, and Ben Shahn, in addition to American New Deal artists Edwin and Louise Rosskam and Irene and Jack Delano, who settled on the island. These cross-cultural links unearth fresh aspects of local artists’ eclectic social-realist visual language, political reasoning, and commitment to social issues, while situating the Puerto Rican graphic arts movement within the wider cultural landscape of the postwar era.
This fellowship received Federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Edmonia Lewis, Sallie Mercer, and Sarah Remond: Nineteenth-Century African American Women in Italy
This project fills a gap in transatlantic, gender, and African American studies by focusing on three black women who lived and worked in Rome and Florence during the second half of the nineteenth century: the sculptor Edmonia Lewis (c. 1844–1907), abolitionist and obstetrician Sarah Parker Remond (1826–1894), and Sallie Mercer (c. 1828–1894), the assistant of actress Charlotte Cushman. I will consult primary sources including correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, and folders produced by these three women and by expatriates and travelers who met or heard of Lewis, Mercer, and/or Remond while living in Rome and Florence, so as to construct an understanding of the challenges and opportunities the three black women encountered when moving from the United States to Italy. I will also look at photographs, paintings, drawings, and sculptures of and by them to form a better understanding of their realities and the context in which they negotiated their identities. Thus, the project will explore Lewis, Mercer, and Remond in the context of travel, cultural encounters, and crossing of borders—be they national, cultural, intellectual or related to gender, class, ‘race,’ or sexuality. In Italy, where they had access to acculturation, education, professional success, and social ascent, Lewis, Mercer, and Remond could reinvent their identities, both as women and as African Americans.
Acts of Art and Cinque: Networks and Geographies of Black Art in Manhattan, 1969–1975
This project explores two gallery spaces established for African American artists in Greenwich Village in 1969: Cinque Gallery, founded by Spiral members Romare Bearden, Ernest Critchlow, and Norman Lewis, and housed in the Public Theater’s building on Lafayette Street; and Acts of Art, first on Bedford Street and then on Charles Street in the West Village. In 1971, Acts of Art was the site of the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition’s response to the Whitney Museum’s Contemporary Black Artists in America, an exhibition entitled Black Artists in Rebuttal to the Whitney Museum, and mounted the first exhibition of “Where We At,” a collective of Black women artists. In various published documents, the founders of both galleries make clear that the decision to open downtown was an intentional and pragmatic response to the geography of a still segregated mainstream art world. Through exhibition records and membership lists, interviews with surviving artists and community members, and the materials held in a number of collections both public and private, this project will map the networks of Black artists showing at Cinque and Acts of Art and working in the Village and the Lower East Side in the 1960s and 1970s. Further, it will situate those networks and institutions not only in relation to the white art world, but also to communities of artists in Harlem that consciously rejected that art world and its audiences.
Piecing Relations: Miccosukee and Seminole Patchwork, Craft, and the Mediation of Settler Colonial Encounters
The characteristic patchwork made by the Native Florida Seminole and Miccosukee peoples emerged as an art form in the early twentieth century at a time of heightened settler colonial impact on Seminole life ways. Makers crafted patchwork in response to the opportunities and limitations created under these conditions. Non-Native materials and technologies enabled the form just as imposed ecological change disrupted subsistence practices and legal restrictions limited economic engagement. As patchwork became a central aspect of Seminole cultural distinction, Seminole women identified the economic potential in its demonstration to and consumption by outsiders in the burgeoning tourist economy of southern Florida.
Patchwork has since been the focus of tourist attractions, missionization efforts, Bureau of Indian Affairs development schemes, and appropriation by settler hobbyist crafters and fashion designers. Examining the role of patchwork in the intercultural contexts of tourism, development, and appropriation, my research aims to understand how and why patchwork functions as a cultural mediator in settler colonial encounters. My project has two primary, interrelated arguments: that patchwork has been a site of Native agency in adaptation to the impacts of settler colonialism; and that the conceived correlation of Seminole patchwork to settler craft traditions both enabled the movement of patchwork in these contexts and made patchwork a site of negotiation for Native-settler relations. By seeking to understand the relationship between the reception of Native making and the discourses of settler craft traditions, I work to remedy the historical isolation of these two topics and identify how the dynamics of settler colonialism have conditioned the critical history of craft in the United States and marginalized Native cultural expressions.
Lauren van Haaften-Schick
Collaboration, Critique, and Reform in Art and Law: Origins and Afterlives of "The Artist’s Contract" (1971)
The intersections of art and law are rarely considered. Yet, every jurisdiction has laws limiting the rights of collectors and granting protections to artists (and vice-versa), and contractual terms can impact how art is made, acquired, and exhibited. Artists have also engaged the law in order to critique and reform it. In the 1960s-’70s, as artists in the U.S. challenged accepted aesthetic forms through conceptual practices, they also questioned property and power relations concerning art by experimenting with agreements and dematerialized media, advocating for artists’ rights laws, and protesting inequity. My dissertation examines this period of legal experimentation and activism by following the circulation of the iconic The Artist’s Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement, developed by conceptual art curator-dealer Seth Siegelaub and lawyer Robert Projansky in New York in 1971. “The Artist’s Contract” was envisioned to become the standard agreement between artists and collectors when works are sold. Its aesthetic and linguistic form was influenced by conceptual art certificates that challenged art as commodity and as the property of collectors, and its purpose was spurred by artists’ activism to control who could own their work and how. It also emerged in tandem with the rise of the women’s movement in art. The Artist’s Contract has been seen by many as a failure, for its uptake was minimal and it did not yield an equitable art market. Nonetheless, it is an emblem of artists’ rights, foundational within the adjacent field of Art Law, and continues to be reanimated by artists today. My dissertation alters art history’s narrative that the Contract failed by tracing its circulations to reveal unmapped afterlives, as artists invoked it to advocate for resale royalties legislation, to critique the market, and to promote equal rights for women. By exposing these overlooked intersections of art and law, the Contract emerges as a vehicle for imagining how relations of ownership, authorship, equity, and power in art, law, and culture could be reconceived.
"The Machine that Makes the Art": Printmaking and Conceptual Practice, 1965–1980
The 1960s witnessed two simultaneous but seemingly contradictory artistic developments: the rise of conceptual art and the flourishing of the American Print Renaissance. Conceptualism launched a revolutionary attack on the existing art world by proposing that the idea was more important than the finished object. In contrast, the American Print Renaissance marked a return to the traditional techniques and skilled production that conceptual art supposedly eschewed. Given these divergent aims, perhaps it is no wonder that scholars have not yet addressed the fact that throughout the 1960s and 1970s, almost every major North American conceptual artist turned to the medium of print. My dissertation examines the pervasiveness of this phenomenon and argues that printmaking was critically important to how these artists thought about conceptual art.
Conceptual printmaking took on many forms, blurring the boundaries between traditional techniques and photomechanical processes. This project considers conceptual print workshops, collaborations between conceptual artists and master printers, and conceptual print publications, looking to examples from the New York Graphic Workshop, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Lithography Workshop, Crown Point Press, and publishers such as Printed Matter and Seth Siegelaub. Taken as a whole, these activities reveal the nexus of shared concerns between conceptualism and printmaking: distributed authorship, mediation, seriality, multiplicity, and the dissemination of information. By focusing on issues of collaboration, artistic labor, and process, this project challenges prevailing understandings and assumptions of both conceptual art and printmaking.
Join the Club: Regional Print Clubs in the United States During the Interwar Period
During the Great Depression, many artists and arts organizations required federal aid through programs such as the Works Progress Administration to survive. My dissertation contributes to a growing literature that addresses the position of private arts organizations during this turbulent time. Print clubs were one type of these private institutions that remarkably thrived during the Great Depression, with new groups founded throughout the United States and many membership levels reaching all-time highs in the 1930s. My dissertation addresses this anomaly: why did regional print clubs flourish when other arts organizations required federal support? I suggest that these clubs are critical sites for understanding how regional constituencies expressed specific aesthetic, political, and social distinctions through the circulation of fine art. Investigating three case studies from across the United States, my dissertation presents a nuanced investigation of how local, national, and international concerns intersected in private arts organizations during the interwar period. Bringing together artists, collectors, and community members keen to develop their knowledge of art, I suggest that these print clubs were regional formations of what would ultimately become a thriving art market in the United States following World War II.
Sam Francis: Beside Painting
This book examines two intertwined elements of postwar American art: the abstract paintings of Sam Francis (1923–94) and the conviction that art can motivate change by working on the viewer. Contrary to dominant process-based readings of mid-century abstract painting as a progressive reduction of form or an arena for an artist’s actions, Francis shifted focus away from medium or artist onto the spectator. In Francis’s viewer-centered philosophy of painting, the embodied spectator gained self-knowledge by joining the personal with the collective in front of a canvas, thereby catalyzing self-realization. The act of beholding was an area of possibility in which the onlooker was invited to co-create meaning. As Francis put it, “these paintings approach you where you are;” they open up “the possibility for viewers to use their own imagination. One can project whatever one wants onto the white.”
By disregarding modernism’s antipathy to painting’s instrumentalization, Francis became a model for an overlooked strand of postwar art that stressed the social value of abstraction. His interest in painting’s impact on the spectator challenges longstanding modernist rubrics for abstraction that prioritize process and disinterested looking. As a result, the book partakes in recent revisionist histories that diversify the subject positions addressed within the field of art history. Focusing on the first two decades of his career, from 1950 to 1970, this study weaves together Francis’s diverse interests in phenomenological philosophy, psychology, psychedelic culture, and the perceptual experience of flight to posit the centrality of embodied viewership. “Sam Francis: Beside Painting” fulfills a dual aim by providing the first critical monograph on Francis and by offering a viewer-centered paradigm for understanding abstract art more broadly.
Alba Campo Rosillo
Artistry and Industry: The Portraiture of George Peter Alexander Healy, 1830–65
Mutable Modernisms: An Art Colony in Blackfoot Territory and the Lives of Its Works
In this study of the complicated crosscurrents of artistic modernisms in twentieth-century North America, I investigate the short-lived summer artists’ colony that assembled in Blackfoot Territory in the 1930s. Aamsskáápipikani artists from Blackfeet Nation (Montana), artists from Kainai Nation (Alberta) and visitors from across North America and Europe came together in Glacier National Park at an art school operated by German-American modernist Winold Reiss (1886–1953). My analysis of this milieu is threefold. Firstly, I consider the art colony within the broader history of Blackfoot artists’ engagements with ethnography, aesthetic primitivism, tourism and related colonial processes. Secondly, I examine the artistic production and the conditions of intercultural and transnational exchange at the Reiss Summer Art School. Thirdly, I trace the lives of the colony’s collective body of works, from their 1930s origins in Blackfoot Territory through different artistic, cultural and political contexts in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—from their repurposing by successive generations of Blackfoot artists and curators to their wide circulation and reproduction in the realms of popular art, advertising and ethnography. I argue that new strains of modernism emerged from interactions among Blackfoot, settler and European artists in the 1930s colony. These modernisms were mutable: they generated different meanings depending on how they were mobilized and viewed.
This research project spans divisions in art history, bridging studies of indigenous, Canadian, American, modern and contemporary art. It develops methods guided by Critical Indigenous Studies to foreground indigenous experiences and knowledges. Challenging still dominant linear histories that tether modernisms to early European avant-garde developments, this investigation centres upon the local conditions of artistic production in Blackfoot Territory, as well as the significance of intercultural encounters in the 1930s art colony for works of later decades.