Fellows in Residence, 2004-2005

Kimberly Curtiss

Patricia and Phillip Frost Predoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University

Points in Between: Painting Native America, 1830–1900

This dissertation explores the visual construction of race in nineteenth-century representations of Native Americans. Specifically, it investigates the role that images of the “half-blood” played within the complex matrix of racial and cultural identities in nineteenth-century America. An examination of hybrid identities poses interesting questions about the mutability of seemingly strict racial categories, enriching our understanding of Euro-American conceptions of racial and cultural identity. I organize my research and writing around three ways in which this representational problem was manifested: the half-blood in genre paintings and portraits, images of the EuroAmericanized “civilized” Indian, and depictions of both the Euro and Native American in Plains Indian ledger art. This project builds upon years of important research on the Native American in art historical, cultural historical, and literary scholarship. In addressing issues of hybrid identity in these images, however, I aim to go beyond the present scholarship by exploring the under-examined subject of the half-blood. Through a close analysis of art objects and their production and reception, this project will illuminate the role of this racially and culturally liminal figure within the context of nineteenth-century expansionist ideology. My exploration of how these images functioned in the construction of identities for both Euro and Native Americans participates in and will contribute to the current discussions on American identity politics, the cultural history of identity, and Native American studies.

Sara Doris

Sara Roby Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Kentucky

Pop Art and the Contest over American Culture

My analysis of U.S. pop art situates its production and reception within a more thorough consideration of the social and cultural upheavals of post-WW II America than previous accounts. I argue that the controversy pop provoked was not merely aesthetic, but served as a locus for mid-century anxieties about class, taste, culture, and gender. Post-war critics such as Clement Greenberg attributed the degradation of American culture to the pernicious influence of three strains of outsider taste: the conspicuous consumption of the nouveaux riches, the popular culture of teenagers, and the camp sensibility of gay subculture. In introducing these marginalized forms of taste into the art world, pop effectively challenged the hegemony of elite taste. Pop’s efficacy in confounding established boundaries was evidenced by the paradoxical cultural status it had achieved by the mid-1960s: while art critics finally acknowledged it as an avant-garde art, the popular press simultaneously defined pop as a form of mass culture. Pop art was not, however, blindly affirmative of commercial culture: the celebrities and commodities depicted by artists such as Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist were visibly out-of-date. This camp recycling of obsolescent mass-cultural imagery undermined the seductiveness of the commodities depicted, while providing a crucial precedent for subsequent postmodern popular- and high-cultural practices. Pop art thus not only forced an unsettling of prevailing cultural hierarchies, but also pioneered modes of artistic practice that established it as the first fully fledged postmodernist art movement.

Guy Jordan

Wyeth Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, University of Maryland

Consuming Images: The Visual Culture of Virtue and Vice in Antebellum America

My project undertakes a wide-ranging reconsideration of how antebellum publics consumed and were consumed by images. I explore the relationship between narrative and vision, and the construction of vision as a somatic process akin to eating and drinking. Within this framework, virtue and vice were medically construed, with distinct pathologies and physical symptoms that linked the health of the body to that of the body politic. Oft repeated moralizing narratives found in temperance melodramas and popular print culture created a common set of expectations that conditioned how audiences understood images such as Lily Martin Spencer’s Domestic Happiness and John Sartain’s The Happy Family. Vision, informed by the discursive strategies of reform physiology, was pharmaceutically conceived—therapeutic when used with prescriptive care, but a dangerous narcotic on its own terms. By closely attending to the formal and narrative structure of antebellum visual culture, my dissertation recontextualizes works of art such as Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire and Hiram Powers’s The Greek Slave within this medico-moral milieu where the overstimulation of the imagination led to delusions, debility, and madness.

James Lawrence

Predoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin

Abdication in an Artistic Democracy: Meaning in the Work of Barnett Newman and Donald Judd, 1950–1970 (and Thereafter)

Kathleen Lawrence

Douglass Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Boston University

Aesthetic Transcendentalism and Its Legacy: Margaret Fuller, William Wetmore Story, and American Sculpture

My research re-examines the philosophical and intellectual underpinnings of nineteenthcentury American sculpture and painting, finding a link between prominent antebellum Boston artists and the aesthetic ideas of Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller. The meaning and extent of Fuller’s influence in particular has been undervalued because of her interdisciplinary approach and her use of ephemeral media—the journal and the newspaper—to promulgate her aesthetic ideas. Using the Smithsonian sculpture, painting, manuscript, and research collections, I trace the influence on sculptor William Wetmore Story, painter Christopher Pearse Cranch, and others of what I term Fuller’s “aesthetic transcendentalism,” that is her fusion of German Romantic Hellenism derived from Winckelmann and Goethe with Emerson’s transcendental belief in the divine inherent in the individual artist-prophet. Exceptional even among the circle of transcendentalists, Fuller believed in the promulgation of all the arts as crucial to the survival of our young republic, and saw sculpture as uniquely capable of expressing American republican and egalitarian ideals. Through her close relationship with sculptor William Wetmore Story, Fuller’s ideas affected not only his faces and figures but also those of other members of the second generation of American neoclassicists as they developed the hybrid genre of American romantic-neoclassicism. My work extends the influence of Fuller’s “aesthetic transcendentalism” to Gilded Age American art criticism and literature, particularly that of Henry James, thus revealing unseen connections in American culture.

Jessica May

Predoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley

Off the Clock: Walker Evans and the Crisis of American Capital, 1930–1946

My dissertation examines Walker Evans’s photographs of workers, laborers, and employees taken during and just after the Great Depression. Because these figures are notably not at work, Evans threw one of the principle effects of the Depression into sharp relief: unemployment was rampant, and capitalism itself was widely regarded as in mortal crisis. These photographs forcefully—but obliquely—respond to their political and economic moment: I argue that Evans actively sought to use the time-freezing qualities of the camera to create an image of the social world that is unbounded by the temporal rhythms of technical rationality, the time-clock of the factory, or the daily rigor of an office job. By tying time to capital and politics, Evans produced a sustained, original critique of American capitalism. My examination seeks to broaden scholarly understanding of the limitations of documentary photography, and of the way that the camera’s unique formal capacity—its special relationship to time—became the basis for its political efficacy.

David McCarthy

Senior Postdoctoral Fellow, Rhodes College, Memphis

Against Imperium: American Artists in an Age of Global Conflict

This book-length study seeks to document and theorize American art that pictured war—or considered its causes, justifications, and consequences—to reflect upon the United States’ experience as a world power. The study begins in 1936 with the antiwar activism and art of the American Artists’ Congress and will conclude with artists’ responses to the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Throughout this period, artists confronted the rise of fascism, the massive trauma of a world war, fear of nuclear annihilation, four decades of cold war strife, and the resurgence of United States interventionism in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This same period witnessed the so-called triumph of American painting on an international stage, as well as the rise of postmodernism. Unfortunately, this narrowly defined modernism often left out those artists whose work directly addressed topical issues. Despite the postmodern emphasis on broadening the canon, activist art, particularly that concerning war since the 1970s, still remains largely unknown. Many of the artists in this study identified with the examples of Goya, Daumier, Grosz, and Picasso, thereby asserting a political and topical role for modernism. These artists also saw their work as inseparable from their lives as responsible citizens within a democracy. They found that through their art and activism they could provide information and perspective on armed conflict that did not coincide with official government or mainstream press pronouncements.

In its current state, the book is organized as follows: “Against War and Fascism,” “Return of the Hero,” “Wasteland,” “Vietnam,” “Third-World Interventions and Renewed Nuclear Threat,” and “After the Cold War.” Each chapter will include a heterogeneous mix of artists of different generations, working in diverse media and stylistic sensibilities. For instance, the chapter on nuclear wasteland will include the activism and art of Old Left artists, such as Philip Evergood, Rockwell Kent, and Anton Refregier, and the black humor of H. C. Westermann, Wally Hedrick, and Ed Kienholz.

My goal with the study is twofold. First, I hope to produce a more complex and nuanced reading of American art since the 1930s than is currently available. Focusing on one theme across seventy years will preclude thinking exclusively in terms of successive generations and movements. Second, I want to demonstrate the extent to which artists in this period believed passionately that their work was connected to their lives as moral and political beings, therefore revealing their commitment to the wellbeing of their country.

Anne Samuel

Predoctoral Fellow, University of Delaware

Vision Conceptualized in the American Renaissance Murals of Edwin Howland Blashfield (1848–1936)

Edwin Howland Blashfield (1848–1936) was the premier muralist of his generation, painting murals for thirty majestic buildings across the United States, most notably the dome mural in the Reading Room at the Library of Congress. Thousands of people see his twenty-two surviving murals daily, as focal points in important public spaces, but he has received very limited scholarly attention. My dissertation treats Blashfield as a case study in how American Renaissance muralists conceptualized vision and viewers. He and his contemporaries were keenly aware that mural painting requires sophisticated coordination with architectural space. Close examination of Blashfield’s murals, in conjunction with his writings and contemporary criticism, reveals increasingly subtle consideration of viewers’ relationships to the illusionistic space of murals, conditioned by specific architectural contexts. The notion that he may have envisioned a corporeal viewer in a complex architectural environment is made more persuasive by theoretical scholarship on late-nineteenth-century visuality, which addresses the subjectivity and variability of vision. Informed by such scholarship, archival research and study of his murals, I contend that Blashfield adjusted his mural practices, both to harmonize murals with their architectural settings, and in recognition that viewers experience murals dynamically and variably, as elements within the built environment.

Guided by the practical problems of mural painting and the complexities of vision, four dissertation chapters will focus on murals designed for particular sets of viewing circumstances. They include murals for domes, for pendentives, for spaces of circulation, and for legislative chambers and courtrooms, where one’s role in the proceedings dictates viewing position. For each viewing circumstance, I will focus on two murals that present contrasting solutions to problems of composition, illusionistic space, and relation to viewers within an architectural setting. To contextualize Blashfield’s murals, I am investigating both historic European precedents and how his contemporaries handled murals for comparable architectural spaces. An introductory chapter on Blashfield’s early career emphasizes how his artistic background, as an academic figure painter, illustrator, and student of Léon Bonnat, laid the groundwork for his mural practice.

Kirsten Swenson

Douglass Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, State University of New York at Stony Brook

From Kitchen to Factory: Eva Hesse's Labors

My dissertation seeks to establish a social historical context for minimalist and “antiform” art that reflects the pervasive (though largely unexamined) “pre-feminist” gender politics of the 1960s art world. I examine how Hesse, the preeminent female sculptor of this period, participated in the art world’s symbolically masculine discourses of industry and technology. The title of my project reflects Hesse’s command of divergent formal and conceptual attitudes that generated contradictory, even irreconcilable, accounts of the artist. I argue that it was a self-conscious artistic strategy to create objects that could sustain such diverse interpretations; while she had a “fascination with chemistry and advanced materials” (Lucy Lippard, 1968), she also was concerned with “creating personal forms” that required her to “only use materials that she can make herself” (Marcia Tucker, 1969). The artist staged this ambiguity by employing factory production alongside domestic routine, as in latex serial pieces that were created in the kitchen, set to dry “on the radiator or in a muffin tin in the oven.”

The dominant models of labor with which artistic production was aligned in the 1960s—the conceptual, executive approach of Sol LeWitt, for whom “the idea is the machine that makes the art,” and working class “sweat labor,” as Richard Serra referred to his process—convey modes of masculine identity. Spanning from the landmark “Primary Structures” exhibit of 1966 to “antiform” art of the late-1960s, I explore narratives of gender and labor embedded in artistic strategies, curatorial concepts, and critical response, focusing on Hesse and others in her milieu including Serra, LeWitt, and Lynda Benglis.

Stephanie Taylor

Postdoctoral Fellow, New Mexico State University

Joseph Cornell and His World

Perhaps it is inevitable that an artist like Joseph Cornell (1903–72), who is best known for the creation of boxed assemblages, would himself be described via stereotypical roles that securely seal him in the nostalgic past. Through my scholarship I seek to reveal that, while Cornell was passionately interested in the cultural life of the past, he was also emphatically connected to the world of his present. This is a surprisingly unorthodox view of an artist whose preferred media (the shadow box, the collage) and lifestyle are often read as remnants of a lost, past world. And yet a study of Cornell’s connections to the twentieth century, links that are evident in both his art and his life, could add enormously to our understanding of his legacy.

In this book, I address the false notion that this artist lived in either a dream world or a world of the past. I focus on Cornell’s connections to the twentieth century, both in terms of his life and also the subjects and processes of his art work, because I believe that the best way to reappraise this artist for the twenty-first century is to begin the process of connecting him to the time of his life. My book will provide an in-depth discussion of Cornell’s modern, as opposed to his Victorian, affiliations, and will illustrate how our understanding of his work changes when we look at him as a man with his feet firmly planted in the present, rather than as a dreamer lost in the world of the past. In my book, I discuss Cornell’s production, biography and history in terms of modernity and postmodernity.

The archival collections of the Joseph Cornell Study Center at SAAM are crucial research tools that play a critical role in my project. They will provide primary documentation of Cornell’s interests, beliefs and ideas, and will help me to understand his artistic, as well as his everyday, endeavors. I am keen to read the archives with an eye toward fleshing out scholarly understanding of Cornell’s interests in politics, social issues, and current events, as well as his connections with twentieth-century popular culture.

The ultimate goal of my project is to open perceptions of Cornell and his art beyond the limited art historical “box” that has been placed around them. In my work I seek to be inclusive and expand the scholarship on this artist in at least two important ways. First, I will describe important materials from the SAAM archives that have been overlooked in previous publications. Second, I will consider all of Cornell’s types of creative production, from his boxed assemblages and collages to his diary entries to his films and his collecting activities. I will build on scholarship from the past by adding useful historical context found in the archival materials at the Joseph Cornell Study Center that will broaden accepted notions of what this artist and his art were about.

 

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