Fellows in Residence, 2012-2013

José Alaniz

Smithsonian Latino Studies Senior Fellow, University of Washington, Seattle

The Superhero in Chicano Art, Graphics, Comics, 1960–80

Since their first appearance in the guise of Superman in 1938, superheroes—with their colorful costumes, secret identities, and patriotic rhetoric—have come to represent the exuberant optimism as well as latent violence of mainstream American culture, which (as described by Theodor Adorno and others) inculcates its values through a commodified mass culture. But the superhero’s very ubiquity and recognizability have also made it a compelling figure for ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups to coopt, subvert, and, as Robert Neustadt wrote of the performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña, “contest the vulgar images with which dominant culture stigmatizes subaltern ‘Others.’” MexicanAmerican artists—caught between two national cultures, resisting and celebrating both— adapted, reimagined, and exploded superhero iconography towards new ideological ends during the struggle for self-determination of the 1960/1970s Chicanismo movement.

I aim to explore the artistic and sociopolitical context that shaped such appropriations of the superhero by individual artists and Chicano art collectives, such as Asco, Mechanismo, Self-Help Graphics & Art, Los Four, and the Royal Chicano Airforce, in painting, graphic art, prints, and diverse publications of the Chicanismo era. How did Chicano artists, both formally trained and self-taught, use the superhero as a symbol of empowerment and critique, complicating the grand narratives of white American culture? How do popular and mass culture interact, fusing and proliferating images in complex and unexpected ways? How do humor and parody relate to resistance against hegemonic structures in the context of Chicano liberation? What ideological and aesthetic stakes are invoked by the use of the fraught, masculinist superhero figure, and what transformations does it undergo to serve new ends? How does the appropriation of the superhero in Chicano art intersect with the history of comics as a major twentiethcentury American artistic and literary form? These key questions guide my research during the fellowship period.

Emily Burns

Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in American Art, Washington University in St. Louis

The Native as Naive: The Culture of the American West in France

My dissertation argued that an international cultural discourse mythologizing American innocence strongly informed social and artistic practice in the late nineteenth century. I suggested that the wide community of Americans in fin-de-siècle France constructed social and artistic innocence against notions of French bohemian lifestyle. These claims to innocence were marked by sophisticated and pointed posturing; the “art of being naïf,” as Kant called it, is characterized by the paradox that any claim to innocence belies its very definition.

My postdoctoral work will develop the third chapter of my dissertation, “The Native as Naïve: Playing Indian in France,” into a book on the exportation of the culture of the American West to France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book will consider the appropriation of stereotypes of the American Indian by French artists and white American artists in Paris as a performance of naïveté. Real and imagined American Indians were prevalent in Paris, from the Sioux members of the Buffalo Bill Wild West to the numerous American artists who costumed themselves as Indians while studying in France. The cowboy, the other main figure from the American West exported to France, also appeared as a naïve character. More than merely vivified characters from the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, displays of the Indian and the cowboy in Paris constructed uniquely “American” authenticities for an international audience. These parodied performances attempted to ameliorate the Gallicization of American art, exhibited a version of an imperialist nostalgia for a lost American West, and paradoxically sought to tame bohemian Paris in its next phase of cultural imperialism.

Agathe Cabau

Terra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne

Representations of Native Americans at the Paris Salons and French Great Exhibitions from 1800 to 1914 by American and French Migrant Artists

My dissertation investigates images of Native Americans shown at the Paris Salons and French Great exhibitions of 1855, 1868, 1878, and 1900. I demonstrate how these artistic depictions of Native Americans were informed by nineteenth-century visual culture and reveal the impact of literature on the visual arts and artists’ itineraries. At the beginning of the century, paintings and sculptures shown at the salons underlined the greatness of the “good Indian” and his physical beauty through romantic depictions. These works of art were influenced by the works of two well-known novelists: René de Chateaubriand (Atala, 1801) and James Fenimore Cooper (Tales of Leather-Stocking, 1826-41). Whereas, artists in the second half of the century staged the ferocity of the “savage man” toward the pioneers.

My dissertation also considers the appeal of the theme of captivity for American and European artists. Narratives of white captives taken by Indians were published in widely read newspapers and surrounded these works of art. Their common display in France proves the breadth of this theme. Moreover, it illustrates a visual culture of U.S. history and literature in nineteenth-century Paris. This study also explores the development of artistic exchanges between France and the United States. French artists benefitted from the presence of American artists, such as painter John Vanderlyn, one of the very first artists to represent Native Americans in his Death of Jane Mc Crea at the Paris Salon of 1804. And a revealing symbol of the productivity of Franco-American artistic exchanges is the reception given to American painter George Catlin, who traveled to Paris in 1845, accompanied by twelve Native Americans and transporting North American Indian artifacts and 540 paintings. Catlin exhibited two portraits of Indian Chiefs at the Paris Salons, commissioned by the French king Louis-Philippe. Famous French writers such as Charles Baudelaire, George Sand, and Théophile Gautier praised Catlin’s paintings in their Salon chronicles.

Katelyn Crawford

Terra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, University of Virginia

Itinerant Portraitists in the Late Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World

This study will consider the ways a group of five itinerant portraitists and the people who sat for their portraits adopted local influences while working within the visual conventions emanating from London to represent themselves and shape perceptions of their surroundings. Moving through New England and the mid-Atlantic, south into the Lowcountry, overwater to the West Indies, and finally to Britain, the portraits produced in each of these regions will be examined primarily through the canvases of John Greenwood (1727–1792), Joseph Blackburn (ca. 1730–1778), Matthew Pratt (1734– 1805), Philip Wickstead (uncertain–1778), and John Wollaston (active 1742–1775), artists unified by their professionally-based itinerancy. The prodigious artists comprising this loose group were technically trained and able to produce stylish and sizable paintings that evoked praise from patrons and viewers in Britain and the colonies. This dissertation will analyze how portraits produced by itinerant artists in the British Atlantic were simultaneously shaped by a mobile visual vocabulary and literal mobility among occupants.

Catherine Holochwost

Patricia and Phillip Frost Postdoctoral Fellow, Independent Scholar

Gremlin in the Studio: The Embodied Imagination in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Visual Culture

My project investigates the central role of the imagination in the historic, cultural, social, and technological formation of the observer in nineteenth-century American art and visual culture. Despite Americans’ self-professed preference for a keen, gimlet-eyed skepticism, a mode of looking that I call “imaginative vision” was operative between 1820 and 1900 in American painting and visual culture. I analyze how themes like play, anxiety, artifice, visual deception, and embodiment wove themselves through paintings by major American artists as well as more quotidian objects from material and visual culture, explaining how these works, along with influences from philosophy, medicine, and science, subtly shaped nineteenth-century Americans’ experience of what it meant to see, and to sense.

Laura Turner Igoe

Predoctoral Fellow, Tyler School of Art, Temple University

The Opulent City and the Sylvan State: Art and Environmental Embodiment in Early National Philadelphia

The environment of Philadelphia changed rapidly in the decades following the Revolutionary War, as the population of William Penn’s “greene country Towne” grew and swelled past the boundaries of Thomas Holme’s original ordered grid. This urban expansion was accompanied by serious environmental and economic issues that plagued the city, including deforestation, outbreaks of yellow fever, and pollution of air and water. My dissertation considers how Philadelphia artists and architects visualized, comprehended, and reformed the city’s rapidly changing urban ecology during the early national period. I explore a variety of different media—including popular depictions and manifestations of Penn’s Treaty Elm, fireplace and stove models by Charles Willson Peale, architectural designs for the Philadelphia Water Works by Benjamin Latrobe and Frederick Graff, and a self-portrait bust by the sculptor William Rush—in order to demonstrate that, for these artists and architects, the human body served as a useful metaphor, not only for understanding and representing natural processes but also for framing aesthetic perceptions of the city’s environment. I specifically examine the artistic and architectural implications of corporeality by exploring the ways in which it enabled Philadelphians to understand and reimagine their environment, its domestication, transformation, preservation, and exploitation.

Miri Kim

Predoctoral Fellow, Princeton University

Right Matter in the Right Place': The Paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder

This dissertation focuses on the paintings of Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847–1917), a figure whose unstable working methods and media led to the precipitous decay of his moonlit marines, pastoral landscapes, and literary scenes during his lifetime and beyond. These paintings have long been downplayed as casualties of technical carelessness, a narrative that continues to play into the mythology of Ryder himself as a visionary eccentric far removed from the features of modern life. My project resists this reading of Ryder as an artist who misunderstood his tools by framing his otherworldly subject matter, experiments with unorthodox media, and the material course of his paintings as an investigation into the potentiality of matter and its inextricable relation to time. By placing these works within their late nineteenth-century scientific and cultural milieus, I contend that Ryder’s engagement with “right matter in the right place” led him to invest his paintings with material agency while underscoring their temporal complexities as objects. Moreover, by investigating the radiant quality of these paintings alongside their continual decomposition, Ryder’s oeuvre illuminates the development of late nineteenthand early twentieth-century American art criticism and the tendency to cast these paintings as gleaming precious stones and as dusty, illegible things unearthed from the detritus in his studio. Finally, I examine how Ryder’s studio—far from being an enclosed, privileged interior—evoked a metropolitan dystopia and became a space in which commentators negotiated their anxieties about urbanization in America. Thus, these paintings should be seen as critical participants in broader contemporaneous discussions of the sentience of things; the accelerated production and consumption of goods; and cleaning as a pictorial and public health initiative in museums and cities during the turn of the century.

Shana Klein

Wyeth Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, University of New Mexico

The Fruits of Empire: Contextualizing Food in Still-Life Representation, 1850–1900

Between 1850 and 1900, still-life representations of food were pervasive in North American homes. In these representations, artists displayed a cornucopia of fruits from the Caribbean, Central America, Hawaii, and far-reaching regions within the North American interior. The diversity of foods in still-life representations was a testament to North America’s growing wealth and agricultural sophistication. The inclusion of multicultural foods in still lifes was also an affirmation of manifest destiny, picturing the very fruits of North America’s mission to conquer and cultivate all zones of the Americas. It was particularly important to visualize the rewards of expansion at a time when foreign foods and foreign people were thought to pollute an “authentic” white American character. Still lifes were therefore a useful device for artists and still-life consumers to express ideas about nationhood, race, domesticity, industrialization, and transnationalism. This dissertation more deeply explores the cultural significance of American still-life representation and its place within the broader context of food and empire in the nineteenth century.

Nicholas Miller

Predoctoral Fellow, Northwestern University

Primitivist Encounters?: African American Painters, Diasporic Objects, and the Making of Modern Art, 1927–77

This dissertation approaches primitivism as an African diasporic artistic strategy by investigating African American painting from 1927 through 1977. In it, I analyze the appropriations of African-derived cultural forms by painters Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson, Thelma Johnson Streat, and Jeff Donaldson. I argue that through their translations of African objects, expressions of diasporic affiliation and ethnic difference were held in an ambivalent relationship with one another thereby exposing the misunderstandings that arose in encounters between people and objects of diasporic descent. Throughout this project I contend that these artists relied upon a modernist approach to the figuration of African objects and bodies, an approach that positions them as always susceptible to the violence of use and exchange. As such, it is only in turning to these practices that scholars can begin to understand the significance of cultural difference to the development of modernist art.

Berit Potter

Terra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Grace McCann Morley and the Dialectical Exchange of Modern Art in the Americas, 1935–55

In 1935 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA, formerly the San Francisco Museum of Art) became the first museum dedicated to the exhibition of American and European modern art on the Pacific Coast of the United States. Although rarely recognized for its involvement with Latin American art, SFMOMA was one of the earliest centers in the U.S. for collecting and exhibiting works by artists from Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. This dissertation will focus on SFMOMA’s founding director, Grace McCann Morley, and her ambitious efforts to broaden the definition of American art by collecting and exhibiting Latin American art, and promoting cultural exchange between the Americas. 

Morley endeavored to nurture inter-American understanding by organizing exhibitions of U.S. art for Latin American audiences and Latin American art for circulation in the U.S. Important exhibitions to be addressed in this dissertation include the Latin American pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1940, Exposición de Pintura Contemporánea Norteamericana of 1941, and the U.S. section of the third São Paulo Biennial in 1955. Morley, a monumental yet little known figure in the history of art, promoted marginalized artists from the Americas including women artists, artists working on the Pacific Coast of the U.S., and, the main focus of this dissertation, Latin American artists. By organizing exhibitions for exchange between Latin American countries and the U.S., Morley established a presence for these underrepresented groups within the increasingly international art world of the 1940s and ’50s.

Elke Seibert

Terra Foundation Senior Fellow in American Art, Goethe University/Frobenius-Institute

Leo Frobenius's Prehistoric Rock-Paintings Exhibitions in the USA (1937–39) and the Dialogue Initiated among Contemporary American Artists

This research project is concerned with the reconstruction of a U.S. exhibition tour of prehistoric rock paintings by the German anthropologist Leo Frobenius (1873–1938). The rock paintings were exhibited in thirty-two American cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Honolulu, Seattle, etc.) from 1937 to 1939 and triggered a huge response. This exhibition of approximately 150 “original copies” (oil paintings, drawings, and watercolors) made the art of prehistoric rock painting accessible to the Western world and probably inspired a number of renowned American surrealists and abstract expressionists, especially those who were engaged within the framework of the Federal Art Project in New York in 1937.

Ana María Suárez Díaz

Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in American Art, Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello

Outstanding and Unknown: Julio Girona, Cuban Painter in the American Abstract Movement of the 1950s

Individuals seem to be the most promising path at present for understanding the artistic influences between Cuba and the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, when artists on an individual basis sought abroad the professional expertise, ambiance, and recognition not available on the island. One outstanding case for this study is that of Cuban painter Julio Girona, who, besides establishing a successful career in New York City beginning in 1937, maintained bonds with his Cuban colleagues and homeland, regularly participating in collective and solo exhibitions there.

This project will use primary sources to document Girona’s artistic practice in the United States, where he became a citizen after serving in World War II, and eventually became part of the abstract expressionist movement of the 1950s. This study will outline Girona’s artistic activities in this country, thus enabling a better evaluation of his possible influence on a similar tendency in Cuban art during the same decade and, also importantly, documenting his presence and role as a Latin American in the emergence of American abstract art.

Adam Thomas

Douglass Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in American Art, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The Spectral Imagination: American Art between Science and Superstition in the Late Nineteenth Century

This dissertation explores how tensions between scientific inquiry and superstitious belief were embedded in and constitutive of the visual arts in the United States from the 1880s until the turn of the century. The empirical and mystical were peculiarly enmeshed in these decades. The scientific investigation of paranormal and psychic phenomena gained special urgency while the residue of magical explanations shadowed technological developments. By analyzing the work of four American painters—Henry Alexander, William Merritt Chase, Edwin Romanzo Elmer, and Irving Ramsay Wiles—this project examines how conflicts over the shifting boundaries and overlapping interests of material and supernatural worldviews played out in artistic practice. Their distinct approaches to representation negotiated both anxieties about science as a disruptive force and the challenges of harnessing the irrational toward mystical access. As a whole, this project argues for the centrality of ghostliness to questions of representation during the period. By grappling with the way science and superstition were, at times, geared toward one another, this study reconsiders their intersection with art as well as the distinction between so-called realistic and visionary artistic idioms in late nineteenth-century America.

Gregory Zinman

Postdoctoral Fellow, New York University

Analog Circuit Palettes, Cathode Ray Canvases: Nam June Paik and Digital Cinema's Analog, Experimental Past


While Nam June Paik (1932–2006) is probably the most well-known practitioner of video synthesis, he arrived at video art through an intense engagement with other art forms. Indeed, Paik’s background in painting, music, dance, and happenings formed the basis of his work in video, even as that work provided the seeds from which our contemporary mediascape emerged. This project will identify the ways in which Paik’s moving image art operated between media, and will determine how his art, in turn, has helped to shape America’s understanding of today’s global digital culture. In so doing, I hope to show how the rupture often associated with the shift from analog to digital form is, in fact, better understood as a continuum, linking ages-old intentions with cutting-edge technologies and tools. By connecting the contents of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s newly-acquired Nam June Paik Archive with the institution’s rich collection of modern and contemporary art, as well as its recently acquired digital moving image art, I seek to expand the critical conversation about the significance of video art to consider its intermedial past, as well as its digital future.

As a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, I will use materials in the Paik Archive to investigate three principle subjects:

1) How Paik conceptualized his video art as an extension and elaboration of the possibilities of painting.

2) How to better contextualize Paik’s video art in relation to our current digital media and information culture, from the gallery and museum to online video and social networks.

3) How to detail the ways that Paik’s experience as an international citizen helped fashion a more globally aware American mediascape.

By recovering the range of forms, tools, and intentions that make up Paik’s creative and socially-conscious art, I seek to enlighten our awareness of the intersection of American art and media in the twentieth century, and enrich our understanding—and appreciation— of what is to come.

Short-Term Visitor Award at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Damian Dombrowski

Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, Germany
Camille Serisier, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia

Other Smithsonian Appointments in American Art

Abra Levenson

Predoctoral Fellow (at National Portrait Gallery), Princeton University

Figures and Things: Charles Demuth, 1914–35

My dissertation offers a comprehensive reevaluation of the early twentieth-century American painter, Charles Demuth. The study uses Demuth’s series of nine symbolic portraits (1923–29) of members of the prewar American avant-garde to open up a set of conceptual engagements and formal problems across his practice. Whereas scholars have treated Demuth’s watercolor still lifes and genre scenes in isolation from his high precisionist landscapes, I argue that the portraits make evident a crucial through-line in Demuth’s oeuvre concerning the artist’s interrogation of each genre as a conventionally, historically, and discursively bound signifying system. Bracketed between 1914 and 1935, the study analyzes Demuth’s portraits, landscapes, genre scenes, and still lifes, a discrete body of works that together reveal an oeuvre governed by the divisions and dialectics between subject and object, word and image, self and other. These preoccupations mark Demuth’s practice as distinct from and perhaps even critical of Stieglitz circle picture theory, the primary framework through which his work has been received. Arguing neither for Demuth’s exceptionalism, nor against his marginality, I treat his singularity as a lens that brings into focus the driving concepts and historical pressures that shaped picture-making in the early decades of the last century. In doing so, my project seeks to challenge the canonical narrative of unity and rupture foundational to Stieglitz circle discourse, as to broader theories of modernism, by showing, counterintuitively, how questions of genre were central to establishing the terms of pictorial experimentation in this period.

Michael Maizels

Predoctoral Fellow (at National Portrait Gallery), University of Virginia

Barry Le Va: The Sculptural Aftermath

In the late 1960s, the artist Barry Le Va (b. 1941) began to use non-traditional materials—such as shattered glass, spent bullets, sound recordings, scattered flour, and even sharpened meat cleavers—to execute a striking body of environmental sculptures. Taking inspiration from popular crime novels as well as contemporary art theory, Le Va conceived of these works as a kind of aesthetic aftermath. He intended to his activate viewers as detectives who would attempt to decipher an order underlying the apparent chaos.

Despite his historical significance within the New York art world of the late 1960s and 1970s, Le Va has not received the scholarly attention he deserves. My dissertation provides a critical examination of the most important period of the artist’s career and situates his work within its art historical, political, and intellectual contexts. I also utilize Le Va’s work as a case study to examine both recent curatorial practice that engages with ephemeral or site-specific work from the 1960s and 1970s as well as the process of canon formation within the discipline of art history.

Kristine K. Ronan

CIC Predoctoral Fellow (at National Museum of the American Indian), University of Michigan

Buffalo Dancer: Biography of an Image

This dissertation follows Karl Bodmer’s Mandan Buffalo Dancer (1834) across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as the original painted portrait of a Mandan beróck- óchatä [buffalo bull society] leader traveled in and out of various historical and cultural contexts, forms, and genres. Treating this image’s journey as a biography, I track Mandan Buffalo Dancer as the image entered and moved within the realm of print in both Native American and non-Native settings. This project will be the first book-length study to develop a dialogue between American art history and Native studies, grounded in a multidisciplinary methodology drawn from the two fields. Tracing how print—defined broadly as the transmission of images through technologies of reproduction— has been utilized or manipulated by this story’s various agents, I argue a two-part thesis: 1) Nineteenth-century systems of racial oppression, based on visual criteria of difference, emerged in part through the very mechanics by which print operates; 2) Native American communities—themselves subject to Euro-American racial categories—responded to print in their own way, forming an alternative history of production and reception that sustained cultural memory throughout the nineteenth century, and eventually fed Native political activism by the 1960s and 1970s.

John Siewert

Senior Fellow (at Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery), College of Wooster

James McNeill Whistler and the Aesthetic Landscape of London

This book manuscript examines an extended series of urban landscapes painted in the 1870s and 1880s by the expatriate American James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). Inspired by London yet multivalent in its gestures to other terrain, both actual and imagined, Whistler’s series marks a signal moment in modernism. My study reads this richly textured and allusive cityscape as subject of and stage for what I articulate as Whistler’s “cosmopolitan” aesthetic, as the American-born artist mediated between English and French visual cultures. In response to the repetitive, indeterminate qualities of the artist’s subject and style, criticism was required to adjust its own language as it began to formulate a vocabulary for modernist abstraction.

Hyewon Yoon,

Predoctoral Fellow (at National Portrait Gallery), Harvard University

Exile at Work: Lotte Jacobi, Gisele Freund, and Lisette Model Abroad, 1931 to 1965

My dissertation traces a visual narrative of modern exile and artistic transfers between Europe and the United States in the early twentieth century. It is told within another narrative—that of a group of female European émigré photographers: the German-born American Lotte Jacobi, the Austrian-born American Lisette Model, and the German-born French Gisèle Freund, whose common Jewish origins forced them to migrate from Weimar, Germany and Austria to New York (Jacobi and Model) and Paris, France (Freund) in the 1930s.

To date, scholarly interest in analyzing artistic exile under the fascist regime has been largely subordinated to either a recounting of the devastation of political and artistic subjects through the trope of erasure and loss, or a romantic reading of their exodus as the origin of artistic creativity in the post-war modernist culture in the United States. Yet, within the art historical literature on exile—characterized by broad-based surveys, memoirs, biographies, and general exhibition catalogues—critical analyses of the activities of female artists and their independent positions within the milieu have been few and far between. My joint investigation of their works under the category of modern artistic exile aims to explore the discursive complexity of displacement of exile in the early twentieth century. Though structured as a set of three separate monographs based on case studies of three photographers, my dissertation will not only tell various stories of artistic exile but also will pose three common questions.

First, how did the aesthetic style, thematic choices, and social function of photography in the works of Jacobi, Model, and Freund change in confrontation with the post-war spectacularized American visual culture? Second, how was the demolition of the pre-war radical European bourgeoisie’s subjectivity amid cultural and linguistic dislocations visualized in the works of the three émigré photographers? Finally, how did the works of the three émigré artists intervene in the formation of gender discourse in modern photography during the first decades of the twentieth century?