Fellows in Residence, 2015-2016

S. Elise Archias

George Gurney Senior Fellow, University of Illinois at Chicago 

Armatures—Joan Mitchell, Lygia Clark, and Melvin Edwards circa 1960

This book project takes up abstract painting and sculpture circa 1960 that does its most compelling thinking around a particular notion of structure. The artists I consider—Joan Mitchell, Lygia Clark, and Melvin Edwards—offer concrete proposals for how their audience might imagine structure productively at this moment. Rather than the leveling, endlessly repeating form of the commodity reproduced by so many of their peers, these artists produced work that took seriously modernism’s insight that structure could be built in response to and in negotiation with the contingency of matter, of the body, of needs. This is the notion of modernist art at the center of my first book on 1960s performance art in New York, The Concrete Body, a study built around the conviction that the ways in which certain artists who were part of the early development of postmodernism retained and maintained modernist art’s struggle with physical form now seem as or more important than all the ways they refused modernism’s legacy in the name of critique.

Caitlin Beach

Joe and Wanda Corn Predoctoral Fellow, Columbia University 

Sculpture, Slavery, and Commodity in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World

On both sides of the Atlantic, the enslaved body occupied a central place in sculptural imaginaries of the nineteenth century. Captive figures, carved in marble or cast in bronze, appeared on display in galleries and homes, at world’s fairs and international expositions, and in traveling exhibitions. During these same years, individuals stood still before crowds at slave auctions across the American South while the surfaces of their bodies were scrutinized and inspected for sale. This dissertation investigates how understandings of figurative sculpture—as an object appraised, bought, sold, and visually consumed— entered into conceptual proximity with practices of seeing and staging instrumental to the transatlantic slave trade. By probing the relationships between the exhibition and evaluation of statuary, and slavery’s structures of commodifying the human body, this project proposes new ways of assessing the conditions surrounding the production and consumption of the sculptural object in nineteenth-century America and Europe. Focusing on works produced by the American sculptors Hiram Powers (1805–1873) and Edmonia Lewis (1844–1907), the British sculptor and industrial designer John Bell (1811–1895), and the Austrian-Italian sculptor Francesco Pezzicar (1831–1890), I examine the tensions between sculpture, slavery, and commodities by attending to the making of individual statues, the commercial and transnational contexts in which they were exhibited and circulated, and the dynamics of race and power that animated their staging, viewing, and reception. Building on recent scholarship in material culture studies, critical race theory, and the histories of slavery and capital, this study conceives of sculptural representations of enslaved figures as material bodies that interrogated the very boundaries of subjectivity and property articulated by the system of chattel slavery.

Layla Bermeo

Douglass Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, Harvard University 

Expanding Beyond the Early Republic: Visual Culture and the U.S.–Mexican War

The war with Mexico (1846–1848) engaged the United States in a new kind of conflict, one that did not set the young republic in opposition to empire, but instead conjured its own imperial ambitions. Such colonial implications of the war demanded the visualization of unfamiliar territories and unknown peoples. This project identifies and analyzes images of Mexico, the borderlands, and the American home front that circulated throughout North America and Europe from 1830 to 1861. My work departs from previous scholarship on this period, which largely focuses on American exceptionalism and nationalism, by examining the ways in which paintings, prints, and indigenous artifacts depict and derive from international exchanges. As the nation expanded beyond its foundational boundaries of geography and republicanism, images related to the international crisis of the U.S.-Mexican War presented changing visions of American territory, history, and identity.

Across four chapters, this dissertation examines images that distill American relationships with other nations. Frederick Catherwood’s lithographs of Maya ruins (1844) gave American audiences their first glimpse of ancient Mexico, which became a vehicle for fantasy and a substitute for knowledge about the contemporary Mexican republic, enabling Americans to participate in a long North American history of ethnographic primitivism. Maps of the borderlands, published between 1830 and 1860, attempted to stabilize contested landscapes and consolidate American territory against those of neighboring nations. Painted Comanche shields, which circulated within the indigenous empire and among white collectors throughout the nineteenth century, evidence Native American participation in international expansion and exchange. Richard Caton Woodville’s oil paintings, well-known works of Americana that he created while living abroad in the 1840s, demonstrate the dialogue between the development of American empire and the stirrings of republicanism in Europe. My study of the visual culture of the U.S.-Mexican War resonates with current debates about borderlands, migration, and citizenship, and strives to contribute to scholarship on the history of the United States in the world.

Emily Casey

 Terra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, University of Delaware 

Waterscapes: Representing the Sea in the American Imagination, 1760–1815

How did Americans imagine the sea in the eighteenth century? In the late-Enlightenment era of empire, revolution, nation formation, and economic and territorial expansion, the world’s oceans were at once a ubiquitous fact of life and an illusory space difficult to comprehend. For people in British America, whether they had been to sea or not, paintings, prints, and trade objects conveyed the texture of a maritime world that connected colonies, nations, and empires. In the decades between the Seven Years’ War and the War of 1812, depictions of the sea in art, in literature, and on material objects encouraged Americans to see themselves in the context of a wider world. However, such depictions also had the power to manifest the physical and intellectual distance between Americans’ knowledge of the world and their ambition to master it. Examining depictions that range from the open oceans of the Atlantic and Pacific to the protected harbors of the American coast, my dissertation explores how the traversals and imaginings of oceanic space were made visible and meaningful through material representation. Through a study of nautical maps, paintings, Chinese-export trade objects, and printed views of coastal cities, I analyze how Americans negotiated their shifting position in a global world through an artistic and material culture of the sea. I consider how the formal and symbolic challenges that artists faced in representing the sea registered larger cultural challenges of reckoning with American national and imperial identities at home and abroad during this period.

R. Ruth Dibble

James Renwick Predoctoral Fellow in American Craft, Yale University 

"Strike Home to the Minds of Men": Crafting Domesticity in the Civil War Era

My dissertation argues that Americans on both sides of the Civil War reckoned with the transformative trauma of the conflict through the objects they made, commissioned, and displayed. I explore how objects created away from the battlefield—quilts, swords, shellwork, jewelry, and clothing—embody the experience of war in modes that emphasize material over illusion, touch and associationism over vision and information. I analyze four kinds of primary sources: objects crafted during the war; the sites where they were made and used; maps, photographs, and town records that document the lives of their makers; and the art and literature that circulated around these objects during the Civil War. My research seeks to uncover the circumstances in which these crafts were made and used, and contextualize these specific histories within nineteenth-century discourses surrounding creativity and the industrial modernity of the war. In so doing, my dissertation offers a new reading of the relationship between craft and the Civil War, and draws attention to objects that have previously been relegated to the sidelines of art historical inquiries into the conflict.

Erica DiBenedetto

Patricia and Phillip Frost Predoctoral Fellow, Princeton University 

Drawing from Architecture: The Conceptual Methods of Sol LeWitt‘s Art, 1965–1980

My dissertation argues that LeWitt redefined the historical problem of art’s relationship to architecture largely through drawing. As artists and architects became increasingly vexed by definitions of space, surface, system, and perception in the 1960s and 1970s, LeWitt engaged a network of ideas concerning the social and formal function of art and architecture that emerged among Minimal, Conceptual, and architectural circles in the United States. These issues developed greater complexity through his interventions, which in turn complicated the disciplinary histories and international boundaries of prewar and postwar, modernist and postmodernist art and architecture. Through the lens of LeWitt’s work, I investigate how American artists and architects imagined each other’s practices in order to address the discursive limits of their own fields.

LeWitt’s drawings, wall drawings, and what he called “structures” (threedimensional works) cannot be understood simply in terms of medium—as that concept was defined in 1960s New York City—or in opposition to it, as extant scholarship has suggested. Rather, these works concern a set of methods in conversation with architecture—a system of representation built, drawn, and otherwise conceived, such as in models, plans, and texts.1 To that end, LeWitt appropriated forms and techniques derived from architecture in a variety of ways: as allusions to the problems of contemporary architecture on the one hand and to canonical instances from the history of architecture on the other; as space, volume, support, and location; and as a means of production that enabled him to find strategies for circulating and replicating his works in ways that exceeded architecture’s own possibilities and conditions. In turning to historical methods at the height of a technological moment, LeWitt foregrounded issues of temporality, spatiality, and materiality that persist in both art and architecture today.

Saisha Grayson

Predoctoral Fellow, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Cellist, Catalyst, Collaborator: The Work of Charlotte Moorman, 1963–1980

When Charlotte Moorman (1933–1991), a classical cellist from Arkansas, moved to New York City in 1957, she swiftly positioned herself at the intersection of experimental music, performance, video, and the visual arts. She interpreted works by composers like John Cage, collaborated with artists such as Nam June Paik, and founded and organized the New York Avant Garde Festival (1963–1980). This dissertation argues that Moorman’s limited presence in historical accounts of this period highlights the continued focus on traditional authorship even as art became more performance-oriented, openstructured, and participatory. It outlines how, as a performer and producer, Moorman’s engagement with these works (and their authors) was vital to their existence and evolution. Her career undermines narratives of individual artistic production, and following it closely allows us to think anew about what it means to be an artist in this post-medium specific moment. In each chapter, the generative dynamics of her collaborations with Cage, Paik and festival participants, respectively, become the ground for theorizing new models for valuing catalytic creativity. Relayed-authorship as a counterpoint to the autonomous composer; the inverse power of the submissive in consensual scenarios of domination; the performativity of self-presentation in the media; and the relationally constituted authorship of the curator are all put forward as useful prototypes for understanding a variety of contemporary practices. My fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Nam June Paik Archive will be dedicated to the chapters on Moorman and Paik, exploring how their decades-long collaboration critically impacted the American post-war art scene and engaged with major issues marking America’s cultural, economic, technological, and ideological transition to postmodernity.

Frances Jacobus–Parker

Predoctoral Fellow, Princeton University 

Redescription: Vija Celmins and the Replica in Postwar American Art

This dissertation is the first book-length study of the paintings, drawings, prints, and painted objects made by the Latvian-born American artist Vija Celmins (b. 1938) from 1962 to the present. It provides a long-overdue account of Celmins’s painstaking, handmade “redescriptions” (the artist’s term) of found objects and photographs. More broadly, the study treats Celmins’s oeuvre as a salient instance of an under-examined phenomenon in postwar American art: the replica. A replica can be a materially and formally mimetic copy, but it also can be an echo, a repetition, or a reply. Like the readymade, the replica eschews traditional artistic values of composition, originality, and creativity; yet, its reliance on skill, mimesis, and materiality places it at odds with dominant narratives of the evolution of the art object in the 1960s through the 1980s. My dissertation uses Celmins’s oeuvre to develop a theory of the replica in art after the readymade, positing new frameworks through which to understand other postwar and contemporary artistic practices that are at once conceptual, critical, and mimetic.

Yuko Kikuchi

Terra Foundation Senior Fellow in American Art, University of the Arts London 

Russel Wright and Asia: Studies on the American Design Aid and Transnational Design History During the Cold War

The proposed project is an investigation of the work of American designer Russel Wright (1904–1976) and the U.S. State Department’s International Cooperation Administration (ICA), which sponsored design interventions in East and Southeast Asia during the 1950s and 1960s. Wright and his team of designers and business managers were commissioned by the ICA to take on regional projects in Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Hong Kong with the aim of restyling and redesigning indigenous local handicrafts for the American export market. Following the archival and field research that I have conducted in each of these regions in recent years, I will finalize my project by filling in the gaps and consolidating my findings. More specifically I will gather contextual information with respect to related objects and American designers represented in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and other relevant U.S. institutions. The resulting monograph will not only bring to light the largely unknown design activities of Russel Wright after 1950, but also offer an Asian perspective on Cold War design history. Informed by recent postcolonial cultural studies, it will further enhance our understanding of the interdependence of American and Asian design developments during the Cold War period by introducing a new transnational framework for design history studies.

Marci Kwon

Predoctoral Fellow, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University 

Vernacular Modernism: Joseph Cornell and the Art of Populism

This dissertation explores two entwined trajectories within twentieth-century American art: the career of Joseph Cornell (1903–1972), and the interwar attempts to create a populist modern art. While recent scholarship has countered the established view of Cornell as a self-taught recluse, his engagement with the social and political concerns of the period has yet to be investigated. My project connects Cornell’s attempts to reconcile his refined aestheticism with his sensitivity to common experience to period debates about modern art’s popular potential. Drawing on extensive archival and historical research, as well as close readings of individual works of art, graphic design, literature, poetry, and film by Cornell and his contemporaries, I explore Cornell’s translation of avant-garde principles into a vernacular idiom. Cornell’s example was informed by—and, in turn, helped to shape—a number of episodes whose populist roots have yet to be explored, including the transatlantic migration of Symbolism, Surrealism, ballet, and Neo-Romanticism; the renewed interest in folk art; and the emergence of New York School poetry. These ostensibly discrete events were united in their conviction that private and even fantastical expression could become a form of public address. My project thus traces an overlooked strand of artistic expression that drew upon ordinary materials and lived experiences to negotiate the competing imperatives of innovation and accessibility from roughly 1920 to 1950.

Ashley Lazevnick

Wyeth Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, Princeton University 

Feeling and Precision: Precisionism in the Long 1920s

In my dissertation “Feeling and Precision: Precisionism in the Long 1920s,” I consider a world of figures obsessed with the values of precision. At the same time that the terms “precision-built” and “precision-made” first came into use, painters such as Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keeffe, Elsie Driggs, Preston Dickinson, Stefan Hirsch, Louis Lozowick, and George Ault began making pictures of factories, skyscrapers, and machine parts. It has long been argued that such artists—later called Precisionists—were trying to mimic factory production. Historians have typically considered their work in light of the changing conditions in industry and labor. I argue that this is only one possible understanding of the term “precision.” Those same artists also depicted bowls of fruit, country barns, and Shaker chairs. Their style was rarely consistent and they used watercolor, pencil, and oil alongside photography and film. Whereas art historians have recently addressed this paradox by focusing on a single artist or by reshuffling the Precisionists among the Société Anonyme and Stieglitz circle members, I insist that Precisionism should be considered a distinct movement and that precision is the appropriate term for that movement. To do so, I explore an alternative definition of precision by relating their art to theories developed by poets Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams and philosophers William James and Charles S. Peirce. For Moore, precision was ineluctably related to what she called “feeling”—an energy of “maximum force”—and to poetic imagination. For the Pragmatists, precision offered a model for empirical and logical efficiency that depended upon communal consensus and systems of belief. In my dissertation, I use these theories alongside a historical reconstruction of Precisionist exhibitions in the 1920s and 1930s in order to provide a richer, more complex narrative of Precisionist art.

Julia B. Rosenbaum

Senior Fellow, Bard College 

Curated Bodies: The Display of Science and Citizenry in Post–Civil War America

My interdisciplinary research project focuses on the depiction of the human body and notions of the body politic and civic ideals in the late nineteenth century. I begin with the Army Medical Museum (today the National Museum of Health and Medicine), founded by the Union government in 1862, which became an important site for the study of the body through its collection practices, photographic work, and exhibitions. The Civil War figuratively and literally dismembered the United States and its citizens. How to reconstitute the country? The project examines the visual responses to that dilemma: What would a healthy body politic look like? How to integrate the damaged, compromised body? By the 1870s and 1880s, as waves of non–Anglo-Saxon immigrants arrived and battles over the assimilation of Native Americans intensified, issues of fragmentation and integration extended beyond wounded soldiers and amputees to nonnative peoples, who were perceived increasingly as both foreign and compromised bodies. The second part of the project explores the visual portrayal and documentation of immigrant and Native American bodies.

Extending from the Civil War into the early 1900s, the project addresses issues in late nineteenth-century America concerning racial theories, ethnic identity in terms of immigration and assimilation, masculinity and definitions of gender, and the evolving relationship between art and science, issues of import still today. I explore a range of media from the work of the Army Medical Museum to engravings, cartoons, paintings, criminal mug shots, scientific illustrations, and the phenomenon of sideshows and freak shows, to track a narrative of national constitution.

Tobias Wofford

Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in American Art, Santa Clara University 

Visualizing Diaspora: Africa in African American Art

“Visualizing Diaspora: Africa in African American Art” examines the multifaceted role of Africa in contemporary African American art. The book project explores how African American artists visualize Africa and analyzes how Africa is invoked and interpreted within the context of shifting artistic and political movements in the United States. For the artists in my study—Romare Bearden, Jeff Donaldson, Faith Ringgold, Senga Nengudi, Houston Conwill, David Hammons, Renee Stout, Kara Walker, and Glenn Ligon—Africa offers new ways to give form to their diasporic identities. In dialogue with a number of studies by theorists such as Alain Locke, Robert Farris Thompson, and Kobena Mercer, this book charts the ways in which Africa is imagined in African American art from the civil rights movement of the 1960s to today’s “post-blackness.” Ultimately, it argues that the many nuanced relationships to Africa articulated in these works embody the complex and subjective nature of diaspora in the wake of the global turn.

This project draws on theories that posit diaspora as created not only by the dispersal of peoples but also by the act of articulation—a discursive tradition that actively produces diasporic identities. My study adopts these concepts by treating each artwork as a visual text that participates in these conversations. When artists frame their work in relation to Africa, they visualize an identity that warrants further analysis. In its approach, the book extends beyond a narrative of African American art to engage in the study of diasporic experience and its influence on aesthetics, identity, and community.

Elaine Y. Yau

William H. Truettner Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley 

Acts of Conversion: Sister Gertrude Morgan and the Sensation of Black Folk Art, 1960–1983

“Acts of Conversion” is the first critical, book-length study of the artistic category “black folk art” since the defining exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Black Folk Artists in America, 1930–1980 (1982). Grounding its analysis in the artistic career of Gertrude Morgan (1900–1980), an African American Pentecostal preacher and self-taught painter in New Orleans, this study argues for the centrality of religion in accounting for modernity’s affective and commercial entanglements with productions of “the folk.” At these points of intercultural crossing, I consider “sensation” a description of two interrelated phenomena: the sensory, perceptual processes of one kind of material religious experience, and the surging popularity of black folk art in the United States.

The spine of this project identifies exemplary aspects of Morgan’s religious practice and artistic trajectory to demonstrate a reciprocity between modernity and its Other, traditionality. Thus, it establishes Morgan as a creatively savvy artist who employed a visual language that was deeply informed by her Holiness-Pentecostal belief—not the isolated genius that mainstream narratives construed her to be. After establishing a social and religious context for Morgan’s expressive repertoire, I demonstrate how her art’s movement within the post-WWII market can be attributed to the multiple significations audiences derived from her painterly expressionism, visionary speech, and performances of traditional culture. At the same time, each chapter places Morgan’s artworks in conversation with those by other African American artists across the folk/fine and self-taught/studio-trained divide to explore shared themes of memory, calling, writing, spiritual hearing, and visionary experience. My study concludes with a re-examination of the Corcoran show and the newfound acclaim this new artistic category garnered in the early 1980s.

Visiting Scholars at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Peter Betjemann

Oregon State University 

Revolutionary Readers: Early American Narrative Painters and the Radicalization of Literature

Hayes P. Mauro

Queensborough Community College, CUNY 

Messianic Fulfillments

E. Bruce Robertson

University of California, Santa Barbara 

William Sidney Mount‘s The Power of Music and the Performance of Race

William Sidney Mount’s The Power of Music (1847) is an iconic American painting in large part because Mount’s ostensible message about race, which is embedded in the composition, seems undermined by the figures. A pair of white men inside a barn are listening to another play the violin; outside the barn and leaning against the door is a black man, also listening. Mount clearly intended the painting to convey the idea that art has the power to bridge the separate spaces of whites and blacks. But the black man, instead of being secondary, is the only figure whom we see whole, and it is through his perception of the music that we too hear it.

This book is about how race is performed in the painting, in three venues. The first is the setting of Stony Brook and Setauket, the communities in which Mount and his subjects lived and worked. The identities of all the figures in the painting are known: for example, Robin Mills, the black man, is most likely a freed former slave, married, a property owner, and the elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Setauket. To Mount he is a neighbor, a substantial figure. But in Manhattan, where the painting was exhibited, the setting was generally read as Southern and the black man as lazy—the figure was interpreted stereotypically. The third venue is temporal: the fortunes of the painting since it was exhibited in 1864 in the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair in New York through its acquisition by a public museum in 1990. During this period, the title became more explicitly racist and the painting was reinterpreted repeatedly.

Other Smithsonian Appointments in American Art

Jennifer Van Horn

Postdoctoral Fellow (joint with National Portrait Gallery), George Mason University 

Painting Slaves: Intersections of Slavery and American Art, 1720–1880

This book project is a study of visual and material culture that attempts to recover the overlooked role that enslaved African Americans played in the production and the viewership of American art. While eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraits that feature enslaved African Americans are well known, these depictions have more to tell us when considered against the backdrop of Southern plantation life as well as the transatlantic space of the slave trade. Reinserting these portraits within their original contexts of display in plantation houses for their original audiences (white and black) illuminates the transatlantic connections between slavery and representation that artists adapted in local southern venues. Charting African Americans’ iconoclasm of portraits that depicted their white masters during the Civil War and their intense desire for photographs of themselves after emancipation enables us to recapture slaves’ visual knowledge and adeptness at replacing white patrons’ intended message of subservience with their own narratives during the antebellum period. Tracing African Americans’ unexplored participation in portrait painting, as well as the ways that enslaved viewers reacted to and ultimately repurposed the genre of portraiture, establishes the importance of the institution of slavery in shaping American portraiture.