William H. Truettner Predoctoral Fellow, University of Missouri
The Spirit of Exhibition and Visual Pedagogy in the Work of Charles and Ray Eames
Read Project Abstract
This project examines the ways in which Charles and Ray Eames promoted visual pedagogy in their exhibitions and new media experiments. Through cooperative efforts with various artists, designers, educators, scholars, museums, corporations, and institutions, the Eameses refined methods of visual communication to create effective experiential learning spaces. Within these spaces, the Eameses developed strategies that sought to unite art, science, and technology as well as underline the value of visual literacy within the new media landscape. By analyzing the Eameses’ collaborations, interdisciplinary educational initiatives, exhibition designs, multimedia presentations, and didactic films, I reveal the ways in which the designers constructed pedagogical environments through the experimental use of new media.
This dissertation seeks to ground Charles and Ray Eames in their historical moment, illustrating the ways in which the Eameses’ work anticipated, engaged, and reflected contemporary theoretical developments in vision, media, and interdisciplinary education. The Eameses believed new media had the potential to dissolve the artificial categorization of academic disciplines: film could be used to teach mathematics; toys could provide insight into fine art; and technology could help to create a visually literate populace. Consequently, the Eameses combined traditional display models and new media in highly choreographed spaces that relied on objects and images to communicate cultural histories, ideas, and values.
Lunder Fellow in Objects Conservation, Independent Conservator
A Technical Study of Casting and Patination Methods Used for the Bronze Sculptures of Paul Manship
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As the Lunder Fellow in Objects Conservation, I will carry out technical art-historical studies of the metal sculpture in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection, particularly the bronzes of Paul Manship. The documented results of the research will help guide future treatments of bronze objects. I will utilize Manship’s extensive studio archives combined with close examination and materials analysis of his cast bronze pieces in SAAM’s collection to define his approach to the fabrication and patination of his work.
Given ever-shifting aesthetic trends in the curatorial, conservation, and fine art fields throughout the decades, many bronzes have undergone repatination during their lifetimes. Therefore, this project aims to identify any past changes made to foundry- and artist-applied patinas on the pieces studied. In this way, I hope to document any instances of intervention in the surface treatments of Manship’s bronzes. The research will expand scholarly understanding of the artist’s original intentions, as well as situate deviations from these intentions within a history of the evolving aesthetics of bronze sculpture.
Smithsonian Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Cincinnati
Iconography of the ‘Other’ on Ancient Greco-Roman and American Money
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My project identifies and traces the pervasive influence of ancient Greek and Roman coinage on the imagery of modern American money. In both ancient and modern times, the mass medium of coinage and/or paper money has been critical to the establishment and maintenance of state authority. The messages on money, conveyed through a combination of words and images, were necessary components of the self-presentation of Greek city-states and leagues, the Roman Republic and Empire, and the American Colonies and United States as they coalesced, fractured, and re-emerged as a unified modern nation. My particular focus is on ways in which ancient representations of “others” (“barbarians,” provinces and their inhabitants, etc.) have informed the iconographic language of modern money. Not only does the search for these connections show how Greco-Roman values and symbols are deeply embedded in American representations of national identity, it also makes clear that many of the racializing and othering tendencies of American national, and particularly numismatic, iconography—such as portrayals of Native Americans and enslaved African Americans—are firmly rooted in dichotomies established by the Greeks and Romans thousands of years ago to underscore the differences between elite members of these (highly unequal) societies and the “barbarians” of other cultures.
Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley
Mending Abstraction: Howardena Pindell’s Black Feminist Critiques, 1967–1986
“Mending Abstraction” considers the multimedia artworks that Howardena Pindell (b. 1943) produced between 1967 and 1986. The study commences with the artist’s completion of an MFA at Yale, follows the circuitous first twenty years of her career in New York City, and concludes with a decisive turn to figuration. In these years, Pindell developed an abstract practice that increasingly foregrounded her own body and experiences. I contend that she developed dynamic strategies, among them autobiographical content and labor-intensive methods of painting, to retool modernist abstraction.
As a black woman, Pindell held an uneasy place at the center of intersecting New York art worlds—amid the Black and Women’s Liberation movements and the onset of the Culture Wars. (Her frequent activism and critical publications attest to this.) She forged a body of work that places pressure on the aesthetic categories, authorial constraints, and models of spectatorship she encountered during these two decades. Her artworks, many of them collaged canvases and works on paper, idiosyncratically interweave forms of advanced art, feminine handiwork, and African diasporic vernacular culture. “Mending Abstraction” traces Pindell’s spirited inquiries into cross-cultural modernisms through her frequent travels and extensive reading of black feminist texts. Ultimately this study animates the critical capacities of both beauty and abstraction. I consider how narratives of late twentieth-century American art shift when we choose to fully acknowledge the complex diversity of experiences that compose them. By honoring Pindell’s work, we contribute to the excavation of art history’s raced and gendered contours—denaturalizing the silos that rarely place black feminisms and modernist abstraction in conversation.
David Park Curry
Smithsonian Senior Fellow, Independent Scholar
Hayes Presidential China in the Context of Nineteenth-Century American Painting
Read Project Abstract
New money, new technological developments, and new public audiences all conspired to make the late nineteenth century a glamorous international arena in which the decorative arts thrived and achieved critical and commercial success on a par with the architecture, painting, and sculpture of the period. Working in multiple media, artists and designers exhibited a strong entrepreneurial spirit, an adventurous commitment to new materials and production techniques, a lasting devotion to nature as the wellspring of creative ornament, and a fruitful exchange with the arts of past centuries.
Designed by an American artist in 1879 and produced by a French porcelain manufacturer the following year, an elaborate state dinner service created for the Rutherford B. Hayes administration has long been recognized as unique in the history of American Presidential porcelains (Klapthor, 1975, 1999), but has yet to be linked to broader developments in American art. With the nation’s post-Civil War prosperity came the understanding that fine art was a significant socio-economic and political tool. Inspired by native flora and fauna and sidestepping the “recent unpleasantness” between North and South, some of the images found on the Hayes china resonate with the rise of landscape painting as the nation’s dominant form of artistic expression, speaking to expanding cultural confidence as the United States began to take her place on an international stage. Others mirror the choice of genre scenes as popular paintings for new art audiences, as well as the gradual acceptance of still life painting as a worthy artistic endeavor. Conceived immediately following the nation’s Centennial, the images on the china reflect not only a growing awareness of the geographic range and complexity of America’s natural resources, spread from coast to coast, but also an increasing public self-consciousness regarding the nation’s own history, regularly expressed through art.
Terra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, University of East Anglia
Critical Mass: Art Writing and Popular Periodicals, 1877–1913
Read Project Abstract
My dissertation describes and analyzes the relationship between popular periodicals and American art from 1877 to 1913. Popular magazines played a significant role in the entertainment and education of the American public and represented a cultural space that was contested by elitist and populist attitudes towards American culture. While specific content from popular magazines and individual authors has been occasionally studied by academics, the relationship between the mass-market periodical press and the American art world has been overlooked. My research aims to show how the content relating to the visual arts that appeared in popular magazines was formed into a coherent and attractive narrative for the public to understand. The shaping of this narrative was enacted by numerous individuals with various and often competing attitudes, beliefs, and demands.
The research that I am undertaking at the Smithsonian focuses on establishing connections between the protagonists of American art and some of the most popular magazines from the period, such as Harper’s Monthly, Scribner’s/Century Magazine, and Atlantic, as well as providing an account of the supporting role that magazine illustrations played in educating and entertaining their readerships about American art.
Terra Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in American Art, Caldwell University
The 1970 Venice Biennale: Politics of Display and Politics on Display Abroad and at Home
Read Project Abstract
The Venice Biennale, first held in 1895, is one of the oldest and most prestigious international art exhibitions. Traditionally, the Biennale showcased a small, select group of works by avant-garde artists, but in 1970 things changed. The organizers of the thirty-fifth iteration departed from previous formats by displaying the works of many artists, providing print demonstrations, encouraging performance, and inviting audience participation. My research examines this unorthodox exhibition and focuses on the American contribution of works displayed and produced on site. The organizers of the U.S. pavilion, diverging from tradition, presented a large selection of contemporary prints created by forty-seven artists and also offered print demonstrations. Through a study of archival documents, my project looks behind the scenes at the bureaucratic process of organizing the Biennale to explore the politics at work in the often-heated discussions between the curatorial committee and the artists. This analysis reveals the aims of the Biennale’s organizers and the variety of artists’ responses to their epistolary exchanges that included withdrawal of their prints and protests in New York during the summer of 1970. Although seemingly at odds, my project reveals that the prints produced and chosen for display at home and abroad showcased avant-garde art practices, displayed forms of protest, and brought into play the freedom of expression championed in and present throughout the sociohistorical climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s. While these issues and events erupted during a period of volatility, they remain omnipresent in today’s society and as such continue to be relevant.
Big Ten Academic Alliance Smithsonian Institution Predoctoral Fellow, University of Maryland
Plastic Fantastic: American Sculpture in the Age of Synthetics
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My dissertation considers the role of plastics as a sculptural medium in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. At this time, artists were turning to synthetics in large numbers and with great enthusiasm, in spite of wavering public opinion on plastics in the U.S. I argue for the significance of this “plastics moment” for the arts by looking closely at the work of four artists: Donald Judd (1928–1994), Eva Hesse (1936–1970), De Wain Valentine (b. 1936), and Frederick Eversley (b. 1941). I position their sculptures in the social context of synthetics in twentieth-century America. In their distinctive practices, Judd, Hesse, Valentine, and Eversley each used plastics with a pioneer’s zeal: engaging local industries, creating new means of production, and even developing formulas for the materials.
“Plastic Fantastic” is an interdisciplinary text, engaging scientific and cultural histories in conversation with American art scholarship. I focus on the production histories of the objects to understand how these four artists took on the challenge of synthetics, and consider the diversity of substances used, looking at sculptures in Plexiglas, Fiberglas, and polyester resin. With this approach, I expand the literature on artworks from this period, which often omits material histories and overlooks plastics’ place at this crux of American sculpture. My dissertation illuminates the important innovations of Judd, Hesse, Valentine, and Eversley to understand this juncture in the 1960s and 1970s, when American art found plastics.
Terra Foundation Predoctoral Fellow in American Art, Southern Methodist University
The Mediating Lens: American Cultural Occupation and German National Identity in West Berlin, 1949–1968
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This dissertation analyzes the visual language of American cultural propaganda disseminated in Cold War–divided West Berlin, and investigates how lens-based media played a role in the city’s redevelopment of its visual arts community. Existing studies in Cold War–era visual propaganda emphasize the prototypical East/West, capitalism/communism dichotomies but often do not focus on the impact of the United States as Germany’s most prolific western occupier. With the leveling of German culture in a post–National Socialist landscape, imported visual materials played a crucial role in the country’s cultural redevelopment.
Across three chapters, this dissertation focuses specifically on lens-based media—photographic exhibitions, Hollywood films, and paintings that feature photographic content from advertisements, magazines, newspapers—by artists including Konrad Lueg (Konrad Fischer), Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter. Through this visual material, I investigate the complex processes of internalization and externalization of American culture abroad and address two major issues: the scope and methodology of advocating for democracy and capitalism through culture, and how the consumption of such material featured in the reappraisal of post-dictatorship German national identity. By addressing the notion of the institutional lens, visual models of democracy, and the affective capacity of lens-based media, this dissertation both questions and expands definitions of “Germanness” and “Americanness” during Cold War conflict.
Joshua C. Taylor Predoctoral Fellow, University of Delaware
Roots/Routes: Spirituality and Modern Mobility in American Art, 1900–1945
Read Project Abstract
This dissertation considers how American artists navigated early twentieth-century experiences of mobility and displacement by turning to religious subjects. Their works located a spiritualized sense of place in an evermore dislocated world and thus invite scholars to revise theories that modernization’s forces have been unilaterally secularizing. Four chapters trace how the modern American search for roots unfolded en route and became entangled with spaces, experiences, and materials of spiritual belief. While the relationship between roots and routes is a defining feature of scholarship on post–Cold War globalization, this project argues for the relevance of such models at an earlier moment and does so by returning religion to the picture. My objects of study range from the canonical to the unstudied: stereographs of Palestine in Northeastern parlors; Marsden Hartley’s still lifes of Southwestern Catholic devotional objects; John Singer Sargent’s and Henry Ossawa Tanner’s transatlantic paintings in Europe; Violet Oakley’s altarpieces on American battleships in the Pacific; and John Steuart Curry’s scenes of dynamic spirituality in the migratory Midwest. By engaging transculturally with mobility and spirituality, I show how differently positioned individuals—racial or ethnic, mainstream or marginalized— experienced modernity’s unmooring effects in distinct ways, and sought, in response, a means of anchorage.
Joe and Wanda Corn Predoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto
The Fertile Land Remembers: An Environmental History of New Deal Post Office Murals on the Great Plains
Read Project Abstract
In response to the centrality of resource extraction in recent environmental art, my dissertation examines the historical visual culture of land use in the American West, from late nineteenth-century land rushes to the postwar energy boom, to tell a more complete story of the intertwining of land, resources, and settler culture in the region. My fellowship will focus on the central portion of my dissertation, an environmental history of New Deal post office murals in the Great Plains states. These paintings, many of which depict resource extraction and agricultural land use, are far less studied than the better-known Farm Security Administration photographs of the Dust Bowl, which offer an important point of comparison. What can we learn, for example, from considering the examples of healthy wheat harvests depicted alongside oil derricks in Kansas’s murals? My project, which takes its title from Louise Emerson Ronnebeck’s 1938 mural for Worland, Wyoming, will draw on collections at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of American History, as well as the National Archives, to contextualize these artworks in their contemporary visual and historical landscape. I argue that by examining these documents of government-sponsored public art—the installation of which produced a deep record of community response and artistic rationale—we can arrive at a better understanding of persistent, regional environmental conceptions and identities while also questioning who is served by these images and whose stories they elide. My work follows the ecocritical turn in art history by embracing environmental history and placing the two disciplines in conversation with one another. The visual culture of the New Deal and Great Depression era provides a particularly ripe avenue for this study, because it was a period of great environmental destruction and governmentsponsored artistic creation in the United States. My research looks to tell other sides of this story and to examine how Americans understood land use beyond exploitation. This work is particularly critical now, as it sheds light on the American experience of resources and environment in a specific period while also providing a background for many of our current debates over land use and climate justice.
Susana “Xuxa” Rodriguez
Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Performing Exile: Cuban-American Women's Performance Art, 1972–2014
My dissertation examines the work of four Cuban-American women artists who use the body in politically explicit performance art: Ana Mendieta, Carmelita Tropicana, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and Coco Fusco. My project brings new knowledge to the field by demonstrating how the use of the body in performance art by these women allows for a unique expression of Cuban exile identity that is both distinct from the way in which exile has been expressed in the visual arts and also historically bound to the political relationship between Cuba and the U.S. I argue their work reveals how the U.S. embargo against Cuba (1960 to 2014) has shaped CubanAmerican art and identity to produce new notions of Americanness through their performances of exile.
Using the period of artistic production from 1972 through 2014 as this dissertation’s analytical timeframe, I craft four chapters as case studies of major works by each artist in relation to the Cuban exile diaspora and U.S. foreign policy since the 1959 Cuban revolution propelled mass immigration to the U.S. I conclude with a discussion of the ways in which works by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera are impacted by leadership and policy transitions to illustrate the effects that performance art has had and will continue to have—along with President Obama’s 2014 announcement to normalize relations between the two nations—as the political bridge between Cuba and the U.S. is rebuilt. My project is the first to critically engage Mendieta, Tropicana, Campos-Pons, and Fusco together in the context of the Cuban exile diaspora in the U.S. and its historical development, expanding research on the diaspora beyond Miami, FL, and considering how disparate locations produce radically different performances of exile. Ultimately, I examine these women’s work as American art to trouble this category and demonstrate the complexity and diversity of U.S. national identity.
Florencia San Martín
Patricia and Phillip Frost Predoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University
Reading the Art of Alfredo Jaar from the Americas
Read Project Abstract
Alfredo Jaar (b. Santiago, Chile, 1956; New York–based since 1982) is one of the most celebrated Latin American artists working in the international context today. His conceptual installations and public projects addressing humanitarian crises and global power relations have been discussed by such renowned philosophers as Jacques Rancière and Chantal Mouffe as well as by numerous art historians, curators, and scholars. The critical literature on Jaar points to four major themes in his work: the power of the media information network, photojournalism and the ethics of representation, the role of museums vis-à-vis the public interest, and the unequal power relations between the West (understood as Europe and the United States) and the Global South. As of yet, no study has framed Jaar’s art and philosophical thinking from the starting point of the Americas, specifically from a “decolonial” perspective. A school of thought promoted by such thinkers as Walter Mignolo, Aníbal Quijano, and Enrique Dussel, decoloniality regards colonialism as a fundamental and disastrous element in the formation of the modern world and posits that decolonization is an incomplete project. Scholars of decoloniality aim to challenge the dominance of the West by creating alternative epistemologies that celebrate other forms of thinking and doing. Jaar has been identifying the inherently hierarchical relationships in the modern world-system over the course of his entire career, relating the colonial and neocolonial histories of Latin America and Latina cultures to those of other former colonies. This dissertation thus contextualizes Jaar’s work within a decolonial framework, examining the artist’s relation to modernity, contemporary art, and globalization.
Douglass Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, Columbia University
The Ethics of Obscurity: David Hammons and Black Experimentalism, 1974–1989
Read Project Abstract
By 1974 David Hammons and artists in New York and Los Angeles had begun to expand figurative representation beyond its affiliations with black cultural nationalism and the Black Arts Movement. In street performances, public installations, and found object sculptures, Hammons inferred “marked” subjects or racialized bodies, critiquing representation by questioning our ability to “see” race, and extending the construction of racial subjectivity to affective, spatial, and bodily experience. This dissertation, the first monographic project on the artist, examines Hammons’s practice in New York between 1974 and 1989 as a set of fugitive gestures that revealed the conditions of aesthetic and spatial legibility for ordinary black Americans. Drawing (paradoxically) on his visibility as an exhibiting artist, Hammons staged obscurity to break down conventional distinctions between inside and outside, pushing the social limitations and physical boundaries of the art world.
Many texts on Hammons describe him as a huckster, a trickster, or a shaman, without theorizing the structural or self-aware operations of these claims. Still others attempt to place Hammons uncritically within a reception of Marcel Duchamp without questioning the dominant structural model of a singular avant-garde or the effects of its translation through African diasporic and black radical traditions. I argue that Hammons claimed the will-to-obscurity as an ethical move: he attempted to deflect attention away from himself in gestures of solidarity, if not direct collaboration. Mapping Hammons in and through a network of predecessors and interlocutors, I begin to ask who art-historical frameworks make visible or conceal, how black publics were constituted in the 1970s and 1980s, and how such publics are frequently obscured in hegemonic art-historical narratives.
Marin R. Sullivan
George Gurney Postdoctoral Fellow, Keene State College
Alloys: American Sculpture and Architecture at Midcentury
Read Project Abstract
The postwar period in the United States saw both a building boom shaped by the ideologies of humanism and Modernist architects and a widespread call for the reintegration of art and architecture. Leading architects of the period repeatedly turned to a small group of sculptors, including Harry Bertoia, Alexander Calder, Richard Lippold, and Isamu Noguchi, who produced materially complex, sitedetermined sculptural walls, ceilings, and screens that connected threshold spaces like atriums, lobbies, plazas, and entryways. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of such collaborations, as well as the marginalized status of art allied with design or functionality, the significance of these commissions has been largely overlooked— especially those by Bertoia and Lippold. Drawing on contemporary theories of synergy and alloying, this project examines the role of sculpture in this moment of crossdisciplinary synthesis, and argues that such commissions suggest an alternate history of American art at midcentury.
Wyeth Foundation Predoctoral Fellow, University of Delaware
Albert Bierstadt and the Speculative Terrain of American Landscape Painting, 1863–1888
Read Project Abstract
What happens when a landscape painter finds art in making money? From the 1860s through the 1880s, the German-American artist Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902) established a transatlantic reputation for painting the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains. Simultaneously, he and his American and European patrons speculated in mines, railroads, and real estate in the American West. My dissertation proposes that Bierstadt’s involvement with financial capitalism informed his approach to landscape depiction. My research is rooted in a detailed examination of the form and circulation of the artist’s widely-viewed exhibition landscapes, from The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak (1863) to The Last of the Buffalo (1888). It is essential to view these landscapes in relation to the rapid growth of transatlantic finance during the second half of the nineteenth century, which impacted how Americans imagined and valued the West. Chapter one traces the transatlantic movement of Bierstadt’s paintings and patrons, considering how his works navigated the tastes of European audiences as well as a transatlantic demand for Western real estate. The second chapter reveals how Bierstadt’s approach to composition responded to the epistemological challenges associated with investing in poorly-known territories. Chapter three explores the way in which period debates about Bierstadt’s artistic persona paralleled debates about the appropriate behavior of investors. The final chapter examines his late-career efforts to navigate growing popular nostalgia for a mythical Western past as opposed to its financial future. Throughout this study, I draw attention to the various ways in which Bierstadt’s bombastic pictorial fictions visualized certain facts of finance. I emphasize how his landscapes encouraged, even celebrated, the ways that financial capitalism radically reshaped the material and social terrain of nineteenth-century America.