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Arte povera in Turin 1967-1978: Contextualizing Artistic Strategies during the Anni di piombo
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This dissertation presents an original analysis of four artists based in Turin, Italy: Giovanni Anselmo (b. 1934), Mario Merz (1925-2003), Giuseppe Penone (b. 1947), and Gilberto Zorio (b. 1944). Although these sculptors are ordinarily considered either individually or within the context of the 1960s-70s movement Arte povera, focusing on the sub-grouping reveals historical, tactical, and thematic connections that are otherwise unapparent. Their specific careers evolved within the social, artistic and intellectual context of Turin during a time of great political upheaval and philosophical foment. This study contributes to a new understanding of engagement by these four artists with Italian aesthetics and politics, and presents a framework through which to study Arte povera more generally. Critic Germano Celant was based in Turin in 1967, when he developed the notion of Arte povera as a national artistic phenomenon that began in 1967 and ended in 1971. From its inception, the label was applied to contemporary Italian artists whose projects explicitly aimed to de-invest the artwork of predetermined meaning, but it is often misunderstood as referring to an interest in "poor" materials. Rather than attempting to recast and debate the term Arte povera however, this dissertation primarily argues that the socio-political history of Turin, combined with a prominent school of phenomenological philosophy, inspired the rise of specific aesthetic strategies and their subsequent identification by figures such as Celant, Tommaso Trini, Mirella Bandini, and others. Anselmo, Merz, Penone, and Zorio, in particular, created objects and installations that used natural and industrial materials alike to engage viewers in modes of active perception, creating empowered viewing subjects. Seen in relief with contemporary philosophical ideas about multi-sensory experience forming the sensible world, such artworks appear as aesthetic analogues to the political mobilizations occurring in Turin's factories and streets. Using a periodization based on Italian political history rather than the artistic one considered by Celant, this study examines the projects of these four artists from the student movement's beginnings in 1967 to the climax of domestic terrorism in 1978. It situates each artist's material practice within the local philosophical and social context to reveal its latent political charge.
"I Am Elsewhere": Luigi Ontani and the Tableau Vivant in Italian Art, 1969-1979
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"`I Am Elsewhere'" posits Luigi Ontani as a leading figure and pioneer of the postmodern tableau-vivant revival in Italy, 1969 to 1979. The tableau vivant as an artistic strategy and subject concerned artists both independent and affiliated with Arte Povera. The primary medium for these artists was photography and, secondarily, live performance, film, video, and painting. The main forerunners of this revival were painter Giorgio de Chirico and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. Ontani donned the visages of figures and characters from past paintings and sculptures, cultural history, and contemporary popular culture in tableaux primarily staged for the camera. He pioneered the use of color photography and video in the early 1970s. In the second half of the 1970s he performed his tableaux in front of an audience and executed a series of hand-tinted black-and-white tableau photos in collaboration with commercial photographers in India. This study combines object-based art history, cultural history, and critical theory. It connects Ontani's tableau works with camp aesthetics and queer theory, and investigates the economic, technological, social, political, cultural, and artistic circumstances out of which the tableau-vivant revival emerged and flourished in Italy. The tableau-vivant revival and Ontani's works are related to three contemporaneous socio-historical phenomena: image culture, or the saturation of everyday life with electronic and printed images starting in the early 1960s; the Italian gay liberation movement of the early 1970s; and internal terrorism from both left and right, afflicting the country from 1969 until 1980. This treatise problematizes the reductive view of contemporary Italian art as structured around the binary sequence Arte Povera-Transavanguardia. It addresses the phenomenon of the tableau-vivant revival, yet to be discussed in the literature on contemporary Italian art. The importance of this phenomenon cannot be underestimated since creating tableaux has become a central artistic strategy in the visual arts of the past thirty plus years, and is commonly considered a hallmark of postmodern aesthetics. "`I Am Elsewhere'" also contributes a study of one of the earliest extensive collaborations between an Italian and Indian practitioners in the postcolonial world.
Critical Positions in Recent South African Photography
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This work presents a history of South African photography through an account of critical practices undertaken by individual photographers. Rather than the history of photography in South Africa, this project offers a taxonomy of a variety of strategies and tactics pursued by practitioners of the medium before and after the fall of apartheid. Told through case studies, it probes how these photographers were influenced by their political commitments, their dreams about their country's future and their beliefs about the efficacy of art as an agent of social change. To consider both the practice of particular photographers and their personal investment in the making of images, this dissertation blends a theoretical framework with biography and social history. While bodies of theoretical inquiry, like critical white studies and creolization theory, help put South African photographs into an international dialogue with other contemporary art, biographies ground the work in the lives led by photographers who have experienced the vagaries of South African history. Drawing on interviews and on an analysis of the history of photography in South Africa, this dissertation inquires what these photographs tell South Africans about themselves and what they tell the world about South Africa. Chapter One provides a short account of the history of photography in South Africa told through the lens of the work and careers of photographers Santu Mofokeng, Peter McKenzie and Jo Ractliffe. Chapter Two relates the work of David Goldblatt and Hentie van der Merwe to that of scholars pursuing an avenue of inquiry called critical white studies, scholars who posit whiteness as a socially constructed form of privilege. In Chapter Three, the documentary photography of Ernest Cole and the conceptual work of Berni Searle will be situated in relation to creolization theory. Chapter Four examines how photographers Mikhael Subotzky, Zanele Muholi and Nontsikelelo `Lolo' Veleko are articulating new concepts about what it is to be a post-apartheid South African photographer. Finally, I will conclude with a reflection on my own subject position: an American, deeply concerned about race, who is looking at South Africa in an attempt to understand his own history.
Donald Judd's Furniture, From Do-It-Yourself to the Art of Lifestyle
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This dissertation is an interdisciplinary study of Judd's furniture design from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. It sheds light on the artist's anarchistic political stance and on the do-it-yourself cultural phenomenon as a model for his intentionally naïve-looking furniture generated through his collaboration with local carpenters in Marfa, Texas during the 1970s. Judd's furniture production developed to a more sophisticated, skilled mode of fabrication in the 1980s, while his furniture and artwork became increasingly intertwined at many levels including the philosophical, the formal, and the realms of fabrication, installation, and marketing. This dissertation demonstrates how Judd's furniture design became integral to the permanent installations he orchestrated in Marfa and how he eventually shaped a certain way of living in his carefully organized environments. The ambiguity in the distinctions between functional objects and art pieces in the Minimalist ambit stimulated a rise of usable sculpture created by a succeeding generation of artists including Scott Burton. With respect to their emphasis on the role of the viewer or user, and on leading art into the everyday, Judd's and Burton's art-furniture both originated from aspects of individual presence and action in society rather than from a taste for good design.
NATIVE AMERICAN CHIC: THE MARKETING OF NATIVE AMERICANS IN NEW YORK BETWEEN THE WORLD WARS
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Focusing on four key figures - Morris de Camp Crawford, John Sloan, Amelia Elizabeth White, and René d'Harnoncourt - this dissertation analyzes museum and gallery exhibitions of Native American art mounted in the United States, particularly New York City, during the interwar period, and documents the immediate and lasting impact these shows and their promotion had on the emergence of "Indian Chic" in women's fashion and interior design. In the late 1910s, Crawford, a research editor for Women's Wear and honorary research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, mounted a campaign encouraging Euro-American designers to seek inspiration in museum collections, particularly Native American production. Crawford's efforts led to the AMNH's 1919 Exhibition of Industrial Art in Textiles and Costumes; a series of exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum in the 1920s; and Mallinson Fabrics' 1928 "American Indian Series." Meantime, Sloan bolstered awareness of Native American art through exhibitions of Pueblo watercolors at the Society of Independent Artists exhibitions in the 1920s, and the groundbreaking Exposition of Indian Tribal Arts in 1931. White, a New York socialite living in Santa Fe, joined Sloan in his efforts, financing the EITA and promoting the incorporation of Native American art into modern Euro-American décor through her New York City gallery and exhibitions of her personal collection. In the mid-1930s, Indian Chic received government backing with the creation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. As its general manager, D'Harnoncourt promoted Indian art's suitability as inspiration for modern Euro-American design in two landmark exhibitions: the Indian Court at San Francisco's Golden Gate Exposition in 1939 and Indian Art of the United States at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1941. These exhibitions created a sensation that was widely reported in the popular press, and U.S. consumers responded enthusiastically to Indian-inflected and -inspired clothing, accessories, footwear, cosmetics, and household goods and accent pieces. The notion of Native American Chic, created in the 1910s by Crawford and promoted by Sloan, White, and d'Harnoncourt throughout the interwar period, endures today.
Weighing the Body: Female Body Image in Contemporary Art
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Numerous contemporary artists, particularly female artists, have at key moments in their careers chosen to examine the issue of female body image. The preoccupation with weight is preeminently visual, so artistic interventions can be particularly powerful. Yet no comprehensive study exists of artwork concerned with pandemic issues such as obesity, anorexia, bulimia, dieting, or female body image broadly. In this dissertation, I examine significant examples of such projects by locating works by key artists in social and historical context, including that of evolving feminist discourses on the body: Laura Aguilar (b. 1959), Eleanor Antin (b. 1935), Vanessa Beecroft (b. 1969), Maureen Connor (b. 1947), Lauren Greenfield (b. 1966), Ariane Lopez-Huici (b. 1945), Leonard Nimoy (b. 1931), L.A. Raeven (twins Liesbeth and Angelique Raeven, who work as a singular artist, b. 1971), Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), Rachel Rosenthal (b. 1926), Barbara Smith (1931), and Jana Sterbak (b. 1955). Many of the artists in question have incorporated their own bodies into their work, at times leading to certain contradictions that deserve discussion. That is, as they choose to diet or to display their eating disorders through their artworks, they may appear complicit in the very syndromes that they are ostensibly critiquing. In choosing to investigate or document extreme examples of thin and fat women, or in chronicling anorexic and bulimic bodies, these thirteen artists generally raise questions concerning societal pressures on the healthy female body. I argue that each of these artists has somehow questioned female bodily ideals while also complicating the idea of a "normal" female figure. Because the artists in question--though all from the United States and Europe--represent a variety of backgrounds, including Jewish, African-American, Latina, and white, it follows that their work evinces different cultural or sub-cultural understandings of, and approaches to body size. By focusing in a roughly chronological way on projects that date from the 1970s to the early 2000s, I examine how visual approaches to issues surrounding body image have shifted and developed over time as artists move from documenting their own dieting to heralding the fat body to others who justify eating disorders.
European Symbolism Transformed: The Case of Poland
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This dissertation examines the intersection of concepts of nationalism and identity in Polish Symbolist painting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It argues that characteristics of the Symbolist mode in painting, such as formal distortion and ambiguity, mysticism and pessimism, were ideally suited for the expression of complex ideas about nationhood and identity in Polish territory. These ideas related to the status of the Polish nation as a politically subjugate entity, as well as the newly contested status of the individual artist as spokesperson for the nation. The dissertation argues that Symbolist painters forged a compromise in their work between the demands of tradition and modernity by investing well-worn themes and motifs with new, more nuanced meanings. In so doing, they perfectly articulated the state of cultural and political suspension particular to the Polish situation. The dissertation makes comparisons between examples of Symbolist painting in Poland and that of selected Western European cities. An examination of similar themes and motifs across cultural borders demonstrates the impact of their transpositions to the Polish context. The dissertation also examines the influence of Symbolism on the Sztuka group, the preeminent modernist artists' organization of the period. It argues that Symbolism represented a crucial component of Sztuka's understanding of itself and its profile in a local and international context. Finally, the dissertation examines in detail the work of two Symbolist painters, Jacek Malczewski and Jan Stanisławski, against the backdrop of traditional scholarly categorizations of Symbolist painting into synthetism and thought-painting. It asserts that the mix of characteristics and strategies in these artists' work problematizes this categorization and encourages a reshaping of the scholarly discourse on Symbolism.
Owning the Exotic: Production of Hispano-Islamic Lusterware and its Reception in Western Europe, 1350-1650
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Lusterware, tin-glazed pottery decorated with striking iridescent designs, was first made in Basra, Iraq, in the ninth century. These luxury ceramics and the specialized technique involved in their creation spread rapidly throughout the Islamic world, with the Iberian Peninsula ultimately becoming a center for production. This dissertation examines the social, historical, and artistic circumstances surrounding Hispano-Islamic lusterware production and provides insight into its reception in Western Europe during the height of its consumption from 1350 to 1650. Given that available scholarship on Hispano-Islamic lusterware is primarily concerned with archaeological excavation, trade practices, and formal analysis, our understanding of what this pottery meant to the artists who created it and to the patrons whose tastes it satisfied has remained unclear. My dissertation clarifies these aspects by viewing both the creation and patronage of this lusterware as driven by its conception as an exotic luxury item in the Iberian Peninsula as well as in Northern Europe and Italy. Moreover, while waning lusterware consumption in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, and Spain in particular, has been viewed as evidence of a change of taste imposed by the growth of an Italian Renaissance aesthetic, I demonstrate that new types of attainable exotica, such as Chinese porcelain and New World ceramics, also diminished lusterware's popularity.
John Ferren and the Development of Abstraction
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This dissertation presents the first comprehensive examination of the life and work of John Ferren. Compiled using extensive primary materials, this study argues for a reassessment of Ferren's position within the modernist canon. Born on the West Coast in 1905, Ferren was raised in Los Angeles and spent his formative artistic years in San Francisco in the mid- to late-1920s. He first visited Europe in 1929, making his way through France, Italy, and Germany. He returned two years later, intending to remain permanently. During this period Ferren became an integral part of the Parisian avant-garde, one of the few Americans to do so, and helped codify the burgeoning langauge of geometric abstraction. He quickly gained an impressive international career, exhibiting on both sides of the Atlantic, but coming to the U.S. at the dawn of the War for one of his exhibitions, he was unable to return to Europe. Following the War, Ferren became central to the development of Abstract Expressionism as a charter member of the Artist's Club, serving as its president for one year in 1956. He organized exhbitions of Abstract Expressionism and more importantly became a vocal advocate for the movement through a series of articles detailing its genesis and eventual demise. In many ways, Ferren countered the very image of a hard-living painter in the 1950s by cultivating an interest in ideas and the intellect, with a sophistication not often found among his peers. Despite his advocacy for the movement and important exhibitions at the Stable Gallery and elsewhere, he remained outside the canonical figures of Abstract Expressionism. In the early 1960s, as the asthetic paradigm began to shift quite radically, Ferren returned to a geometric approach to painting that now incorporated his interest in advanced mathematics with visual perception. This late period was one of the artist's most creative and certainly most productive. It was, also, as I argue, one of his most significant contributions to the development of painting as he was one of many artists at the time who were truly re-defining the notion of what painting could be.
Between Code and Message: Argentine Conceptual Art, 1966-1976
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This dissertation historicizes and theorizes the emergence and refinement of conceptual art in Argentina between the years 1966 and 1976. The conceptual turn, commonly understood as the shift from painting and sculpture to multimedia event- and language-based artistic practices in the 1960s and 1970s, took on an activist dimension in this context. A group of artists in Argentina collaboratively developed an educational role for art in the face of the dictatorship's control over a relatively new and increasingly powerful mass media. Argentine conceptual art as it is understood here can be traced back to one figure in particular, Oscar Masotta, a cultural theorist, pedagogue, and occasional artist who argued that artists such as Andy Warhol were engaged in a semiotic project of stripping away the content, or message, of the popular image to reveal the code, or underlying structure, that allowed the message to be delivered. Masotta and a circle of artists with whom he was working expanded this technique to include other systems that could be similarly analyzed: genres of art such as the happening, exhibition space, the art institution, the mass media, and the state. This process of extricating code and message has a crucial consequence: once analyzed, the system at hand can no longer deliver its message, either because its code has become too conspicuous or because it has been dissembled into parts. In 1968, Masotta's techniques were incorporated into a larger collaborative project titled Tucumán Arde, which staged protest exhibitions against the dictatorship's economic policies at union halls. For the artists involved in this project, it was not enough to merely analyze codes. A replacement message had to be substituted for the one that had been undermined. This dissertation traces the shared development of these conceptual strategies up to and after 1968, and the abandonment of art by most of the artists involved in Tucumán Arde. With worsening political conditions in Argentina in the 1970s, the conceptual strategies utilized by Masotta and Tucumán Arde were adapted to address political oppression from an increasingly powerless position.