Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Dynamics and Divisions at the Salons of The Rose-Croix: Statistics, Aesthetic Theories, Practices, and Subjects

    Author:
    Mary Slavkin
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rose-Carol Washton Long
    Abstract:

    A variety of alternative Salons arose in France following the demise of the official Salon. Within this phrenetic climate for alternative exhibition venue creation, Joséphin Péladan founded the Salons of the Rose + Croix (1892-1897). He framed the Salons as ideologically unified exhibitions at which idealized works focusing on spirituality, tradition, and beauty would engender social reform by encouraging a decadent society to focus on timeless poetic and mystical ideas. Nevertheless, in practice the Rose + Croix functioned mainly as an exhibition venue for artists whose work only loosely responded to the established platform. The exhibited works reveal some overlap with Péladan's mystical, idealized, and reformist aims, yet even the central ten exhibitors deviated from the leader's published mandates in myriad ways, showing that the Rose + Croix was not an ideologically united group. I determine the ten central exhibitors with statistical analysis of the salon catalogs and fifty contemporary reviews, moving beyond anecdotal considerations to base my conclusions on the ideas and production of the group's main affiliates. Péladan's principles are clearly those of a writer attempting to direct artists. Rarely discussing specific techniques, he usually focused on subject matter and conceptual frameworks. The exhibiting artists built on many of his broader ideas, developing anti-naturalist methods to express their focus on eternal, mystical Ideas. Nevertheless, contemporary reviews and critical writings by Péladan and the artists reveal divergences between the platform and implementation in terms of: the relationship between art and life, the transformation of nature, and the influence of history and earlier artistic movements. Additionally, the artists associated with the group incorporated a range of religious and scientific--or pseudo-scientific--influences into their works, combining Catholic, Rosicrucian, and theosophical principles with optical science and psychology, especially theories about hysteria. The depictions of women and the highly varied literary illustrations and themes reveal that even in areas where Péladan issued specific guidelines, the exhibited works often deviated from his principles. The group also expressed conflicting attitudes toward women because at least five female artists exhibited works at the Salon--violating a central group tenet that outlawed women's participation.

  • Binding Lives: Southern Photobooks and the Great Depression in America

    Author:
    Sharon Suchma
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Siona Wilson
    Abstract:

    In the 1930s and 1940s the University of North Carolina (UNC) Press published many photobooks on the American South that have since escaped serious scholarly attention. This study argues that a new type of photobook emerged within a regionally and culturally specific context. The UNC Press photobooks demonstrate a balance between being art objects and parts of a burgeoning mass media. They also represent attempts by academics to bring up economic and social issues, such as sharecropping during the Depression, to a mainstream public. Critically, most of the authors were Southerners themselves. This is important because the North had traditionally dominated the representation of the South, both visually and in writing. The Southern authors often employed the popular stereotypes of the South in order to engage a larger audience and ultimately reconstruct what were understood as Southern characteristics. The UNC photobooks represent a specific type of Southern photobook that includes colloquial speech and folklore, sociological data (literally or visually in the form of photographs), current issues, and a call for social reform. Their written and photographic acknowledgment of racial issues in the South was groundbreaking in comparison to the practices of the larger publishing profession. Under the influence of UNC sociologist Howard Odum and UNC Press director William Couch many photobooks utilized government photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and forged ties with certain government employees, such as Roy Stryker, director of the FSA Historical Division. Both the UNC and the FSA were interested in the way photography could be embraced by the social sciences and their collaborations went beyond the production of photobooks into projects involving university exhibitions and even course offerings. As such, this material not only expands the history of photography in and about the South and the history of photobooks, but of the FSA as well.

  • Beyond "Meaningless Work": The Art of Walter De Maria, 1960-1977

    Author:
    Molleen Theodore
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the work of the American artist Walter De Maria (b. 1935). De Maria is known predominately through photographs of his sculptural land work, The Lightning Field (1977), but the breadth and complexity of De Maria's practice has not received sustained critical scrutiny. I consider De Maria's writings, including his would-be manifesto "Meaningless Work" (1960), drawings, wood boxes, steel sculptures, installations, land works, music, film, and photography projects, as well as his connection to the development of minimal art, conceptual art, and land art, and his relationship to his collectors and patrons. By examining the many facets of De Maria's production and reception and by focusing on work from the 1960s and 1970s, this dissertation deepens the current understanding of his practice during the time of its development and articulation. Additionally, through detailed archival research, this study moves away from the personal and anecdotal treatments De Maria's work has received thus far and toward an understanding of his practice contextualized in its time.

  • The Museum of Modern Art's What Is Modern? Series, 1938-1969

    Author:
    Jennifer Tobias
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rosemarie Bletter
    Abstract:

    Between 1938 and 1969, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) poses the question of What Is Modern? (WIM) in a series of books, traveling exhibitions, and a symposium. This dissertation argues for the WIM project as a sustained if minimally effective effort to influence popular American perceptions of modern art, architecture, and design, at the same time embodying tensions inherent to the museum and its notions of that modernism. MoMA is an unquestionable influence on modern art history. WIM is a significant component of this influence, yet scholarship on the series is minimal. Hiding in plain sight, the series offers signal insights into the Museum's first century of answers to the question of What Is Modern? Each WIM holds a key to the development and dissemination of MoMA's ideology. Two versions of What Is Modern Architecture? (WISMA, 1938, 1962) first advocate for and then wrestle with the legacy of International Style architecture. Next, Alfred H. Barr Jr.'s What Is Modern Painting? (WIMP, 1943) and precursors reflect development of the museum's core ideals. At mid-century, Edward Steichen's symposium and unrealized book What Is Modern Photography? (WIMPh, 1950, 1951) fail to critically address the medium upon which the series depends to make its case. At the same time, Edgar J. Kaufmann Jr.'s What Is Modern Design? (WIMD, 1950) and What Is Modern Interior Design? (WISMID, 1953) assert an alternative to the machine aesthetic and International Style ideology. Finally, two versions of What Is Modern Sculpture? (WIMS, 1942, 1969) evince a formalism that, while innovative and provocative in MoMA's early years, read as a conservative statement in the face of late-century art movements and post-colonial attitudes towards "primitivism." The dissertation concludes with a review of media for which the museum chose other (or no) forms of popularization, followed by a review of key themes supporting the central argument. This investigation draws two interrelated conclusions. First, the WIM series represents a complex and contradictory internal discourse, both within and between departments, over the course of most of the twentieth century, that is subsumed into a confident public education campaign. Second, engagement with modern communications media is integral to the formulation, promulgation--and dissonance--of those notions.

  • Luxury and Loyalty: Anne de Montmorency as Patron of the Arts

    Author:
    Anne Vuagniaux
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    James Saslow
    Abstract:

    This project examines the art patronage of sixteenth-century French aristocrat Anne de Montmorency. Credited as being a great diplomat, statesman, political advisor, and military hero, this aspect of his life has been neglected in the scholarship on the period. There is evidence, however, that his patronage was key in the development of what art historians today consider a distinctly French Renaissance style. This study provides a comprehensive view of one of the most influential art patrons of the late Renaissance and addresses architecture, sculpture, painting, and decorative arts media. Current scholarship on developments in the arts of the sixteenth century focuses on Italy's influence on the rest of Europe and the New World. While this influence was significant, Montmorency's patronage also reveals a desire to maintain continuity with local French traditions. Montmorency serves as a case study in the process by which powerful figures utilized the visual arts to express their identity and affirm their power in the Early Modern Era.

  • Like Turtles, Islands Float Away: Emergent Distinctions in the Zoomorphic Iconography of Saladoid Ceramics of the Lesser Antilles, 250 BCE to 650 CE

    Author:
    Lawrence Waldron
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Eloise Quinones Keber
    Abstract:

    The late first millennium BCE to early first millennium CE saw the beginning of the Ceramic Age in the Caribbean islands. The ceramic culture that effected this transition was the Saladoid, members of which departed from northeastern Venezuela and the northwestern Guianas and settled the Antilles from Trinidad to Puerto Rico. As the hunting, gathering, fishing, and non-intensive horticulture of the older Caribbean peoples gave way to the intensive agriculture and full-fledged pottery industry of new migrants from South America, Caribbean culture was transformed. This study explores the ceramic indicators of cultural change, not for the obvious differences they trace between older "Archaic" peoples and newer Ceramic ones in the Caribbean, but for the differences they evince between the Ceramic peoples that settled the islands and the ones they departed in South America. This study demonstrates the emergence of a new regional identity. The study presents three kinds of evidence of this regional distinction. First, it presents quantitative surveys of over two thousand ceramic objects in sample collections and compares incidence counts of zoomorphic motifs between the mainland and the Caribbean islands. Zoomorphic iconography adorns much of the pottery of the Saladoid and other early Ceramic cultures of the Caribbean. Ceramic zoomorphs appear as effigy vessels, incised and painted details on vessel walls, and most commonly, as adornos, the modeled handles and lugs of vessels. Secondly, the study tracks qualitative differences between islands and the mainland, chief of these being morphological changes in ceramics, particularly as relate to technique, style and iconography. Finally this study attempts to decipher the cultural meanings assigned to these zoomorphic ceramics, particularly as they relate to known traditional narratives, ritual and daily life. This iconographic and iconological analysis gives insight into the ethos that drove the changes in ceramics and also illuminates some of the motives behind migration to the Antilles. Through an analysis of formal types, an exploration of aesthetics and iconography, and a partial reconstruction of iconology and cultural context, this work approaches the first Ceramic peoples of the Antilles as curious explorers, deliberate pioneers and shrewd architects of a uniquely Caribbean culture.

  • Engineering, Photography, and the Construction of Modern Paris, 1857-1911

    Author:
    Sean Weiss
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Kevin Murphy
    Abstract:

    "Engineering, Photography, and the Construction of Modern Paris, 1857-1911" investigates the photographic practices of state civil engineers in the construction of public works in Paris during the Second Empire (1852-70) and the early Third Republic (1870-1940). It contends that Paris became expressly modern by means of a physical transformation that was inseparable from new modes of publicity arising in concert with technologies of representation and reproduction. Photographs commissioned in many building campaigns supervised by state engineers functioned as exemplary documents of rationalized urban management used to remotely monitor site conditions, construction progress, and detail construction techniques. The state's civil engineers not only documented building campaigns with photography, but they also orchestrated the circulation of these photographs of public works at sites for official publicity including universal expositions, publications, and the press. As a result of these and related efforts, civil engineers crafted modern Paris as a material space and as a virtual one, which drew the experience of spectators into the construction of the capital. This thesis is elucidated through five chapters that demonstrate how photography and civil engineering intersected with the urban transformation of the capital. The chapters progress chronologically and examine a series of case studies, which shift back and forth between applications of the medium in the field and the institutional environments that structured patterns of production and reception of these photographs. By doing so, this study argues that engineers' construction of physical infrastructure was inseparable from their uses of photography, which together helped to construct the capital's modernity in the second half of the nineteenth century.

  • Standard Deviations: Reality, Reproducibility, and Politics in Performance Art since 1989

    Author:
    Jonah Westerman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Claire Bishop
    Abstract:

    Performance art is conventionally seen as having a privileged relation to reality because of the way it insists on the immediate experiences of specific human bodies, the full depth of which can never be adequately reproduced or captured. This understanding of performance as accessing authenticity through ephemerality has long made it a stage for artistic and political subversion. Since the early 1990s, however, a group of European artists responding to processes of globalization that have changed the nature of political economy--the demise of the Soviet Union, NAFTA, and new regulations concerning trade and travel in the E.U.--have developed performance strategies that unsettle the traditional understanding of performance that insists on the potency of an eruptive ephemerality. This dissertation discusses how the performance-based works of Santiago Sierra (b. 1966, Spain), Artur Żmijewski (b. 1966, Poland), Christoph Schlingensief (1960-2010, Germany), and the artist collective, Neue Slowenische Kunst (formed 1984, Slovenia) use non-artist participants as a primary medium alongside photography, video, and web-based platforms to assert the reproducibility of both people and events. I argue that performance art since 1989 comprises a new mode of addressing audiences designed to illustrate how history persists and repeats in the present, especially when we imagine we can escape it. As such, each artist engages and describes a specific local horizon that defines a global totality in its own terms, at once acknowledging the newness of the post-1989 world and refuting it. The works I analyze present audiences with the "same" object of interpretation in order to elicit and describe the range of responses possible. I argue that every reproducible performance functions as a sonar ping, issuing from the work of art and mapping the surrounding human territory. From this notional zero-point, the work creates a political portrait, detailing a spectrum of opinions and speculating on their historical derivation. Because of how these works themselves deviate from traditional performance, they are able to chart a cognitive landscape that describes where each of us stands in relation to others--they picture us and our various pictures of the world as so many standard deviations.

  • A Feminist Inheritance? Questions of Subjectivity and Ambivalence in Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley and Robert Gober

    Author:
    Marisa White-Hartman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    Feminist art of the 1970s was groundbreaking in many regards and importantly impacted specific projects by three male artists: Paul McCarthy's performance Sailor's Meat (1975), Mike Kelley's installation Half a Man (1989) and Robert Gober's 1989 installation at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Despite the general absence of feminist artists as possible influences in the critical literature on these artists, feminist sources have been hidden in plain sight in regards to these works. These artists all take up the problematic of identity formation within the domestic sphere, which was made a legitimate area of inquiry in art by numerous feminist artists in the 1970s. The artists under discussion responded to feminism at different points in its development from the 1970s to the mid 1980s, and so I trace the debates surrounding feminism relevant to the works under discussion during this period. Chapter One contextualizes McCarthy's performances of the 1970s with his male forebearers and feminist contemporaries and focuses on themes of personae and rituals. Chapter Two explores Kelley's referencing feminist art via the idiom of craft, both in terms of its implications for different expressions of masculinity, and for his deeply ambivalent relationship with feminism. Chapter Three proposes a connections between Gober and feminist art founded on the shared exploration of the ways subjectivity is constituted by the daily repetition of activities within the domestic sphere. In this regard, his work is discussed in relation to works by artists working in the 1970s as well as his contemporaries that highlight the psychic emanations of particular household objects, and conceptually, to those that demonstrate how the domestic environment socially conditions its subjects. I conclude the project by discussing how a younger generation of contemporary women artists have reinterpreted works by McCarthy, Kelley and Gober in ways in which they are able to recognize and recover strands leading back to feminism. The dissertation aims to demonstrate that the contributions of feminist art had a greater effect on the field of contemporary art than is often acknowledged.

  • YAYOI KUSAMA: BIOGRAPHY AND CULTURAL CONFRONTATION, 1945-1969

    Author:
    Midori Yamamura
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) was among the first Japanese artists to rise to international prominence after World War II. She emerged when wartime modern nation-state formations and national identity in the former Axis Alliance countries quickly lost ground to U.S.-led Allied control, enforcing a U.S.-centered model of democracy and capitalism. As a result, the art world became increasingly internationalized. This interdisciplinary study is the first attempt to comparatively examine postwar artistic developments in Japan, the United States, and Europe, through a focus on Kusama. I consider Kusama not so much in terms that seek to aggrandize the uniqueness of the individual, but that assess her entry into and position within an historical sequence, namely the radical changes which took place after the war. Mine is a material investigation, which addresses how personal and cultural memories may be embedded in objects. By examining her breakthrough work against the backdrop of her milieu, this feminist study will illuminate particular issues Kusama might have encountered in society and analyze how her experiences uniquely shaped her practice. I will also analyze works by Kusama's peers that help to illuminate the scope and nature of the problems that she encountered. Growing up under Japan's militaristic totalitarian regime, Kusama embraced art as a non-conformist pursuit. Her defiance of fanatic chauvinism propelled her, after the war, to seek a career overseas. She arrived in 1958 in New York, where a burgeoning cosmopolitanism contributed to her initial success with five nearly identical white Net paintings. Beginning in 1960, the artists affiliated with the German Zero group invited Kusama to exhibit in Europe. By 1962, she had shown with the future Pop and Minimal artists in New York. As New York's art market became more firmly established, however, multiculturalism tended to become less embraced there. By 1966, this drove Kusama to drop out of the commercial art world. She began creating politically charged site-specific installations and Happenings where the theme of liberatory sexuality was key. But around 1969, as the gallery-money-power-structure became an unchallengeable fact, she ceased her activity in New York.