Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • 30,000 Reasons to Remember: Artistic Strategies for Memorializing Argentina's Disappeared

    Author:
    Marisa Lerer
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    This dissertation traces the construction of memorials from 1976-2009 dedicated to the victims of state-sponsored terrorism under the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, now known collectively as the disappeared, and the creation of new paradigms in public art and memorialization practices in Argentina. I examine a typology of memorials to the disappeared and analyze the spatial power dynamics in the public realm under the dictatorship and in the democratic era. This dissertation is the first scholarly text to focus on the history of patronage and the range of visual forms in Argentine memorials to the disappeared. My research analyzes the relationship between a memorial's subject and the artists' chosen formal representational strategies. I explore the artists' use of various media and styles to memorialize the disappeared, including documentary photography, guerilla art, conceptualism, minimalism, abstraction, performance, and figuration. Aesthetic choices reflect the political platforms and goals of the memorials' main patronage groups: human rights organizations, cultural institutions, and the government. My investigation reveals that the memorials dedicated to the victims of state-sponsored terrorism are part of a contentious struggle in the politics of public space that began under the military junta and continues to this day. The production of Argentine memorials that honor the disappeared are a reflection of the present moment in which they are designed. Artists and human rights organizations created these works to challenge and alter the established government order and cultural institutional spaces became sites of resistance against the historical narrative put forth by the military and the ruling democratic presidents. Minimalism, on the other hand appears to have become a favored choice for government-sponsored memorials because it lacks and therefore erases an apparent narrative. This project stresses the importance of understanding and considering audience response to the major paradigms of Argentine memorial construction. In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of my research incorporates the study of Latin American art with public art, and memory studies, thereby providing a new lens through which to analyze contemporary Argentine art production.

  • Four Parts Together, or Shaping Shapelessness: The Cultural Poetics of Inka Spatial Practice

    Author:
    Jeremy George
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Eloise Quinones Keber
    Abstract:

    Abstract FOUR PARTS TOGETHER, OR SHAPING SHAPELESSNESS: THE CULTURAL POETICS OF INKA SPATIAL PRACTICE by Jeremy James George Adviser: Professor Eloise Quiñones Keber This dissertation investigates the shaping of highland Andean culture through spatial practice--the phrase that theorist Henri Lefebvre used to describe how a society produces, reproduces, and extends its own idea of space for its own ends. The inquiry focuses on four select paradigms of spatial practice: defining the cultural poetics of spatial practice as a structural and semiotic methodology; analyzing pre-Columbian Inka (Inca; ca. 13th-16th c.) architectonic (sculptural) stone forms; interpreting spatial paradigms in the seventeenth-century manuscript of Peruvian chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala; and re-defining the "active surface" of contemporary Cuzco (Cusco), Peru, the ancient capital of the Inka. By centralizing spatial practice in successive temporal thresholds and various material mediums, this project creates an interpretive model for diachronic cultural analysis as a social, historical, and representational concern. After establishing that Inka spatial practice is rooted in a concept of replicating and transforming centers, the dissertation examines aspects of centeredness in Guaman Poma's manuscript, El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (ca. 1615) (The First New Chronicle and Good Government). The 398 line drawings of this key document codify colonial spatial practice as a socio-cultural mechanism of change, resistance, and imagination for its singular author-artist. Analysis of its thirty-eight city images underscores the role of architecture and urbanism in the flux of contestation, resistance, and subversive transformation. By concluding with a survey of the active surface of today's Cuzco, identified by its veneering, performances, processions, and virtually constructed ideas of Inkaness, I argue that the reproduction of contemporary spatial practice is both a formal reflection and a critical aberration of historically established centering principles. As such, Cuzco is a distinct heterotopia, to borrow the language of Michel Foucault, meaning liminal, interstitial, simultaneously mythic and real, a web of relations manipulating manifestations of past, present, and future. The consequence, then, is that there is now no mythology of originality in the Inka heartland, and only the originality of mythology remains. This means that the cultural identity invested in the center-based spatial practice is now re-invested in a surface veneer, relegated there as a contingent, reconstructed, fantastical idea of Inkaness.

  • SPECTATORSHIP AND THE SCREEN AS INTERFACE: FRENCH ART USING TELEVISION, VIDEO, AND THE PROJECTED IMAGE FROM THE LATE 1960s TO THE PRESENT

    Author:
    Stephanie Jeanjean
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Claire Bishop
    Abstract:

    This dissertation reconstructs key moments in the history of video-based art in France from the late 1960s to the present day, focusing on the changing relationship between the viewer and the screen, as tested by artists using television, video and the projected image. This study examines the relationship between art and politics by considering how cultural policy along with socio-economical and techno-political frameworks have affected the concept of an ideal viewer. I argue that in France, from the late 1960s to today, the idea of spectatorship changes from a politicized subject who receives a clear message to an autonomous participant invited to interact with the screen as interface, in increasingly apolitical projects. Little known in France and rarely addressed in Anglophone scholarship, the history of French video-based art, and of its politics of spectatorship, constitutes an alternative narrative that departs from the dominant Anglo-American model, and suggests a different understanding of what constitutes a socio-politically informed art practice. Accordingly, this research reconsiders the little-known beginnings of video in France in the late 1960s and 1970s, examining the work produced by militant feminist collectives such as Video Out and Les Insoumuses, and the development of a sociological approach to video, focusing on Fred Forest. It then explains a shift that occurred in the late 1970s and 1980s, when video lost its socio-political edge and was guided by formal concerns, here represented by Robert Cahen and Thierry Kuntzel. This change accompanies the institutionalization of video as Video Art, which was inspired theoretically by semiology and postmodernism, and formally by the medium-based orientation of early US video. Finally, I turn to recent works from the 1990s to today: Matthieu Laurette and three artists associated with Relational Aesthetics (Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno). I argue that the criticism of Relational Aesthetics by Anglo-American scholars and critics rightly points out the lack of explicit socio-political engagement in these practices, but overlooks the specificities of the French context and the critical dimension of these works that aimed to make the spectator conscious of his or her position as viewer in relation to spectacle.

  • The Legacy of Constructivism in Poland: Geometric Abstraction Before and Behind the Iron Curtain

    Author:
    Karolina Kawalko
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rose Carol Washton Long
    Abstract:

    This dissertation situates the legacy of Constructivism in Polish painting during the 1920s and in the mid-1950s, both before and behind the Iron Curtain. The material and ideological conditions of geometric abstract art are examined within the context of the East and West and across the pre- and postwar divide. I address the troubled reception of Constructivism through the prism of the artist Henryk Stazewski (1894-1988), one of the key contributors to the history of Polish art before and after World War II. If during the prewar years Stażewski attempted to invest painting with collective, universal, and international force, in the postwar period he choreographed the process of reception by exhibiting his works at home. I argue that Stazewski was aware of the ambivalent status and depoliticization of geometric art rooted in Constructivist aesthetic, and wanted to restore its socially constructive and political dimension by - paradoxically - isolating himself in an already isolated state. While geometric abstract art can be defined and interpreted in many different ways, I examine it in Eastern Europe's specific historical circumstances and anlayze how it became a symbol of resistance and dissent against totalitarian regime. Since abstract art was perceived as "autonomous," and thus unrelated to contemporary social and political events, geometric abstraction, in contrast to the politically engaged Socialist Realism, signified not only a certain kind of freedom but also political opposition during the years of Stalinism. Despite the official hostility and frequent critical denunciation of geometric abstraction as both outmoded and apolitical, this art was in fact a powerful vehicle for affecting political change.

  • Philosophers, Artists and Saints: Ernst L. Kirchner and Male Friendship in Paintings, 1914-1917

    Author:
    Sharon Jordan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rose-Carol Long
    Abstract:

    This dissertation emphasizes the profound role of Friedrich Nietzsche's early publications on the artist Ernst L. Kirchner's theories and artwork in contrast to interpretations that focus on the overriding influence of the philosopher's late work Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Although it is well known that the German Expressionist artists' group Brücke, or "bridge," with Kirchner as a founding member, selected their name from a passage in Thus Spoke Zarathustra to signify their movement away from the conventional social and aesthetic values of Wilhelmine Germany upon their foundation in Dresden in 1905, Kirchner's intense, lifelong engagement with Nietzsche necessitates further examination. Of particular importance is Kirchner's close friendship with the charismatic Botho Graef, a Classical archaeologist and, like Nietzsche, a trained philologist. Beginning in 1914, the men's relationship spanned three turbulent years that were interrupted by the devastating events of the First World War and ended with Graef's death in 1917. Graef introduced Kirchner to Nietzsche's first publication The Birth of Tragedy, a work centered on creative achievement as realized by the ancient Greeks through their productive reconciliation of dichotomous Apollinian and Dionysian forces. This idea quickly fostered Kirchner's emergent interest in double-portraiture featuring Graef and the members of his circle with whom he maintained close pedagogical relationships modeled after the ancient example. In Nietzsche's second publication Untimely Meditations, he explains that only a select few possess an understanding of how to successfully reconcile their actions within a framework of historical awareness to become supra-historical individuals, the "philosophers, artists and saints" of his text who are uniquely capable of transcendent cultural contributions. Kirchner navigated this period by relying equally on the example described in Nietzsche's publication and on his friendship with Graef to realize his most enduring and expressive artworks, thereby succeeding in realizing Nietzsche's ideal while establishing a potent means of artistic reconciliation and personal preservation that remained vital throughout the duration of the war and continued long after his union with Graef ended.

  • PHOTOGRAPHER AS PARTICIPANT OBSERVER: LARRY CLARK, NAN GOLDIN, RICHARD BILLINGHAM, AND NOBUYOSHI ARAKI

    Author:
    Hyewon Yi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the tactics employed by four art photographers--Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Richard Billingham, and Nobuyoshi Araki--whose approach is analogous to that of the so-called Gonzo journalists who notoriously blurred the line between author and subject. Operating from deeply insider positions, they brought topics of excess to the fore, often shocking viewers with the apparent lack of moral judgment or rationality on offer in their highly personal, autobiographical works. My study provides, by way of background, a genealogy of participant observation approaches in anthropology and journalism. It then traces how the anthropologists' approach to ethnographic research on exotic others came to be applied to domestic subjects in the West during the 1970s. The 1960s and 70s saw explicitly subjective reporting techniques flourish in journalism; and I argue that participant observer photography was born of this cultural climate. Britain's strong documentary photography tradition saw a shift toward the subjective and the individual during the 1970s and 80s, while more personalized forms of photography quickly arose in Japan in the early 1970s. Thus, the shift toward a subjectivized or autobiographical photography can be seen as a trans-cultural and trans-national phenomenon. The chapters devoted to the principal artist-subjects of this dissertation examine their respective social and cultural contexts, and identify their particular modes of practice. Larry Clark's initial, insider position gave way to what I term a voyeuristic position, especially in films that depict with gritty realism the darker side of juvenile delinquency. Nan Goldin remained within her intimate circle to make works in what I call an integrated mode, an approach that reflected the culture of 1980s bohemian life in New York City. Following both the subjective documentary tradition in Great Britain and its family photography tradition, Richard Billingham's photobook, Ray's a Laugh, and video, Fishtank, were created by a detached observer whose approach I regard as a dissociated mode. As for Nobuyoshi Araki, he assumed a reflexive and performative mode, particularly in pornographic images that blurred factual recording with staged elements. The vaunted authenticity of participant observation photography falls prey to the paradox that once an artist achieves recognition, her or his subjects become more aware that they are exchanging privacy for exposure. Insider participant observation photography has flourished into a second generation of artists who face the challenges of their subjects' awareness of the presence of the camera and the commercialization of the phenomenon, as exemplified by the emergence of so-called heroin chic in 1990's fashion photography.

  • The Rat Bastard Protective Association: Bruce Conner and His San Francisco Cohort, 1958-1968

    Author:
    Anastasia Aukeman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    This dissertation is a theoretical and historical account of the art-making activities of the Rat Bastard Protective Association, a small, close-knit community living and working in mid-century San Francisco. Assemblage was a common denominator within the group, which included Wallace Berman, Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, and Manuel Neri, along with other, less constant members. The first book-length study devoted to the Rat Bastards, this project explores the political, social, and aesthetic concerns in their assemblages. It also reexamines the term assemblage, to take into account process and intent along with medium and technique. Allowing for this performative dimension impels a re-evaluation of these artists' works, its impact on subsequent developments, and its place among process-based practices in art since the 1950s.

  • Trecento Visuality and the Visual Arts: The Role of Glass and the Influence of Optics on Italian Art of the Fourteenth Century

    Author:
    Sarah Dillon
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    James Saslow
    Abstract:

    This project explores several facets of Trecento visuality as related phenomena and argues that the theoretical and spiritual conceptions of vision were inextricably linked to developments in optical technology, the practical experience of vision, and the visual arts. It does so by elucidating the role of sight and light in private devotional practices by examining religious art, especially reliquaries, which incorporate transparent glass. Early modern transparent glass had many functional uses--ranging from storage vessels to lenses, it was relatively cost-efficient, it was mentioned by ancient authors and natural scientists, and it was employed in religious symbolism. An examination of the many cultural associations that glass held in Trecento Italy demonstrates the ways a viewer used transparent glass in order to meditate their relationship with their world and their religious beliefs through their visual experiences and spiritual insights.

  • Landscape Aesthetics and the Sublime in France, 1748-1830

    Author:
    Thomas Beachdel
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Patricia Mainardi
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the expression of the sublime in French painting between the years 1748 and 1830, a period spanning ancien régime, Revolution, Terror, Directory, First French Empire, and Bourbon Restoration. It reveals the existence and persistence of a grand classical strain of the sublime derived from Longinus's first century On the Sublime that was passed into the eighteenth century by Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux's 1674 French translation, Traité du sublime [Treatise on the Sublime]. These works stress noble greatness and elevation more than the fear and terror more commonly associated during this period with the sublime as articulated by Edmund Burke in his 1757 A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. In addition to establishing the existence and examining the articulation of the sublime in eighteenth-century France that is primarily based on the conveyance of noble elevation and greatness, this dissertation also suggests that the French sublime is unique in that it incorporates the influence of the Burkean sublime of fear and terror. Thus, the sublime in France is what I call multivalent; it can express both greatness and fear, elevation and terror. This complex admixture is significant for its rich and varied range of meanings particularly in the context of landscape painting, a relatively unimportant category of painting at the beginning of the eighteenth century, but which became a major genre in France between 1740 and 1790. This time period that forms the core of this dissertation, not incidentally, also saw the emergence of an intense focus on the subject of aesthetics, including the aesthetic category of the sublime. In his commentary on work submitted to the Paris Salon, the French critic Denis Diderot devotes roughly a quarter of his Salon of 1767 to the work of Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) and Hubert Robert (1733-1808). In his elaborate discussion of these artists, one who had a penchant for painting wild seascapes and shipwrecks and the other who had a proclivity for painting ruins, Diderot lent critical weight not only to the genre of landscape but also to the connection between their work and the sublime. This is significant in that unlike England with its well-documented sublime landscape tradition, eighteenth-century France has been viewed as virtually bereft of a sublime tradition due to its close ties to the Classical landscape tradition. The sublime is a powerful and nuanced concept that expressed a cultural and political ideology tied to the grandness and continuity of France. More than an inert aesthetic category, the sublime is also an incredibly flexible and powerful conduit of a wide range of ideas. It can be seen expressed in Vernet's emphasis on the heroic individual in his paintings of shipwrecks, Pierre-Jacques Volaire's (1729-1799) emphasis on the natural power of volcanic eruption as a vital new way of viewing the natural world, and in Robert's painting of the Louvre in ruins that attests to the cultural monumentalization of France projected into the future. Finally, the elevation, or apotheosis, of the cultural and political--sublime greatness--of Restoration France was inscribed on the ceiling of the 1826 Musée Charles X in the institutionalization of that sublime ideology.

  • 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.