Alumni Dissertations and Theses

 
 

Alumni Dissertations and Theses

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  • Critical Positions in Recent South African Photography

    Author:
    Kevin Mulhearn
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    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.

  • Antoine Claudet, A Figure of Photography, 1839-1867

    Author:
    Karen Hellman
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    Up to now, the early decades of nineteenth-century photography have been narrated in terms of "great" individual achievements and have tended to characterize the histories of photography in England and France as separate but parallel chronological paths. Equally, scholars have usually split their object of study between two opposite disciplines: that of science and that of art. I propose instead a lateral approach that considers the ways in which both photography and individual photographers interconnected within an expanded network of international cultural forces, primarily commerce, technology, science, and art. I aim to do this through a close study of the career of Antoine-François-Jean Claudet (1797-1867), a French-born photographer operating a daguerreotype portrait studio in London from the early 1840s to the late 1860s. As a commercial photographer interested in improving the technical as well as aesthetic possibilities of photography, as a prolific writer on the medium, and as a Frenchman living in England constantly in communication with photographers and scientists on both sides of the English Channel, Claudet intersected with these cultural forces more directly than many of his contemporaries. By examining his pursuits laterally, across the multiple communities that they traversed in his time, this study will argue that a career like Claudet's is integral to any substantial understanding of the photographic medium's first decades, while also making a vital addition to how the history of photography is usually figured, one which acknowledges connection and collaboration as key to understanding more accurately the period of photography's invention and early development. In order to account for Claudet's connective role as a photographic figure, I will look at the early decades of photographic history as a network of dialogues in the midst of an expanded web of inseparable cultural forces. Writing Claudet's career as dialogue allows for a re-picturing of photography's development as a process of successes and failures, knowns and unknowns, that produced a range of cross-disciplinary conversations. If we consider these correspondences as the latent images of photographic history, this approach is itself a photographic one. It exposes and then "develops out" these latent conversations.

  • Colombian Artists in Paris, 1865-1905

    Author:
    Maya Jimenez
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    ABSTRACT Colombian Artists in Paris, 1865-1905 by Maya A. Jiménez Adviser: Professor Katherine Manthorne This dissertation brings together a group of artists not previously studied collectively, within the broader context of both Colombian and Latin American artists in Paris. Taking into account their conditions of travel, as well as the precarious political and economic situation of Colombia at the turn of the twentieth century, this investigation exposes the ways in which government, politics and religion influenced the stylistic and thematic choices made by these artists abroad. For those who were pensioned artists and who were restricted by a defined political agenda, their artistic experimentation was limited, while the more radical artists were typically wealthy and independent. Regardless of the circumstances, Colombian artists were burdened by their country's minimal and ineffective presence overseas, which resulted in a complete misunderstanding of their culture abroad and in a lack of presence at major universal expositions. In focusing on their role as artists, educators and art critics, this dissertation reveals the important contributions that these travelers made to Colombian art as a result of their overseas travel. As revealed in the art criticism of the period, the work of these artists and their progressive philosophies on art were received with skepticism in Colombia, a country that until then had remained largely hermetic and which traditionally had been very conservative. These artists, who established the tradition of traveling to Paris and who challenged the insularity of Colombian art, ensured the eventual birth of modernism.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • John Martin (1789-1854) and the Mechanics of Making Art in a Commercial Nation

    Author:
    Lars Kokkonen
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Patricia Mainardi
    Abstract:

    This dissertation reinterprets the career of the English artist, John Martin (1789-1854). Challenging the popular characterization of him as an apocalyptic visionary opposed to modern commercial and industrial society, this study argues that Martin, in fact, was the only major artist of his time to speak out in favor of the modern science of political economy and its core concepts of competitive individualism, self-interest, and technological innovation. While many of Martin's artist contemporaries incessantly - and futilely - petitioned the government for financial assistance for "historical painting" on the grounds that state protection was necessary if the highest category of painting (according to the civic humanist theory of art) was ever going to flourish in commercial Britain, Martin argued that "historic painting" was "dead as an art," and continually adapted his style, media, and subject matter to meet the demands of the art market. This dissertation contends that once we consider Martin's career from the perspective of someone who believed adamantly in modern political economy, his status in the history of British art as a Romantic visionary who believed that modern commercial society was immoral and corrupt will fall away. My first chapter examines attempts by the Royal Academy between 1800 and 1815 to secure government funding for historical paintings by Academicians. It then goes on to discuss Martin's involvement in establishing the rival Society of British Artists in the interest of free competition among private exhibiting societies. The second chapter examines how Martin and others who had founded the SBA testified before a select committee of the House of Commons that the Academy was attempting to restrain free trade and extinguish competition by seeking a monopoly on public funds. The third chapter interprets Martin's Thames and metropolis improvement plans as celebrating, not condemning, the spread of capitalism, industrialization, and urbanization. The fourth chapter provides a detailed examination of John Ruskin's statements about Martin over a forty-five year period, demonstrating how Ruskin's contempt for capitalism - and those who supported it - informed his criticisms of Martin's work. The last chapter considers the effect that Martin's belief in laissez-faire capitalism had on his work in general and on his painting in particular.

  • Improving the Public: Cultural and Typological Change in Nineteenth-Century Libraries

    Author:
    Jill Lord
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Kevin Murphy
    Abstract:

    Concurrent with New York City's emergence during the nineteenth century as the leading financial and cultural center in the United States, the city's public library architecture underwent a transition from buildings designed in romantic revival styles to monumental, neoclassical edifices that were intended by their architects and patrons to rival municipal libraries in other cities. New York's Astor Library, founded in 1848, was the first public library in the United States, and although its Romanesque Revival architecture was not a model for later libraries, its existence spurred the establishment of other public libraries. Before then access to all other libraries in the city required either membership in a particular group, such as a trade union, or a fee. The Neo-Grec design for the Lenox Library, founded in 1870, pushed public library design toward that of other emerging cultural institutions such as art museums in that it used similar forms. These two libraries, along with $2.5 million provided by the Tilden Trust, were consolidated in 1895 to form the New York Public Library. The public hoped that the new library would improve civic life by amassing a great collection and making it available to all, regardless of age, sex, or country of origin. These three institutions are the basis of this study of the library type as the embodiment of larger developments in the nineteenth-century architecture and culture of New York City. In this dissertation, I examine the development of the public library type--which entailed debates about both function and style--against the backdrop of New York's emergence as a world-class city. The New York Public Library was one of the last, large public libraries built in the United States during the Gilded Age. Other rival cities such as Boston and Chicago completed libraries prior to the consolidation of the New York Public Library. As a result, its architects had the benefit of studying these other institutions in order to determine what characteristics should be incorporated into the new building, and what should be avoided. New York Public Library represents the culmination of the public library type in New York City.

  • John Ferren and the Development of Abstraction

    Author:
    Marshall Price
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    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.

  • The Politics of Scholarship: College Art Association and the Uneasy Relationship between Art and Art History 1911-1945

    Author:
    Craig Houser
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Patricia Mainardi
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the critical role that the College Art Association (CAA) played in the early development of art history and studio art education as academic disciplines in U.S. colleges and universities. Although CAA initiated a variety of projects after its inception in 1911, this study focuses on the association's journals, specifically the Bulletin of the College Art Association, The Art Bulletin, Parnassus, and College Art Journal. Serving as journals of record for art and/or art history, these publications functioned not only to provide an ongoing exchange of ideas related to the visual arts in higher education, but also to validate authorities and scholars, particularly art historians, and their academic institutions. As a result, certain individuals and schools became prominent in the visual arts. My study therefore addresses not only the histories of art history and studio art, but also the relationship between CAA and its supporting institutions. Another issue in my dissertation is the rapport between CAA's two main constituents: the art historians and the artist-teachers. While they united to form CAA in 1911 to promote the visual arts in colleges and universities, the relationship between the two disciplines was often uneasy. Although CAA was established primarily by artist-teachers, the organization was taken over in the mid-1920s by art historians who controlled the journals. By the early 1940s the conflict erupted to such an extent that the art historians tried to sever ties, albeit unsuccessfully, with the artists. CAA was also affected by economics and politics of the 1930s. During the Great Depression the association struggled financially and adopted questionable policies to maintain publication of its primary journal, The Art Bulletin. With the influx of European émigrés, many CAA members also wanted the association to assume a more nationalist identity. In many respects my dissertation demonstrates that CAA was a changing social organization whose identity was at times unstable from the 1910s through World War II, as it was affected by internal conflicts and larger sociopolitical issues.

  • From the Ground Up: Holger Cahill and the Promotion of American Art

    Author:
    Jillian Russo
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    A biography of Holger Cahill, director of the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) from 1935-1942, my dissertation chronicles his influence on American art as an art critic, curator, and administrator. An Icelandic immigrant, who was born in 1887 in Skogarstrand, Iceland near the Arctic Circle, Cahill grew up in the Midwest. Alienated from his family as a young man, he spent his adolescence as an itinerant worker, an experience that shaped his Populist artistic philosophies and his curatorial approach. Cahill, influenced by the Progressive theories of John Dewey, conceptualized art as an inclusive component of daily life with which everyone should have an opportunity to participate. Settling in Greenwich Village, Cahill formed relationships with artists John Sloan, Stuart Davis, Mark Tobey, Joseph Stella, and Arshile Gorky, as well as with gallery owner Edith Gregor Halpert, collector Abby Rockefeller, and Newark Museum director John Cotton Dana. From 1922-1929, Cahill worked as Dana's assistant at the Newark Museum, where he helped build the museum's collection of Modern American art and met future Museum of Modern Art curator Dorothy C. Miller, whom Cahill married in 1938. At the Newark Museum, he pioneered the first museum exhibitions on American folk art, "American Primitives" and "American Folk Sculpture." In 1932-1933, Cahill served as temporary director of exhibitions at MoMA, where he collaborated with Alfred H. Barr, Jr. on the exhibition "American Painting and Sculpture 1862-1932" and organized the exhibitions, "American Folk Art: Art of the Common Man in America" and "American Sources of Modern Art." Cahill applied his democratic aesthetic theories most broadly through the structure and programs he implemented as director of the Federal Art Project. In particular, I argue, the New York City FAP and the WPA/FAP Exhibition Division contributed to the development of a pluralistic art scene during the 1930s and early 1940s. Through its program of local and national exhibitions, the Exhibition Division extended the art world into new communities and offered exposure to established and unknown artists. Throughout his leadership of the FAP, Cahill served as a link between artists and the New Deal administration and as a mentor to many members of the avant-garde.