Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Reframing the Narrative of Dada in New York, 1910-1926

    Author:
    Sarah Archino
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rose-Carol Long
    Abstract:

    New York Dada has historically been positioned as incompatible or antithetical to American modernism. This dissertation argues that the Dada spirit in New York not only rejected European conventions of high art, but did so with the nationalistic desire to develop a modern and independent American idiom through the influence of anarchism and vernacular culture. This study traces the influence of anarchism in New York on Alfred Stieglitz, his influential gallery, "291," and his publication, Camera Work, as well as larger anarchistic networks during the early 1910s. In this atmosphere of iconoclastic experimentation, vernacular culture emerged as an alternative strategy to critique the definitions and institutions of fine art. Whereas most studies of New York Dada focus on the work of Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Man Ray, this study reconstructs the cultural conditions in which they worked. The year 1915 becomes a watershed moment, not simply for the arrival of Duchamp and Picabia, but for the publication of Van Wyck Brooks's cultural critique, America's Coming-of-Age. This text blamed the dichotomy between the highbrow and lowbrow for the lack of a truly American cultural idiom. I argue that the main character of New York Dada - its enthusiastic adoption of the subjects, styles, and strategies of vernacular culture - attempts to bridge that divide. The vernacular came to represent a new standard of American identity, a flexible definition that could allow an amateurish aesthetic to coexist with industrial imagery. This study broadens the scope of New York Dada production to include the work of artists and critics who collaborated in this Dada spirit, but have historically been separated from the Dada movement. In this larger context, canonical works of Dada, especially periodicals such as The Ridgefield Gazook (1915), The Blind Man (1917), and New York Dada (1921) will be reconsidered.

  • Enconchados: Political, Cultural, and Social Implications of a New Art in Seventeenth-Century New Spain

    Author:
    Miguel Arisa
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Eloise Quiñones-Keber
    Abstract:

    Seventeenth-century New Spain (Mexico) saw the rise of an art form that melded traditions from pre-Hispanic, Asian, and European styles. Enconchado paintings, so called because mother-of-pearl is inlaid mostly on canvas stretched on a panel, were produced in workshops in Mexico City and sent to the metropolis as gifts to the monarch or to noblemen. Around 300 of these unique works exist in museums in Europe and in the Americas today. Not surprisingly, the most common subject matter is religious; however, about one hundred of them depict the historical events that lead to the conquest of Mexico by Hernando Cortés. Most scholarship has centered on the Asian and European influences on these works. This project investigates the three-pronged influences in a more egalitarian way, positing as much weight on the indigenous aspects as on the others. Furthermore, it contextualizes the production of these ideological works with the literature, histories, treatises, and other works of art produced in the viceroyalty of New Spain during this century when the rise of the Creole class (people born in Mexico of Spanish-born parents) was beginning to make its imprint in the economic, social, and cultural spheres. By tracing the different threads that make up these works, their ideological impact, as well as their 300-year old histories, this dissertation aims for a better understanding of these works and the forces that made their production possible.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Modern Time: Photography and Temporality

    Author:
    Kris Belden-Adams
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Geoffrey Batchen
    Abstract:

    This dissertation explores the fluid relationship of photography to time. Many theorists have noted that photography has a distinctive manner of representing temporality. Roland Barthes, for example, wrote that the photograph has a peculiar capacity to represent the past in the present, and thus to imply the passing of time in general. As a consequence, Barthes argued, all photographs speak of the inevitability of our own death in the future. Moreover, he linked photography's peculiar temporality to its capacity for a certain kind of realism: "false on the level of perception, true on the level of time." Barthes's analysis poses a challenge to all commentators on photography - what exactly is photography's relationship to time, and by extension, to reality? This dissertation addresses that two-part question by analyzing in detail a sample of understudied vernacular photographic practices. Rather than provide a comprehensive, and necessarily incomplete, study of every possible way in which photography can relate to time, this study instead focuses on a number of in-depth analyses of specific photographic practices. These practices represent time in at least three distinct ways: as narrative time, device-altered time, and composite time. My study examines the motivations for photography's insistent struggle to reorganize time's passage, to freeze or slow it for a moment, or to give form to time's fluctuating conditions. I suggest that this struggle is both symptomatic of modernity as a general phenomenon and a manifestation of the photographic medium's conditional relationship to reality, a relationship which arguably has been complicated by the use of digital technology. This dissertation examines photography's unique capacity to represent the passage of time with a degree of elasticity, simultaneity, and abstraction. The medium's ability to represent many levels of temporal experience and indexical slippage, I argue, illustrates photography's potential to relate to and reflect the complexities of modern consciousness. This dissertation also exemplifies the need for a new kind of history - one that addresses the multiple identities of "the photographic" rather than simply "the photograph." This work is a contribution to that project.

  • Respecting Hair: The Culture and Representation of American Women's Hairstyles, 1865-90

    Author:
    Elizabeth Block
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Kevin Murphy
    Abstract:

    Respecting Hair: The Culture and Representation of American Women's Hairstyles, 1865-90 by Elizabeth L. Block Adviser: Professor Kevin D. Murphy Using a hybrid approach that merges art historical and material culture inquiry, this dissertation recognizes the centrality of hairstyles in figure painting, both portraiture and genre, and photography of the mid- to late nineteenth century in the United States. After establishing the pervasive reach of hair's culture and industry (Chapter One), it argues that artists exploited women's hairstyles as a way to convey commentaries on such topics as conspicuous consumption and monetary wealth (Chapter Two), social class and the development of the modern woman (Chapter Three), the New Woman (Chapter Four), publicly exposed women "à la toilette" and "en déshabillé" (Chapter Five), and overt sexuality (Chapter Six). It considers the specific ways in which artists depicted hair and how that treatment helped achieve their goals. It affirms that hair deserves serious attention with regard to its cultural significance, specifically within the American art historical context of the nineteenth century, which has not been addressed in any publication to date. The study begins in the mid- to late 1860s with the considerable rise in new advertising, products, and services related to hair after the Civil War and how these phenomena were treated by artists. It proceeds to discuss the entrenchment of the Cult of True Womanhood of the 1860s and 1870s, which had a patriarchal and conservative effect on hairstyles and their depiction in art. The emergence of the New Woman, which brought about a radical consideration of hairstyles about 1890, provides an end point. By tracing the development of women's hairstyles, this dissertation contends that the study of hair should take its place with readings of other visual culture in paintings, such as clothing, furniture, and interior decoration that broaden our view into the motivations behind cultural changes. The study highlights the following artists: Aaron Draper Shattuck (1832-1928); Thomas Pritchard Rossiter (1818-1871); Eastman Johnson (1824-1906); Winslow Homer (1836-1910); Alice Austen (1866-1952); Mary Cassatt (1844-1926); and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925).

  • Manuel de la Cruz González: Transnationalism and the Development of Modern Art in Costa Rica

    Author:
    Lauran Bonilla-Merchav
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Indych-López
    Abstract:

    While scholars are increasingly scrutinizing twentieth-century Latin American art and inserting it into the canon of modern art history, studies of the region usually leap from Mexico to South America, skipping Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. This is not due to a lack of dedicated artistic effort in the isthmus, but rather to poor cultural infrastructure, which made being a modern artist in the region particularly challenging, and the underdeveloped state of local art histories, which have yet to traverse national borders. This oversight of Central American art makes it difficult to grasp the full scope of Latin America's adaptation of, and contribution to, international modernism. My dissertation counteracts the privileging of art from North and South America and introduces Costa Rican art history to an international audience by examining the art and life of Manuel de la Cruz González Luján (1909-1986), one of Costa Rica's most influential modern artists. It emphasizes the importance of the transnational cultural currents that influenced González and his colleagues, and systematically discusses two fundamental phases of artistic growth in the country, the 1930s and the 1960s. By placing González's artistic production within the socio-historic, cultural, and aesthetic contexts of Costa Rica, this dissertation is a groundbreaking case study of the development of modern art in this Central American nation. González prodded the boundaries of the provincial Costa Rican art world and moved beyond local frameworks to take part actively in the spread of modernist trends. He embraced regionalism, modernismo, and Latin American impressionism while in Costa Rica, and surrealism and geometric abstraction during the ten years he spent abroad in Cuba (1948-1950) and Venezuela (1950-1957). Upon his return, he shared his knowledge and experience of international modernism, but was faced with an unprepared and unpropitious artistic setting that neither accepted nor encouraged his geometric abstract art. What his story shows is that in order for a transnational style or idea to take hold in a country such as Costa Rica, which could be any "ex-centric" location, it is necessary to have a receptive context. This analysis of González's career thus highlights the tension of being a provincial artist, attuned to transnational cultural flows, yet challenged by the limitations of his environment.

  • Complicity and Criticism: "Neo-Geo" Art of the 1980's

    Author:
    Amy Brandt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Anna Chave
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the deconstructive underpinnings of the so-called Neo-Geo group of the 1980's and explores links between Neo-Geo and the Pictures or Appropriation artists of the late 1970's. Neo-Geo emerged in the early 1980's as one aspect of New York's nascent East Village arts scene. The movement--also dubbed Simulationism, Neo-Pop, Neo-Minimalism or Post-Abstraction--primarily encompassed eight independent-minded artists, including painters Ashley Bickerton (b. 1959), Peter Halley (b. 1953), Sherrie Levine (b. 1947), Allan McCollum (b. 1944), Philip Taaffe (b. 1953) and Meyer Vaisman (b.1960). These artists were attributed the Neo-Geo moniker in 1986 based on their use of geometric forms and their appropriation of art historical motifs and styles from well-established artists. Sculptors Jeff Koons (b. 1955) and Haim Steinbach (b. 1944) were initially labeled as Neo-Geo, then also as Commodity Artists beginning in 1986. The varied epithets for this group represent critics' attempts to understand and classify the broad range of mediums and appropriative methodologies employed by these artists. It has all along been a questionable act to characterize this group under one cohesive name, as if they constituted a singular movement. Many of these artists had been a part of the East Village scene since 1980 or earlier, but they were only discussed and labeled by the art press at a time when their work gained significant popularity among prominent collectors and dealers. While the Neo-Geo artists differ substantially, their work nonetheless explored some common themes and pursued some strategies in common. Neo-Geo artists created paintings and sculptures that functioned, in a sense, in a textual manner. This diverse group collectively shared an interest in examining the terms, limits and structures of art history and various aspects of the society-at-large, including commodity capitalism and digital culture, in a deconstructive manner. Rooted within an amalgamation of art historical sources, Neo-Geo built upon the strategies of Pop, Minimalist, Conceptualist and Pictures artists in the creation of a diverse body of work. As I demonstrate, Neo-Geo used pastiche and strategies of parodying certain art historical paradigms to create new dialogues within contemporary art.

  • PARADIGMS FOR FREEDOM: HALE WOODRUFF, THE NEW NEGRO AGENDA AND LANDSCAPE

    Author:
    LeRonn Brooks
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    During the 1920s and 1930s, the painter Hale Woodruff practiced New Negro portraiture and landscape painter. Would he be a "race man" or an individualist that followed his interest in modern landscape, and not a racial art? This dissertation follows Woodruff's career (from 1900 to 1940) as he negotiated the influence of his early mentors (Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois) in his search for an authentic identity.

  • Paradigms for Freedom: Hale Woodruff, The New Negro Agenda and Landscape

    Author:
    LeRonn Brooks
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Katherine Manthorne
    Abstract:

    The painter Hale Woodruff was the product of New Negro communities in Nashville, Tennessee, and Indianapolis, Indiana. During the 1920s and 1930s, the artist created portraits of New Negro architypes. After visiting France (1927-1927), the artist took a serious interest in painting modernist landscapes. This dissertation examines the artist's navigation of the New Negro ideals of his early mentors (Alain Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois and Walter White) and his painterly interest in landscape and non-figuration as well as his tenure at Atlana University.