Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • Between Code and Message: Argentine Conceptual Art, 1966-1976

    Author:
    Daniel Quiles
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Romy Golan
    Abstract:

    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.

  • Apotheosis of the Public Realm: Civic Classicism in New York City's Architecture

    Author:
    Paul Ranogajec
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Kevin Murphy
    Abstract:

    In the years around the consolidation of Greater New York in 1898, a renewed interest in republican political theory among progressive liberals coincided with a new kind of civic architecture. For the first time in American history, cities and the urban public emerged as crucial parts of democratic citizenship, at least for progressives such as Frank Goodnow, Frederic Howe, and Herbert Croly. At the same time, New York City was promoted as the nation's cultural and commercial capital: the "American metropolis," in Croly's words. Architects, too, played a key role in articulating the city's and the urban public's new status and visibility. New York City was a site for the simultaneous reimagining of citizenship, the public realm, and architectural and urban form. In this context, an informal school of architecture in New York that I call "civic classicism" developed three distinctive design modalities to reform the city's public space: the ensemble of buildings in a garden-like terrace, the continuous street wall around a historic square, and the free-standing monument juxtaposed to the gridiron urban plan. By attending to issues of publicity--of public space and visibility--broadly considered, architectural works by Carrère & Hastings, Cass Gilbert, and others are shown to be linked to the civic, political concerns of their time. The dissertation thus moves beyond the conventional biases in the historiography of this architecture, which has treated the work in mostly pejorative terms. Chapter one traces the course of the nineteenth-century American "architectonic public realm"--that is, the ways in which political thought and architectural and urban form conditioned one another-- as a foundation for understanding the changes around 1898. In Chapter two, Herbert Croly's political theory and architectural criticism are studied together to reveal the connections between his republican politics and his pragmatic architectural aesthetics, which championed civic classicism's suitability to the modern city. Chapters three, four, and five examine the three architectural modalities at the Staten Island Civic Center, Bowling Green, and the New York Public Library, respectively. The conclusion briefly suggests some reasons why civic classicism declined in the 1920s and after.

  • MANIERA DEVOTA/MANO DONNESCA: WOMEN, VIRTUE AND VISUAL IMAGERY DURING THE COUNTER-REFORMATION IN THE PAPAL STATES, 1575-1675

    Author:
    Patricia Rocco
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    James Saslow
    Abstract:

    The history of women's participation in religious movements during the Early Modern period in Europe has long been less commented upon in modern scholarship than that of their male counterparts. This project will enlarge our understanding of the participation of women in the visual program of the Counter-Reformation in the Papal State of Bologna. The study focuses on Bologna since the city had an unprecedented large group of active women artists as well as being a crucial site of Catholic reform. Knowledge of Bologna's women is still incomplete; therefore this dissertation is structured as a series of interlinked case studies, some of which rescue forgotten artists, while others add a new dimension to better-known figures. This research thus takes a necessarily broad approach, combining aspects of iconography, patronage, gender studies, and reception studies; it also integrates media neglected in previous studies such as prints and embroidery. The goal is to insert these artists into the larger philosophical and theoretical context of the city's intellectual history, first by investigating the links between religion, science, and naturalism; and second, by unpacking critical terms from the historiography of style that came to bear on their work. Lastly, the project explores the city's concern with women's virtue, as it is a constant thread woven into visual imagery of all media, from the sixteenth into the seventeenth century. The synthesis of all this material will produce a wider view of the still understudied and ill-documented relationship between women, religion and the visual arts in the complex period of the Counter-Reformation.

  • THE VISUAL LANGUAGE OF SOVIET ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINES IN THE 1930S: RABOTNITSA, KRESTIANKA, AND USSR IN CONSTRUCTION

    Author:
    Katerina Romanenko
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Rose-Carol Washton Long
    Abstract:

    The Soviet mass media's essential role in the mobilization of the masses for the construction of the new Socialist world during the 1920s and 1930s is well known. The regime needed to develop a universal means of communication that could easily reach its poorly literate population spread across an enormous geographic area. The Soviet printed press played a crucial role in shaping of the cultural and political discourse of the nation, and, as such, has attracted serious scholarly scrutiny. Yet, little attention has been paid to the actual distribution and consumption of art during Stalin's regime, and, so far, no study has explicitly focused on the printed media as an agent delivering art to the masses. My study deals with an expensive, luxuriously printed monthly USSR in Construction, which was distributed to the Soviet elite and to readers abroad, and inexpensive mass periodicals, such as the illustrated magazines for women, Rabotnitsa (Female worker) and Krestianka (Female peasant), which were more accessible to ordinary individuals. Widely distributed, these two magazines featured a great diversity of visual information and provided representative examples of the media and methods used to present and promote visual language and cultural canons throughout the Soviet Union. This dissertation explores the nature of the cultural information that related to the visual art, the use of graphic/handmade and photographic illustrations in the magazines' layout, and studies photomontage as a major design method of the 1930s. The nameless designers and highly established artists eagerly contributed to both ends of Soviet design: high -- represented by USSR in Construction, and low -- appearing in the women's magazines. This dissertation aims to show that Soviet visual language was formed as a result of the dynamic exchange between them and traces the nature of this process. Overall, the study of Soviet magazines provides an important insight into the formation of the Soviet mentality as they reflect the changes in socio-political as well as cultural spheres and reveal elements of the discourse's communication with the population.

  • 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.

  • Painterly Representation in New York, 1945-1975

    Author:
    Jennifer Samet
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Patricia Mainardi
    Abstract:

    Although the myth persists that figurative painting in New York did not exist after the age of Abstract Expressionism, many artists in fact worked with a painterly, representational vocabulary during this period and throughout the 1960s and 1970s. This dissertation is the first survey of a group of painters working in this mode, all born around the 1920s and living in New York. Several, though not all, were students of Hans Hofmann; most knew one another; some were close friends or colleagues as art teachers. I highlight nine artists: Rosemarie Beck (1923-2003), Leland Bell (1922-1991), Nell Blaine (1922-1996), Robert De Niro (1922-1993), Paul Georges (1923-2002), Albert Kresch (b. 1922), Mercedes Matter (1913-2001), Louisa Matthiasdottir (1917-2000), and Paul Resika (b. 1928). This group of artists has been marginalized in standard art historical surveys and accounts of the period. In general, this is because figurative painting of this period does not fit into a teleological reading of art history, with abstraction perceived as the ultimate progression and goal of painting. As Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptualism gained force, the figurative painters were increasingly marginalized in the art world. The aim of this dissertation is to re- contextualize these artists into the New York art world of their time by discussing their training as abstractionists, their aesthetic theory, their teaching, their critical reception, and their careers. I focus particularly on the ways in which they reconciled the principles of abstraction with representational content. Although abstraction and representation were increasingly polarized in the art world, the painters themselves, and several critics and writers on their work were able to see the possibilities for a more dialectical synthesis of the two.

  • An Alternative by Any Other Name: Alternative Comics between the "Mainstream" and the Avant-Garde, 1976 to the Present

    Author:
    Doug Singsen
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Claire Bishop
    Abstract:

    "Alternative comics" is a term that describes comic books produced since the mid-1970's that occupy a space at the intersection of mass culture and the avant-garde and represent an example of what I call, following literary scholar David M. Earle, the popular avant-garde. While acknowledging the problematic nature of the avant-garde as a model, this dissertation maintains that the popular avant-garde comprises a contradictory but real set of cultural practices. Alternative comics are conventionally defined by critics and academics by the absence of superheroes and other action-oriented mainstream comics genres, but this dissertation argues that the genres and other practices of mainstream comics have in fact been integral to many of the most critically acclaimed and influential examples of alternative comics. These comics incorporate mainstream genres through the use of what I term disjunctive genre hybridity, a technique in which "undigested fragments" of different genres are combined in ways that disrupt the fictional reality or norms of these genres, a concept that, like the popular avant-garde, has applications beyond the field of comics. In addition to alternative comics, disjunctive genre hybridity has also been used by some mainstream cartoonists, demonstrating the fluid boundary between alternative and mainstream comics. Another link between them is the fact that alternative cartoonists often portray themselves or their alter egos as fans and collectors, roles that have been central to the culture of mainstream comics since the 1970's, despite the fact that alternative cartoonists see fans, including themselves, as pathetic, socially marginal figures, echoing the derogatory stereotype of the fan prevalent in popular culture. Mainstream comics also figure prominently in the history of The Comics Journal (1977-), the most important magazine of comics criticism, which is often upheld as the most prominent advocate of alternative comics, although it was originally a conventional mainstream "fanzine" (fan magazine) that focused primarily on mainstream and groundlevel comics throughout the 1970's and 1980's, alternately criticizing and praising them, and only shifted its critical focus to alternative comics in the 1990's.

  • 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.