Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Golden Age of French Academic Painting in America, 1867-1893

    Author:
    Leanne Zalewski
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Art History
    Advisor:
    Patricia Mainardi
    Abstract:

    The aim of this dissertation is to present a more accurate assessment of nineteenth-century French academic art and its place not only in European art history but also in the history of American culture in the early Gilded Age. I focus on the phenomenally successful American careers of its four leading artists: William Bouguereau (1825-1905), Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904), and Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891). Several exhibitions and monographs have been devoted to these individual artists in the past three decades; however, these artists have been studied individually and largely within a European art framework, rather than collectively as a phenomenon in the context of the American art world of the early Gilded Age. Lacking is a thorough examination and comparative study of these artists' meteoric rise to prominence, their impact on the art scene in the United States, and their eventual eclipse. My study is the first to take a comprehensive approach to this collecting phenomenon through an analysis of contemporary accounts in journals, periodicals, art histories, and dealers' stock books. The early Gilded Age in the United States was a golden era for these four artists. Two international expositions--the 1867 Universal Exposition held in Paris and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago--bracketed the golden age of French academic painting. This study explores the trajectory of their careers during this twenty-five year span by means of an analysis of multiple factors that led to their striking success in the United States. Among the most significant factors were the art dealers: Goupil & cie. and George Lucas in Paris, and Samuel P. Avery and Michael Knoedler in New York. These dealers brought French pictures to the United States following the four French artists' success at the 1867 Exposition, where American art was broadly perceived to be a failure. Aided by dealers, prominent American collectors quickly amassed collections comprised primarily of French academic art, and paintings by this quartet of French artists were among the most expensive on the market. American critics kept the artists in the spotlight, American writers canonized them in their first histories of French art, and collectors placed their pictures in newly-formed art museums. However, by the time the World's Columbian Exposition took place, the four artists' work had begun to seem outdated. The 1893 Exposition ushered in a new era, as contemporary American and French Impressionist art had quickly begun to replace French academic art in American collections.