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Rhodes Must Fall, downloaded from https://www.facebook.com/RhodesMustFall/photos

Posted by Janet Landay, Project Director, CAA-Getty International Program (for CAA News and the International Desk)

This summer I was invited by two alumni of the CAA-Getty International Program—Karen von Veh and Federico Freschi, both from the University of Johannesburg—to attend the 31st Annual Conference of the South African Visual Arts Historians (SAVAH). In the first five years of the CAA-Getty program, seven art historians from South Africa have participated—the most from any single country. Their strong presence at CAA’s Annual Conferences suggests a robust community of scholars, and I was eager to witness it firsthand.

In late July I flew to Johannesburg, where I met up with Rosemary O’Neill, associate professor of art history at Parsons the New School of Design and chair of CAA’s International Committee, who was also participating in the conference. On the day we arrived there was an intense thunderstorm followed by large hail. Our hosts, Karen von Veh and her husband Bengt, assured us that this was not normal for a Johannesburg winter. By the next day the sun had come out, and it remained sunny and pleasantly cool for the rest of our stay.

The weather may well serve as a metaphor for the abnormal state of affairs in South Africa: unusually stormy one day, seemingly calm the next. Twenty-two years after the end of apartheid, the country, and especially its university system, is in an enormous state of flux. Since March 2015, students have militated against South Africa’s twenty-three government-funded universities in two related protests. The first was Rhodes Must Fall, which demanded the removal of a sculpture of Cecil Rhodes, the embodiment of British racist colonial imperialism, from the University of Cape Town (UCT), and included the broader demand for decolonizing the university system, including curricula, language of instruction, and workers’ rights.

In October 2015 came Fees Must Fall, prompted by the announcement of a steep increase in fees at the University of Witwatersrand. Both movements have had successes: the UCT sculpture of Rhodes was removed, and many other public symbols of colonial rule have been taken down or defaced; students at Rhodes University persuaded authorities to consider renaming the school; and the government announced there would be no tuition increase for 2016. (This issue is being debated again, as increases for 2017 have elicited renewed protests.) These events are taking place at the same time that the government is reducing financial support for the universities.

Art, Design and Architecture Building at the University of Johannesburg, downloaded from university website, https://www.uj.ac.za/faculties/fada/Pages/Facilities.aspx

This was the context for SAVAH’s Annual Conference, as approximately sixty professors of art history, visual culture, and studio art gathered at the University of Johannesburg for three days of papers and discussion. Organized by Federico Freschi (executive dean), Brenda Schmahmann (research professor), and Karen von Veh (associate professor), all from the Faculty of Art, Design, and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, the conference was titled “Rethinking Art History and Visual Culture in a Contemporary Context.” The ongoing crisis in higher education charged the sessions and discussions with particular intensity. The subjects addressed, whether historical, pedagogical, or political, were not chosen solely for theoretical considerations; speakers were seeking practical solutions to the immediate challenges they face as scholars and teachers in post-apartheid South Africa.

An underlying theme of the conference—how can art history be relevant and useful to scholars and students at this charged moment in time?—was a subtext in Steven Nelson’s eloquent keynote address. In a discussion of works by Houston Conwill, Moshekwa Langa, and Julie Mehretu, Nelson—a professor of African and African American art and director of the Center for African Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles—considered how the use of mapping and geography by these artists has reshaped our understanding of African ancestry, notions of diaspora, and urban spaces. The weaving of past and present, continental Africa and the African diaspora, and art-historical analyses of traditional forms and new media exemplified the ongoing relevance of the art-historical discipline to understanding contemporary art and culture.

Session topics during the two-day conference ranged from “International Curatorial Practices” to “The Politics of Display in South Africa” and “Decolonizing Education (Parts I and II)” to “Postcolonialism beyond South Africa.” Alison Kearney, a lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand, delivered a paper titled “Art history is dead—long live art history!” in which she explored the deeper meaning of decolonizing the university, beyond the tokenistic call for more black authors and artists. This decolonization will lead to “the inevitable end of art history” and a return to the work of art and an interdisciplinary approach as a “deliberate means of destabilizing a single disciplinary gaze.” Fiona Siegenthaler, a senior lecturer at the Institute for Social Anthropology, Universität Basel, compared the call for decolonization in South Africa to the one in Uganda. Because the population in Uganda is overwhelmingly black, the call for decolonization has little to do with the racial profile of its teachers or students. Rather, the country is focused on rewriting curricula to be more relevant to their students’ lives. Both countries, she stated, are skeptical about the hegemony of neoliberalism as a form of neocolonialism, on the one hand, and the need for access to international contemporary art, art institutions, art markets and funding organizations, on the other.

Several speakers explored alternative approaches to current studies in South African art history. Lize van Robbroeck, from the University of Stellenbosch, spoke about “settler colonial studies” and a multinational research project she is part of that examines settler life in five former British dominions: New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and the United States. The cultural, economic, and political circumstances in each of these colonies, in spite of particular dynamics in each, created comparable artistic products in the early to mid-twentieth century. The group’s research suggests that the demands to establish national art canons in each of these locations led to a corresponding art-historical neglect of the striking cross-national similarities in the art produced by artists in each place.

A paper by Jackson Davidow, from the Department of Architecture at MIT, called on the discipline of art history to enlarge its approach to “traverse geographies, temporalities, environments, and communities.” He made the case by discussing a global history of AIDS activist art, which must still be historically contextualized within local landscapes. His paper posed a crucial question to contemporary scholars: “How can global art histories work to decolonize and deconstruct the practices of our discipline rather than perpetuate its oppressive structuring?”

The conference ended with two papers from other humanities disciplines. The first one, by Brett Pyper from the University of the Witwatersrand, was about curating indigenous musical performances at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Leana van der Merwe, of the University of Pretoria, delivered the second, which was about an “African” feminist philosophy of art. Many of the conference papers will be published in an upcoming issue of De Arte, a peer-reviewed South African journal on visual arts, art history, and art criticism.

The SAVAH conference was not the only significant art event taking place in Johannesburg during my visit. The meetings coincided with a historic exhibition held downtown at the Standard Bank Gallery: the first-ever presentation on the African continent of paintings and works on paper by Henri Matisse.

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Henri Matisse, The Horse, the Rider and the Clown,1947, fifth plate of the book Jazz, Musée Matisse in Le Cateau-Cambrésis

Juxtaposed against the topic of the conference—rethinking art history in a contemporary context—this major exhibition provided another bellwether of the state of art history in South Africa. The absence of Matisse exhibitions in the entire continent until now can partially be explained by practical reasons related to insufficient resources (shipping and insurance costs, museum-quality exhibition spaces, etc.), but it is also likely due, in part, to a reluctance or lack of interest on the part of European and American collections and African-based organizers to bring the artist’s work to African audiences, in spite of Matisse’s great interest in African art. During my visit to South Africa, I was struck by the lack of Western art displayed in the museums, with the exception of a small collection on view at the National Museum in Cape Town. Little access to this art is yet another challenge for professors of art history, and it must relate to the absence of Matisse exhibitions as well. Why should South Africans be interested in his work if, for many, he is an unknown, dead white European artist? There is an audience for Matisse in South Africa, including the well-educated professional class and an active, sophisticated group of collectors who support a growing number of commercial galleries. There is also a vibrant community of artists in South Africa whose work characteristically draws on indigenous artistic traditions as well as global art. In spite of the limited audience—or perhaps because of it—a Matisse exhibition in Johannesburg is an important event, a major step toward broadening an appreciation of global art and its history.

In Johannesburg, the Matisse exhibition was the fourth in a series of presentations at the Standard Bank Gallery of works by twentieth-century modern European masters. Previous projects focused on Mark Chagall, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso. Through the curatorial efforts of Federico Freschi and Patrice Deparpe, director of the Musée Matisse in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, the exhibition Henri Matisse: Rhythm and Meaning was on view at the Standard Bank Gallery from July 13 to September 17, 2016. It included significant paintings, drawings, collages, and prints covering all the dominant themes in the artist’s oeuvre, from his early Fauvist years to the paper cut-outs produced in the last years of his life. As Freschi noted in introductory remarks, “Of particular interest to South African audiences is the inspiration Matisse took from African and other non-Western art forms during the early 1900s while struggling to find a new visual language to express the particular experience of the new, modern age.”

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Patrice Deparpe, Director of the Musée Matisse in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, in the exhibition Henri Matisse: Rhythm and Meaning, downloaded from website of the Embassy of France in South Africa.

To open the SAVAH conference, a lecture, gallery talk and reception for the exhibition was held the evening before the conference proceedings began. Rosemary O’Neill presented a thought-provoking lecture titled, “Henri Matisse: Fluid Memory, Embodied Signs.” Her paper considered aspects of Matisse’s work in relation to the construct of memory, time, and intuitive expression, as well as the influence of the ideas of philosopher Henri Bergson. In discussing Jazz, O’Neill identified ways in which his Tahitian memories from 1930, as well as his own cultural context and artistic trajectory, resulted in the realization of the innovative process and expression soon evident in Matisse’s late cut-outs; their importance in relation to a revival of the decorative impulse in postwar France; and their analogous relationship to poetic and musical phrasing—that is, a system of ensemble signs—as articulated in the writings of the poet Louis Aragon. Freschi’s subsequent gallery talk elaborated on Matisse’s exploration of African modes of representation in his early works; then, calling special attention to the series of prints that comprise the artist’s book, Jazz, he emphasized the influence of his travel to Tahiti and the archipelago islands that appear in his use of patterns and rhythms, ephemeral materials, and a conceptual rather than perceptual approach to image making.

For an American visitor, the conference and exhibition provided much food for thought. It was impossible to ignore similarities in the dissatisfactions of university students in both countries. Like their South African counterparts, U.S. students are demanding a greater diversity of voices in the curriculum, on the faculty, and in the administrations of colleges and universities. In both countries, growing complaints about racial inequality and ties to apartheid or slavery have resulted in important, if mostly symbolic, changes. At about the same time that South African authorities were removing sculptures of Cecil Rhodes and suspending tuition hikes, leaders at Georgetown University announced efforts to make amends for its complicity in the nation’s slave trade, including preferential admissions for descendents of slaves sold in 1838 by Maryland Jesuits to stave off the college’s bankruptcy. Other schools, such as Brown University, Harvard University, Emory University, and the University of Virginia, have made their historical ties to slavery public and announced plans such as renaming buildings, creating racial justice programs, and erecting memorials acknowledging their ties to the transatlantic slave trade.

[Just last week in New York City, as part of an anti-Columbus Day protest, a diverse group of protesters, united under the banner “Decolonize This Place,” demanded the removal of an equestrian sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt (flanked on either side by a Native American and an African American) at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History. The crowd included activists from the Black Lives Matter, Indigenous rights, and other labor and social justice movements. Calling it “the most visible symbol of white supremacy in New York,” the group also called for “decolonizing of the museum,” citing specific exhibits within the museum that highlight its history of white supremacy and colonialism. The demonstration was one of many across the country protesting the continued observance of Columbus Day, demanding that it be replaced by Indigenous People Day.]

From my vantage point as a participant at the SAVAH conference, the most striking similarity between the two countries was the paucity of people of color among art history professors and students. This was the great unspoken problem at the conference, evidenced by the prevalence of white faculty and students at a gathering focused on decolonization, art and activism, and keeping art history relevant. There were a small number of people of color at the conference among both speakers and attendees, but much like at a CAA Annual Conference, the dominant color was white. The answer is not, as some radical South African students demand, to rid the curriculum of all European content, or to replace all white professors with black ones; rather, it lies both in a multiplicity of voices and a questioning of assumptions rooted in the foundational texts of the field. Solving this problem may be the greatest challenge to art history’s relevance, even as progress is made alongside the slow path to racial equality.

South Africa is sometimes called a Petri dish for studying race relations. Only twenty-two years away from government-enforced racism, the country’s efforts in building a democratic, racially equal society offer many lessons about effective and less effective ways to accomplish radical change. The art historians I met in Johannesburg have created a vital community in which to study and struggle with these lessons. They are keeping the discipline of art history alive and relevant to the cultural and political challenges they face. But how they do it may provide important guidelines for scholars in the United States. In spite of numerous differences between the two countries—especially in scale, resources, and history—both South African and U.S. art historians are grounded in the same antecedents. How to retain the strengths of a discipline born in nineteenth-century Germany while stretching its geographic parameters to include all cultures is a challenge we all face.

Comment on this article in the Diversity in the Arts community on CAA Connect.

Filed under: International, Uncategorized

CIHA 2016 in Beijing

posted by August 15, 2016

CIHAinBeijingThe thirty-fourth World Congress of Art History, organized by the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA), will take place in Beijing, China, from September 15 to 22, 2016. Art and cultural historians from all over the world, and from a vast cross-section of disciplines and fields of professional interest, will discuss the ways of seeing, describing, analyzing, and classifying works of art. As the American affiliate to CIHA, the National Committee for the History of Art (NCHA), a group with strong institutional ties to CAA, is happy to encourage any and all interested art historians to attend.

The congress’s theme is “Terms.” Topics are divided into twenty-one sections to enable comparisons among different interpretations, definitions, and methods within art history. Each panel will comprise a program reflecting CIHA’s commitment to the idea of diversity, which should allow talks on different genres, epochs, and countries to be brought together. The congress uses the word “Terms” to draw a wide range of case studies.

The theme for the Beijing 2016 is the logical counterpart to the previous rubric, “The Challenge of the Object,” which was addressed at the Nuremberg 2012 CIHA Congress in Germany. In Beijing, it is a matter of questioning the words, the definitions, and the very concepts used to study art by different scientific traditions with this essential question: How can the methodology of our discipline be enriched by being conscious of the diversity of terms and approaches to art?

The 2016 congress will analyze different concepts of art in diverse cultures and strive to achieve three goals. The first one is to respond to the latest development of art history as a global discipline. The second is to explore art through different terms that underline its relationship to respective cultural frameworks, and the disparities between different cultures in various periods throughout history. The third goal is to gain a more comprehensive understanding of art as an essential part of human culture.

CIHA traces its roots back to the 1930s, when it was officially founded at the Brussels Congress. The organization has now vastly exceeded its original Euro-American emphasis and currently has national chapters on every continent. Next month’s meeting will be the organization’s first conference in China. In addition to the international gathering held every four years, CIHA also sponsors specific thematic art-history conferences such as “New Worlds: Frontiers, Inclusion, Utopias” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which took place in August 2015.

CAA has signed onto the letter reprinted below, written by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) on July 21, 2016, and signed by dozens of organizations. To read the full list of signatories, please visit the MESA website.

Threats to Academic Freedom and Higher Education in Turkey

The above listed organizations collectively note with profound concern the apparent moves to dismantle much of the structure of Turkish higher education through purges, restrictions, and assertions of central control, a process begun earlier this year and accelerating now with alarming speed.

As scholarly associations, we are committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The recent moves in Turkey herald a massive and virtually unprecedented assault on those principles. One of the Middle East region’s leading systems of higher education is under severe threat as a result, as are the careers and livelihoods of many of its faculty members and academic administrators.

Our concern about the situation in Turkish universities has been mounting over the past year, as Turkish authorities have moved to retaliate against academics for expressing their political views—some merely signing an “Academics for Peace” petition criticizing human rights violations.

Yet the threat to academic freedom and higher education has recently worsened in a dramatic fashion. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of July 15–16, 2016, the Turkish government has moved to purge government officials in the Ministry of Education and has called for the resignation of all university deans across the country’s public and private universities. As of this writing, it appears that more than 15,000 employees at the education ministry have been fired and nearly 1,600 deans—1,176 from public universities and 401 from private universities—have been asked to resign. In addition, 21,000 private school teachers have had their teaching licenses cancelled. Further, reports suggest that travel restrictions have been imposed on academics at public universities and that Turkish academics abroad were required to return to Turkey. The scale of the travel restrictions, suspensions, and imposed resignations in the education sector seemingly go much farther than the targeting of individuals who might have had any connection to the attempted coup.

The crackdown on the education sector creates the appearance of a purge of those deemed inadequately loyal to the current government. Moreover, the removal of all of the deans across the country represents a direct assault on the institutional autonomy of Turkey’s universities. The replacement of every university’s administration simultaneously by the executive-controlled Higher Education Council would give the government direct administrative control of all Turkish universities. Such concentration and centralization of power over all universities is clearly inimical to academic freedom. Moreover, the government’s existing record of requiring university administrators’ to undertake sweeping disciplinary actions against perceived opponents—as was the case against the Academics for Peace petition signatories—lends credence to fears that the change in university administrations will be the first step in an even broader purge against academics in Turkey.

Earlier this year, it was already clear that the Turkish government, in a matter of months, had amassed a staggering record of violations of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The aftermath of the attempted coup may have accelerated those attacks on academic freedom in even more alarming ways.

As scholarly organizations, we collectively call for respect for academic freedom—including freedom of expression, opinion, association, and travel—and the autonomy of universities in Turkey, offer our support to our Turkish colleagues, second the Middle East Studies Association’s “call for action” of January 15, request that Turkey’s diplomatic interlocutors (both states and international organizations) advocate vigorously for the rights of Turkish scholars and the autonomy of Turkish universities, suggest other scholarly organizations speak forcefully about the threat to the Turkish academy, and alert academic institutions throughout the world that Turkish colleagues are likely to need moral and substantive support in the days ahead.

Note

Organizations wishing to be included as signatories on the above statement should contact Amy Newhall at amy@mesana.org.

The Getty Foundation has awarded the College Art Association (CAA) a major grant to fund the CAA-Getty International Program for the sixth consecutive year. Having completed five successful years of programming, CAA will use the grant to  underwrite the cost of bringing twenty alumni to the 2017 Annual Conference for a reunion program. The Foundation’s support will enable CAA to bring these international visual arts professionals to the conference, taking place February 15-18, 2017, in New York City. Funds will support all travel expenses, hotel accommodations, per diems, conference registrations, and one-year CAA memberships.

The reunion will focus on common themes and interests in global art history, its greatest challenges, and what can be done to overcome them. Relying on the geographic and scholarly diversity of the twenty alumni, the reunion program will explore multiple points of view related to the state of the field, including interdisciplinary and transnational approaches to art history, the nature of cross-cultural collaborations, and future directions of the discipline. The 2017 attendees, together with leading art historians from the United States, will participate in several sessions devoted to these topics throughout the conference.

Since the CAA-Getty International Program began in 2012, ninety scholars have participated in CAA’s Annual Conference. Historically, the majority of international registrants at the Annual Conference have come from North America, the United Kingdom, and Western European countries. The CAA-Getty International Program has diversified the Annual Conference, adding scholars from Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, Caribbean countries, and South America. The majority of the alumni teach art history (or visual studies, art theory, or architectural history) at the university level; others are museum curators or researchers. Prior to participating in this program, none of the alumni had attended a CAA Annual Conference.

A remarkable number of international collaborations have ensued, including an ongoing study of similarities and differences in the history of art among Eastern European countries and South Africa, attendance at other international conferences, publications in international journals, and participation in panels and sessions at subsequent CAA Annual Conferences. Former grant recipients have become ambassadors of CAA in their countries, sharing knowledge gained at the Annual Conference with their colleagues at home.

Building on the evident success of the program, alumni at the 2017 reunion will provide input on how to further strengthen the program. How can CAA better serve international members? How can it cultivate future collaborations among CAA-Getty participants and CAA members? Are there ways to broaden the reach of the program to include artists, designers, and other types of arts professionals? The views and suggestions gathered at this convening will provide valuable insights as CAA works to enlarge its international activities.

For more information on the CAA-Getty International Program and other CAA travel opportunities, visit CAA Travel Grants.

As noted in CAA’s Affiliated Society News for March 2016, the Italian Art Society (IAS) is delighted to announce that Megan Holmes, a professor of art history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, will deliver the seventh annual IAS/Kress Lecture in Florence at Villa I Tatti, the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies, on June 1, 2016. Her lecture is titled “New Perspectives on the Reception of Florentine Panel Painting: Interpreting Scratch Marks.” Holmes was the recipient of CAA’s 2015 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award for her volume titled The Miraculous Image in Renaissance Florence (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013). For more on the lecture, including the abstract, visit the Italian Art Society website.

The annual IAS/Kress Lecture Series in Italy, inaugurated in 2010 with the generous support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, encourages intellectual exchange between North American art historians and the international community of scholars based in Italy. The lectures offer IAS member-speakers the opportunity to engage in productive discussions about their research with a wider range of specialists in the field of Italian art historical studies than is available in the United States; they also create lasting relationships between the IAS and the Italian cultural institutions that host the talks. The lectures are held in late May or early June to accommodate travel to Italy by North American academics and may be given in English or Italian. The IAS provides an honorarium, along with funds to help offset travel expenses, and organizes a reception open to all attendees.

Former IAS/Kress Lecture speakers have reported the many benefits of what one lecturer called a “stimulating experience,” noting how “the lecture really seems to be the sort of international event that many benefit from and that represents what the Kress often endorses.” Another wrote: “Giving the Kress lecture … was a wonderful experience. The event brought together American and Italian scholars and students for a lively exchange. I enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new colleagues, all in the city whose rich history is our shared passion.”

The IAS/Kress Lectures Series has drawn a wide range of experts from a variety of fields, as well as American graduate students studying in Italy, Italian university students, and many others who have attended and enjoyed the presentations and receptions afterward. Moreover, a number of attendees at these lectures have subsequently joined the IAS, helping to further our mission to promote the study of Italian art and architecture. In keeping with the mission of the Kress Foundation, our speakers have been selected from proposals on subjects ranging from antiquity to the early nineteenth century. Thus far, the IAS/Kress lectures have been on topics ranging from the medieval through early modern periods, and the organization hopes to host lectures on both earlier and later art and architecture in Italy.

If any CAA members or other interested parties are in Florence on June 1, 2016, the IAS encourages attendance at the Villa I Tatti for the seventh annual IAS/Kress Lecture by Megan Holmes! Please do not hesitate to contact the IAS president, Sheryl E. Reiss, with any questions.

Image: IAS/Kress Lecture 2013, Rome, Fondazione Marco Besso (photograph by Olga Posazhennikova)

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Emperor Marcus Aurelius

Rome’s Tiber embankments have been receiving an eye-catching mural makeover in the past few weeks, as a series of large-scale figures, up to ten meters in height, take shape as a century of pollution and biological patina is slowly power washed from the travertine walls. When William Kentridge’s 550-meter long mural, Triumphs and Laments: A Project for the City of Rome (2016), is complete and inaugurated on April 21, the mythical anniversary of the founding of Rome, it will constitute the South African artist’s largest public work to date.

Occupying the straightest stretch of urban riverfront between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini, the frieze will decorate a much-neglected space at the heart of the Eternal City. In fact, this reverse graffiti project is part of ongoing cultural programming by the organization Tevereterno, whose goal is to “revitalize Rome’s urban waterfront through the establishment and stewardship of Piazza Tevere, the first public space for contemporary art in Rome.” This international nonprofit initiative and multidisciplinary cultural project partners with the River//Cities Platform to create dialogue with other cities across Europe, America, and Asia about initiatives to develop rivers or waterfronts as cultural spaces. Speaking to a group of volunteers last month, Teverterno’s founder and artistic director Kristin Jones explained, “Everyone comes to Rome to take inspiration from the past, but who is caring for the present?” It was Jones who courted and convinced Kentridge to take on the Rome project.

romulus-and-remus

La Lupa Romana sans Romulus and Remus

Since its founding in 2004, Tevereterno has orchestrated a series of artistic happenings along the riverfront, including pieces by Jenny Holzer and Barnaby Evans. Holzer’s Words of Love and War (2007) was a projection of texts by international poets and writers in English and Italian onto a series of Roman monuments, including the Piazza Tevere. WaterFire Roma (2012) by Evans featured thirty bonfires floating on the surface of the river as a conceptual reflection on the struggle between light and dark. As with many of the other events, WaterFire Roma was fashioned after a gesamtkunstwerk, combining visual spectacle with original music by Stag of Marco Guazzone and choreography by Linda Foster.

Kentridge’s drawings of the historical symbols and figures for Triumphs and Laments were first shown at the Italian Pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 2015. Ten workers have been laboring to stencil the eighty silhouettes onto the embankments over the course of the past month. The images evoke both the city’s two thousand-year history and a more universal story of our collective successes and failures as human beings. Even as the name and subject suggest the history of an ancient Roman triumph, or a celebration of victory against Carthage, Britannia, or Parthia along the Sacred Way, Kentridge’s parade of images critically conjures up the specters of conquest and the contradictions of civilization. Just as one nation’s victory demands another’s defeat, one person’s rise often hinges on another’s fall.

Kentridge’s works consistently address issues of social justice by making the personal political and visualizing states of mind, and, in this respect, Triumphs and Laments does not disappoint. Kentridge often returns to themes of estrangement, exile, and transience, all of which are explored in the Rome frieze. Working in a wide range of media, from prints and drawings to theater, tapestry, and sculpture, he is perhaps best known for creating animated films with a palimpsestic process of sketch and erasure. In 9 Drawings for Projection (1989–2003), short films that narrate changing lives in apartheid South Africa, the artist used images of human processions and running water as metaphors for the passage of time. While there are meanings inherent to each individual silhouette along the river, the larger elements of process and iconography resonate with the artist’s other works and add another layer of meaning to his “projection” onto the Tiber walls.

timber-embankments

At work along the Tiber embankments

The fate of Kentridge’s frieze is to fade, like all things, under the patina of time, as the Tiber tides rise and fall year by year. This work, like the artist’s films, echoes the palimpsest that has been built, unbuilt, and rebuilt on the banks of the river over the centuries. Yet while the name and image of Rome resound through layers of history, this waterfront spectacle draws attention to the city’s cosmopolitan and contemporary art scene. What is truly lamentable is how the municipal administration of Rome frustrated and delayed such an innovative, creative contribution to the cityscape for so long; it took three years simply to obtain the necessary authorization.

In the run-up to the inauguration, Kentridge is in the city, hosted by the American Academy in Rome, inspecting the riverside work underway and giving a number of talks. He will be in conversation with Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev at the British School at Rome on April 15. Triumphs and Laments will play out as a kind of total work of art at the opening, which will premiere a theatrical program created in collaboration with the composer Philip Miller, and feature live shadow play and two processional brass bands.

Filed under: International, Uncategorized

In 2014, while I was literally printing my dissertation, I received an email saying I had been awarded a travel grant to attend the upcoming CAA Annual Conference. I had applied to the grant without any real expectations. I was so happy, yet so busy, so I replied to the email without even looking at the dates. I was in the middle of a lot of excitement—years of work were becoming printed words.

The conference had a lot of meaning to me. My tutor, Laura Malosetti Costa, had spoken about it several times, and nothing says “important academic event” than something your beloved tutor recommends. There was something mystical about receiving the grant at that specific moment in time!

I could say many things about my participation in the conference and the preconference colloquium in 2015, but I want to write about the experience of returning to the conference in 2016.  I attended, along with three other former CAA-Getty grantees, and had the opportunity to present a paper.

I spoke on the Emerging Scholars in Latin American Art panel. Sounds like a big deal, right? I was so incredibly nervous. The other speakers were also excited, happy, and shaking. I delivered the paper, without collapsing, during the longest twenty minutes I have ever experienced at an academic event. Fortunately, I liked my paper and thought it was well-constructed, so I knew I was speaking with true passion—and commitment—about my topic.

The waiting was the hardest part. After I had finished, I lifted my eyes from the printed sheets in front of me and stared at the audience. I thought no one would ask me any questions and was prepared for that outcome, so I was surprised by the many questions I was asked. I have never received so many questions after delivering a paper. These were not your everyday pro-forma questions. The people expressed sincere interest, and their questions were all remarkably interesting. I answered. Some people asked follow-up questions. I stopped shaking. I talked.

When everything was over, I sat down and took notes of the questions and comments. I still keep those notes as a memento of speaking at a CAA conference. If I had not been lucky enough to be invited to the conference in 2015, I would not have been ready to present my work there a year later. And for that, I feel thankful.

Filed under: International, Uncategorized

On the last day of the CAA Annual Conference, after an intense week of activities, I decided to end the experience by attending the session Linda Nochlin: Passionate Scholar.

After several days I still had problems finding the proper rooms for talks and meetings, but I arrived at Salon 2 on the Lobby Level and saw my colleague Georgina Gluzman, who was already seated in the auditorium. I greeted her with a cheek kiss—as you may know, we Argentineans are fond of kissing hello—and asked her straight up, “Where is Linda?” She answered, “There she is, seated in the front row.” We stared at each other with knowing smiles. Without saying anything, we realized that this was our moment to get to know Linda Nochlin.

We approached the front row and stood beside someone who was finalizing details with Linda. She immediately realized we were there and eager to talk to her. She made eye contact with us and gave us a friendly smile. We were thrilled to meet the person who has been such a strong influence on our art-historical studies and perspectives, as both Georgina and I are nineteenth-century scholars. We chatted with her and were even more amazed to discover that she is such a friendly and keen person. We talked about what her work means to us and the large scope of her legacy. She kindly accepted our request to pose for a selfie. In the photo, Linda is smiling—with that terrific modern haircut—and flanked by Georgina and me. We couldn’t hide our emotions.

During the session, we experienced a rollercoaster of sensations. We listened to Linda’s colleagues, friends, students, and family members speak about her. They not only honored her intellectual accomplishments, but also showed how kind and funny Linda is as a human being. Some insights were repeated in every story: she is always attentive to newcomers and makes them feel comfortable; she finds joy in being surrounded by young people (and vice versa); she is a great host, creating spaces for talking, eating, and laughing wherever she lives. As they all made clear, these characteristics are not just a side of her amazing personality but the fuel that feeds her vital, unprejudiced look at art, a look that has often moved beyond the seriousness of the art history canon and traditions. Disciples and friends recalled how Linda empowered them to practice a free and loving way of looking, toward both art and themselves.

The feminist art historian Moira Roth encouraged us to read aloud a poem Linda had sent her when she couldn’t attend her birthday party. After a detailed recollection of images of misery from Jean-François Millet to Gustave Courbet and Victor Hugo, Linda concluded in a very sardonic way: “I know misery, and I can say it’s not nice.” The poem was clever proof of her sense of irony and the passionate way, deprived of formalism, in which she has faced art-historical themes. It is this freedom that allowed her to understand impressionism as a “special inclination of realism,” as Molly Nesbit recalled from her notes of Linda’s classes at Vassar in the 1970s. This idea, which proved central in the reconsideration of nineteenth-century modernities and the questioning of the uniqueness of the impressionist movement, has been fruitful for Latin American art history. It has allowed scholars to examine the supposed delay of Latin American painters and their particular approach to the so-called nineteenth-century avant-gardes. As I already mentioned, Nochlin’s legacy reaches far beyond the subjects and places covered by her influential texts.

It was deeply moving to listen to Aruna D’Souza recount how Linda’s perspective on painted bodies contributed to the acceptance and love of her own physical imperfections. The audience burst into laughter when Linda’s charming granddaughter, Julia Trotta, recalled how her grandmother’s book on Andy Warhol’s nudes was an unusual object of desire in her early teen years. The story proved to her, once and for all, that hers was not an “ordinary granny.”

These are some of my recollections of what was a memorable experience at the CAA Annual Conference. If Nochlin’s oeuvre has—since the beginning of my career—modeled me as an art historian, I can now say that meeting her and her circle has changed me as a person.

Image caption: Georgina Gluzman (2015 CAA-Getty International Program participant), Linda Nochlin, and Marisa Baldasarre (2016 CAA-Getty International Program participant)

The sixteenth conference of the Centro Argentino de Investigadores de Arte (CAIA) took place in Buenos Aires from October 1 to 3, 2015. The CAIA was founded in 1989 by art historians working in the University of Buenos Aires. Its purpose is to encourage debates in art history through its conferences and editorial program, which publishes anthologies and the conference proceedings. In 2013, the CAIA started another project: a peer-reviewed online journal, Caiana.

The 2015 conference was devoted to the relationship between images and desire. More than twenty art historians from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay gathered in the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires to discuss the multilayered connection between art, pleasure, devotion, and reception in a series of panels, a roundtable, and two lectures.

The opening lecture was Laura Malosetti Costa’s “Cartografías del deseo,” in which she addressed nineteenth-century iconographies of desire and sexuality, as well as their fin-de-siècle reception in Buenos Aires. The closing lecture was María Angélica Melendi’s “La canción de las locas. Una historia sudamericana,” which was devoted to a rereading of Pedro Lemebel and the Yeguas del Apocalipsis work in Chile. These two activities framed three days of debates with nine panels dealing with different aspects of the conference theme. The topics ranged from the representation of desire to art collecting, including the cult of images and the allure of publicity. Although most of the delivered papers engaged with the visual arts, some addressed other media, such as cinema and dance.

The roundtable, organized by Viviana Usubiaga, called attention to the work of two remarkable artists: the writer Néstor Perlongher and the visual artist Liliana Maresca. This event, which attracted a wide audience, featured scholars and journalists discussing the legacies of Perlongher and Maresca. Daniel Molina, a noted art critic, offered insights into the lives and works of these two individuals through a personal recollection of the troubled decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

Traditionally, the CAIA has organized one conference every two years. These conferences are aimed at both emerging and established scholars, but the CAIA board hopes to engage undergraduate and young graduate students as well. For this reason, on even years the CAIA organizes a smaller conference for researchers who are just beginning their own projects. The call for papers for this event, which will take place from October 12 to 14, 2016, is open until May 30. The conference is open to art historians from around the world, and submissions are accepted in Spanish, Portuguese, and English For more information, please write to jornadascaia@gmail.com or visit the CAIA’s website (http://www.caia.org.ar/).

Filed under: International

The Association of Research Institutes in Art History (ARIAH), a consortium of museums and research centers based in North America or affiliated with North American institutions, has established a new program that will strengthen intellectual connections among art-history disciplines in different regions of the world. With generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Getty Foundation, and the Terra Foundation for American Art, ARIAH’s East Asia Fellowship Program will enable twelve scholars from countries in East Asia to conduct research at ARIAH member institutes on any topic in the visual arts. The project is funded for a three-year period, beginning in 2016, with four fellowships offered each year.

The East Asia Fellowship Program is open to scholars of art history from Japan, Mongolia, the People’s Republic of China (including Hong Kong and Macau), Taiwan, and South Korea. Each fellow will be hosted by an ARIAH member institute and have the opportunity to travel to other research centers during the three- to four-month fellowship period. Fellowships will be awarded through an open, competitive application process. One fellowship per year, supported specifically by the Terra Foundation, will focus on research topics related to the art of the United States before 1980. Topics for all other fellowships will be open, as long as they can be supported by research on the collections of the host institute. The deadline for the first of three rounds of fellowships is December 31, 2015.

“It’s impossible to overstate how important material support, not to mention encouragement, from the Mellon, Getty, and Terra foundations has been for launching this program,” said Jon Mogul, chair of ARIAH and assistant director for research and academic initiatives at the Wolfsonian–Florida International University in Miami Beach, Florida. “Art history and visual studies, like other academic fields, thrive when scholars who come from different traditions and view their subject through different lenses have the chance to learn from one another. The birth of this program really underscores just how essential these three foundations are to sustaining an ecosystem in which such intellectual interchange among art historians from different regions of the world can happen more and more routinely.”

The East Asia Fellowship Program grew out of a successful project that ARIAH designed in the late 1990s which brought art historians from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean to ARIAH member institutes. The Latin American program was part of larger process that yielded longer-term results and fostered increased collaboration and intellectual exchange among academic disciplines in Latin American countries.

ARIAH conceived of and developed the new program to encourage a similar intellectual, cross-cultural exchange between scholars and to establish lasting professional connections. The fellows will work side by side with curators, librarians, and fellows from other areas of research. Among the twenty-seven member organizations of ARIAH are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty Research Institute. The largest concentration of members can be found in the Smithsonian museums in the Washington, DC, area.

Peter Lukehart, associate dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, said that East Asia is “a geographic region from which, historically, there have been fewer applications” to the programs of ARIAH’s member institutes. “Consequently, the rich resources of these institutes are not known or available to scholars who might otherwise benefit from them. ARIAH hopes that encounters between scholars and administrators at ARIAH institutes will lead to future collaboration and interchange between fellows and their hosts. “Given the increasingly global nature of the discipline of art history,” Lukehart said, “these goals seem especially urgent.”