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posted by November 16, 2011

Notes on the Panel “The Reluctant Doctorate: PhD Programs for Artists?”

Debates about PhD programs for artists should be welcomed, the artist and educator Ellen K. Levy declared, as a way of addressing several pressing professional considerations that artists face in academia. To help advance the discussion, she moderated a panel called “The Reluctant Doctorate: PhD Programs for Artists?” and hosted by the School of Visual Arts in New York. Held on November 3, 2011, “The Reluctant Doctorate” was not organized to debate the pros and cons of such programs, though the participants did bring up several of each. Instead, the event focused on how such programs can expand opportunities for artists, from the intellectual advantages of philosophical explorations of their own work (and that of others) to the practical concerns of academic status.

Levy, who is completing doctoral work on the art and neuroscience of attention at Z-Node in Zurich, Switzerland, in collaboration with the University of Plymouth in England, spoke first. She believes that the development of PhD programs in the visual arts is inevitable. She also noted the recent discussions at the CAA Annual Conference on the topic, such as an Education Committee session in New York earlier this year and an upcoming panel at the 2012 conference in Los Angeles, as evidence of increasing urgency to validate the academic credentials of the artist’s doctorate. Levy cited CAA’s MFA Standards, last revised in 2008, noting that the organization continues to endorse the MFA as the terminal degree for artists. As to whether the MFA should retain this status, she said that a change will likely be decided not by a vote but by the momentum that PhD programs in the United States for studio artists might gather in forming a critical mass. Other panelists concurred.

Levy clearly stated that an artist does not need a PhD to make art, nor is a PhD program appropriate for many artists. For some—and here she included herself—advanced study has offered numerous benefits. Because of their art, some practitioners have been able to develop special skills and gain access to expertise and to equipment that grants cannot cover. Another benefit is the validation of artists’ writings.

George Smith, founder and president of the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, based in Portland, Maine, described his program as a philosophy degree that does not challenge the MFA. Students carry out research and write dissertations on a broad spectrum of philosophical concerns that inform contemporary art.

Mary Anne Staniszewski, a cultural historian and associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, described the ten-year process of developing the PhD program in the Department of the Arts at her school, which provides artists with similarly broad academic resources enjoyed by students in other fields. She compared the development of the PhD in music, established in 1945, and how many other institutions now offer doctoral degrees in music composition and practice in addition to history and theory. Staniszewski also addressed the degree’s practical advantages to artists. She recalled a study carried out in 1972 in which 59 percent of artists with MFAs who wanted to apply for the position of dean, or for comparable jobs in higher administrative, were barred from doing so because they lacked a doctorate. She believes that the PhD will bring greater heft as artists move into important decision-making positions in the academy.

Ute Meta Bauer described her European academic history at the New Bauhaus (now the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago) and at the University of Vienna in Austria, where she taught before becoming an associate professor and head of the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology in the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Since academies in Europe perceive the arts and artists more positively, the need for PhD programs to help advance artists’ careers has not been pressing. Artists are free to take postgraduate courses, and the academy supports an interdisciplinary approach reaching into many fields as well as the practical application of artistic production. Another major difference between American and European institutions for artists is the price of education: European students pay little for their undergraduate degrees, but tuition increases dramatically for graduate school. The opposite, Bauer noted, can be true in the US. She views MFA coursework as leading to a PhD, with the curriculum for each being complementary, not necessarily in competition.

Tim Gilman-Sevcik characterized the PhD program at the European Graduate School in Switzerland, where he is a doctoral candidate, as the most inexpensive and expansive program he could find. The goal of the PhD there, he explained, is to be a catalyst for creative work. The dissertation is a philosophical thesis that adds to the intellectual disorientation, risk, and eventual potency of an artist’s future work. At the same time, this research is a discourse based in text and situated in extensive research, as opposed to a studio practice.

After the presentation, Levy engaged the panelists in a Q&A, asking “What are the most valuable reasons for artists to pursue a PhD?” Smith responded by saying that a doctoral program provides a rigorous study of philosophy, sharpens the eye and mind, and eventually contributes to the visual dynamism of the arts in the US. Staniszewski underscored the value of artists collaborating with scholars in diverse fields and providing an alternative to the drive to create work for galleries and the market. Bauer countered with her own question, “Why not? Why wouldn’t artists want to pursue research and have the opportunity to expand their investigations in an academic setting?” Gilman-Sevcik agreed that programs for artists expand the limited opportunities currently available to artists: teaching in the academy, showing in galleries, or designing practical applications.

Levy posed two more questions to the panelists: “Does an artist perusing a PhD need the MFA? What will the PhD do to the status of the MFA?” Smith asserted that no MFA is required for the PhD at IDSVA, since his program offers a degree in philosophy. The other speakers, though, confirmed that the MFA is a precondition for all other PhD programs for artists.

The panelists dispelled the concern that artists generally have less ability to carry out research and write. While the speakers acknowledged that the MFA has fewer research and writing requirements than other master’s level graduate programs in the visual arts, they indicated that PhD programs provide just that opportunity, for artists to better develop these skills.

The last question from Levy was, “What utility is given to the institution with a PhD program for artists?” Staniszewski emphasized the value of the PhD to reposition the visual arts as a valuable intellectual endeavor. In the past few years, some groups have promoted the economic impact and service function of the arts to gain higher esteem by the public and governmental entities. She also claimed that the PhD in the visual arts will restore academic and public standing without placing art in service to the economy or commercial design. Bauer stressed the relatively small size of PhD programs in the US and abroad, in which the average number of admissions is one student at a time. The panelists generally agreed that the PhD program was not for everyone, but those who wish to enroll in one and are qualified to do so should be given the chance to pursue this degree. Institutions that offer PhDs are highly selective in admitting students and have an obligation to help to place them in positions once students complete the degree.

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The CAA Board of Directors held its fall meeting in New York on Saturday and Sunday, October 22–23, 2010. Twenty-two board members attended in person or joined by conference call.

President Barbara Nesin organized the biennial retreat for Saturday, which took place in the office of the law firm Debevoise and Plimpton. To bring everyone up to date with governance responsibilities, several board members and outside consultants discussed such topics as fiduciary obligation, directors’ and officers’ insurance, business planning, and diversity. Jeffrey Cunard, longtime CAA counsel, reviewed the board’s key roles: maintaining authority and accepting accountability; setting organizational direction; providing oversight; and ensuring necessary resources. In addition, he discussed how a board acts in accordance with legal standards and its three requirements: duty of care (stay informed and ask questions); duty of loyalty (show undivided allegiance to the organization’s welfare); and duty of compliance (stay faithful to the organization’s mission).

Michael Fahlund, deputy director, covered board-liability and errors-and-omissions insurance regarding publishing. Chinwe Onyeagoro from O-H Community Partners, an economic-development consulting firm, discussed institutional business planning for economic and social value, and Yasmin Ramirez of Hunter College’s Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños spoke on “The Creative Class of Color and Its Implications for CAA,” which urged the board to engage in community-based artists’ initiatives. David Moughalian, dean of the Art Institute of New York, facilitated the retreat as moderator.

On Sunday, the board convened with seven senior-staff members in a conference room at the Jolly Madison Hotel in New York to discuss current and future CAA business. The meeting addressed financial matters first. Teresa Lopez, chief financial officer, presented a report from the board treasurer, Jack Hyland, Jr., on the annual audit of CAA accounts carried out by Eisner Amper Accountants and Advisors. The board approved the results and, since all was in order, made no recommendations for changes of procedure or controls. Hyland congratulated the staff for achieving a balanced budget in fiscal year 2010 for the first time in seven years. The approved budget for the current fiscal year (2011) is balanced, and programs and publications that saw reductions last year were restored. CAA’s investments as of June 30, 2010, were at $7,136,565—up from $6,760,944. An impending CAA office move next summer, however, will require a draw on investments.

Linda Downs, executive director, reported that CAA has made progress in all seven goal areas in the 2010–2015 Strategic Plan. In particular, a weekly CAA News email introduced in September addressed the first goal of the plan: increased communication with members. In addition, two recently formed groups have been reviewing editorial procedures and investigating publications that meet needs expressed by CAA members. The Task Force on Editorial Safeguards, chaired by Anne Collins Goodyear, vice president for publications, will present formal recommendations at the February 2011 board meeting. Patricia McDonnell, board member and chair of the Task Force on Practical Publications, anticipated that her team will need eighteen months to complete its charge of investigating related publications at other associations, surveying members on specific topics, establishing procedures for determining subjects, soliciting participation, and vetting manuscripts. The board agreed that CAA would need to develop a sustainable business plan if the program moved forward. Goodyear also updated the board on developments for online versions of CAA’s printed Graduate Programs in Art History and Graduate Programs in the Visual Arts, which are currently being assembled and updated. Web-based access will better serve students seeking to apply to graduate programs.

CAA members helped fulfill a strategic goal to develop leadership capacity last February when they voted to change the organization’s By-laws to allow up to three appointed directors from outside the visual arts to join the board. A nominating committee headed by Maria Ann Conelli, vice president for committees, has been formed to identify candidates for these new positions who would bring additional expertise such as marketing, finance, and fundraising to the board.

Paul Jaskot, past president, presented steps needed for agreements to copublish The Art Bulletin and Art Journal with, for example, a university press or other institution, and for online development of the journals. Member surveys, he said, can determine the value of CAA’s publications and the need for online applications, research on possible copublishers, and a business analysis and plan for all three journals. Goodyear recommended that the strategic plan’s priority ranking for digital publications be changed from low to high, which the board approved.

Downs reported on Centennial programs for upcoming Annual Conferences in New York (2011) and Los Angeles (2012). The strategic plan calls on the organization to reimagine and reinvigorate approaches to the conference. As part of that effort, Jaskot has asked major artists, scholars, and professionals in the visual arts to address core concepts of “feminism,” “experience,” “art/technology,” and other broad topics for debate and discussion in special conference sessions. Thus far, Norma Broude, Griselda Pollock, Eduard Duval-Carrié, Robert S. Nelson, Mark Tribe, and Chris Csikszentmihályi have agreed to organize these interdisciplinary sessions. The 2011 conference will also highlight a major Centennial publication, a history of CAA entitled The Eye, the Hand, the Mind: 100 Years of the College Art Association. Edited by Susan Ball with contributions by fourteen authors, the book will be published by Rutgers University Press in January and made available at the conference.

Downs then discussed Centennial publications projects outlined in the strategic plan. The editorial boards of CAA’s three journals are proceeding with their “virtual anthologies” of significant articles, reviews, and projects from the full run of back issues, with introductory material, that will appear on the CAA website. Recommended texts for the two print publications will appear as links to JSTOR; caa.reviews will highlight its selections on its own website. The editorial board for The Art Bulletin has identified thirty-two essays from past issues, with six general introductions explaining how and why they were chosen. (This method was preferred to framing each text individually.) The Art Journal Editorial Board worked in the other direction. Howard Singerman, reviews editor, volunteered to research and write an essay on the history of the journal; editorial-board members will read it and then recommend archival texts, which will likely include artists’ projects as well as essays and reviews. The unique online nature of caa.reviews led the journal’s editorial board to a different approach. By means of analytical information, it determined the most-read review for each of the journal’s twelve years. The project thus has a populist, “readers’ choice” element to it. Editorial-board members are now writing short introductions to each review (200–300 words), and the editor-in-chief, Lucy Oakley, is writing an omnibus introductory essay. Goodyear announced new members of the Publications Committee and the caa.reviews Editorial Board, and presented preliminary plans for a larger web presence for Art Journal. CAA will announce these plans when they are finalized in January 2011.

Sue Gollifer, vice president for Annual Conference, outlined a proposal to create a celebratory event at the upcoming Annual Members’ Business Meeting at the New York conference. In addition to announcing results of the 2011–15 board election, the business meeting will address critical issues in the visual arts to be raised by members.

To determine how CAA may better interact with and address the needs of its affiliated societies, Jean Miller, a new board member, interviewed more that forty affiliate leaders as a follow-up to the first meeting with them held at the Chicago conference in February 2010. She presented a wealth of information from her conversations, which revealed that affiliates have a wide range of needs and interests and are eager to open more lines of communication. CAA staff has also redesigned the website to give affiliates a greater presence on the homepage, and CAA News is running monthly announcements of Affiliated Society News instead of every two months. Miller will lead a second face-to-face meeting with leaders from affiliates at the New York conference in February.

Jaskot, chair of the Task Force on the Use of Animals and Human Subjects in Art, said he is currently forming the group. The task force, established by the board at its February 2010 meeting, will carry out research on guidelines and best practices related to the use of animals and human subjects in visual art and investigate related standards adopted by other organizations.

Since the lease for CAA’s office in New York is ending in July 2011, the staff has been searching for new office space in Manhattan. Downs and Carri Lyon of the real-estate firm Cushman and Wakefield presented several options. Since September 11, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has provided incentives to attract nonprofit organizations to the Wall Street area. Judging from square-foot prices elsewhere, the downtown area appears to be the optimal location for the new CAA office. Plans to move in July 2011 are still on track.

The board will next meet for a full-day meeting on Sunday, February 13, one day after the 2011 Annual Conference ends. The directors welcome your thoughts on the above issues and more; please make sure you attend the Annual Members’ Business Meeting to discuss critical issues in the field, welcome newly elected board members, and toast CAA’s one-hundredth birthday.

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THE WORLD TRADE CENTER REMEMBERED

posted by September 09, 2011

The following article originally appeared in the November 2001 issue of CAA News.

Ned Kaufman is a consultant specializing in cultural heritage, historical preservation, and public history. He also teaches at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. Kaufman lives and works in Yonkers, New York.

The World Trade Center: a view from the Hudson River (photograph by Don Carroll)

A neighbor of mine said, simply, “I miss them.” If the architecture critic Paul Goldberger missed them, he wasn’t admitting it: “gargantuan and banal, blandness blown up to a gigantic size” was the epitaph he carved into the New Yorker’s tombstone for the World Trade Center (WTC) in the magazine’s September 24, 2001, issue. How different are both assessments from the hopeful words of Minoru Yamasaki, the WTC’s principal architect, who didn’t live long enough to miss it. Writing at the time the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey commissioned him to design the complex, he explained that he sought “a beautiful solution of form and silhouette which fits well into Lower Manhattan,” while giving it “the symbolic importance which it deserves and must have.” He saw that the sheer size of the Port Authority’s commission—ten million square feet of office space set on twelve city blocks—set a double challenge. On the one hand, he would have to “scale it to the human being,” to make it “inviting, friendly, and humane.” On the other hand, the WTC wasn’t just a cluster of buildings: “To be symbolic of its great purpose, of the working together in trade of the Nations of the World, it should have a sense of dignity and pride, and still stand for the humanity and democratic purposes in which we in the United States believe.” The WTC has left a confusing legacy, and if, as Goldberger predicts, “architectural criticism of it will cease altogether,” then we will never get to the bottom of it. But I suspect that its legacy lies somewhere in the territory encircled by these three points of view.

It’s always been hard to pin down the WTC’s significance. One reason is that one’s experience of the street-level plaza and the towers always seemed so different. The plaza was never successful—it was bleak—and when the Port Authority started piping in canned music, the fake cheeriness seemed only to underline its sadness. The failure wasn’t entirely the architect’s. Yamasaki had assumed that the plaza would be lined with restaurants; it wasn’t. Then, the Vista Hotel (built later) claustrophobically slammed shut the view out the southwest corner to the Hudson River, and the bridge to the World Financial Center cramped the northwest corner. But the plaza was bad from the start, indeed from before the start. The assumption (which Yamasaki accepted) that the Port Authority’s twelve-block parcel was not merely a site but a precinct—a giant podium to be lifted off the earth and endowed with a special character distinct from its surroundings—outlined an urban-design challenge that would have been difficult, if not impossible, for any architect in the 1960s to meet gracefully. It played to modernism’s weakest suit.

Actually, the question of whether or not the WTC was modernist is not so easily answered. Those who didn’t like the buildings, or didn’t like modernism, used their critique of one to damn the other. But in 1962, as Yamasaki began work on the WTC, the New York Times’s architecture critic, Ada Louise Huxtable, wrote that this architecture was “shattering” the tradition of modernism, opposing its stripped-down, functionalist manner with an “ornamental style and a conscious historicism” that were “deliberately decorative, and among professionals, highly controversial.” Around the plaza, at any rate, the failures were those of modernism—failures of modernist planning, based on a poor understanding of how people use and animate open spaces; and of modernist architecture, of buildings conceived to float in space, rather than decisively to shape it, of a brittle formal language of metal and glass that seemed averse to hold a corner, and of walls reluctant to meet the ground.

Even the towers didn’t meet the ground well. Part of the problem was that it was very hard to say where the ground was. If the towers didn’t seem to stand firmly on the plaza, if from some angles they seemed rather to be inserted through it, that may have been because the plaza didn’t stand firmly on the ground either. It was not floor but roof—the roof of a spreading, formless underground world of numbered levels, parking garages, shopping concourses, plunging escalators, and train platforms. The towers were rooted deep in this basement world.

If you looked up at the towers from the plaza you got a stiff neck. It was a little like looking up at the stage from the first row of the orchestra, where the actors loom above you. In this case, however, the actors were giants and were playing to the back of a house that was the entire New York harbor and indeed the entire region. From up close, at any rate, you could appreciate some of the design decisions that made the towers work from a distance. And these were not the routine moves of modernism. My own reaction to the vaguely Venetian arcades on which the towers stood changed as I grew to know the buildings better, and as they and I aged. Whereas at first they had seemed insipid, unconvincing, I came to find them graceful and oddly delicate. The towers were clad in a metal that, rare among modern buildings, was truly beautiful: it was a special aluminum alloy that Alcoa had developed for Yamasaki, and the impossibly tall colonettes, flowing up out of the arcades to the very tops of the buildings, flashed silver in a way that was somehow soft and unmetallic. These piers contained the innovative structural system that has garnered such public attention in the wake of the WTC’s destruction: they placed most of the towers’ support around their perimeter, rather than spaced throughout the buildings in an even grid. With these piers, in fact, Yamasaki rewrote not only the structural but also the expressive rules of the steel frame. They were eighteen inches wide and projected a full foot in front of the windows, which were only four inches wider than the piers. The effect was quite different from that of the standard modernist “glass box.” Seen from even a moderate angle, the glass disappeared behind the piers, while from a distance the spaces closed up, so that the towers appeared almost solid. Not solid like stone, but almost solid. It was an unusual and beautiful effect.

Yamasaki was one of a few architects, including Philip Johnson and Edward Durrell Stone, who in the 1960s were departing from the modernist orthodoxy of the curtain wall to create walls of visual weight and real substance. The WTC may have been subtler than many contemporary experiments, which often ran to slabs of stone or crude piles of oversized brick. What it undubitably had was scale. You could see the towers from across the Hudson River in Jersey City, from the harbor, from high places in the Bronx and Westchester County, from the Jersey Meadowlands, from the train tracks somewhere around New Brunswick, and from the far edges of Brooklyn and Queens. Beyond a certain distance, the treatment of the skin probably didn’t matter much; it was the towers’ sheer height, and of course their famous twinness, that projected them across the distant landscape. But from the middle distance, the combination of size, shape, proportion, and surface achieved a remarkable transformation. During two years of living close to the Hudson River in Jersey City, I got to know the towers pretty well, in all of their moods. When crossing the river by ferry or bridge in the morning one slipped into the huge shadows they cast across the water and through the blaze of sun that sprang between them. Late in a spring evening the glow of sunset seemed to rest in them long after the water had become black and the rest of the city resolved into points of light. To the sailor out in the harbor, the towers, one occulting the other, registered an endlessly fascinating play of light and weather. A simple detail—the chamfered corners and roof lines—meant a great deal from this perspective. The corners became strips of light stretching more than a quarter-mile into the sky. And whether you were close enough to perceive the individual floors or far enough away so that the faces of the buildings flattened in the atmospheric haze, the chamfers forced you to accept the towers three-dimensionally, as huge objects. “Sculptural” is the word art historians might choose to describe this effect. Of course the disposition of the two towers, not lined up face-to-face but angled corner-to-corner, was very much a sculptural move. The key, however, was scale. The towers were so big and projected their bigness with such profound simplicity that they seemed to exist in the realm of sky and wind, rather than that of architecture. New York’s harbor is a vast area, filled with air and light and the reflections of moving water, overarched by an immense sky. The towers, sited on the promontory of lower Manhattan, registered the moods of light and weather in a way that only things of great size and immeasurable scale can do—things that are there with a bigness too big to grasp. When you looked at the towers you saw not just buildings but the imprint of the place itself, the sky coming down to earth, the impress of sun, sea, and wind sweeping across a continent. A shadow cast by one of the towers was not just bigger, but qualitatively different from those of ordinary buildings—it didn’t belong to architecture at all; it was a phenomenon of nature. The Washington Monument (another large prismatic object rising into a bowl of sky) offers a similar experience. So does, under certain circumstances, the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. I can’t think of another building that creates this feeling, certainly not in New York. That quality is what I will miss above all else about the towers.

Many people will, of course, miss them just because … they miss them. A lot of memories are attached to the WTC. I don’t mean those that settled there on September 11. Nor those of the people who worked there every day; those memories are vast and complex. I mean the memories of people who visited or looked at the WTC because it was something special. I doubt if many of these memories are attached to the plaza. Again, it was the towers that really worked. In addition to extreme height, they were equipped with memory generators. One was the observation deck. Actually, the views were somewhat disappointing. You were kept well away from the edge, so that you couldn’t look straight down and see the absurdly tiny cars and people and savor the inverted perspective of buildings impossibly tapering toward their bases. As you looked out, the deck seemed almost too high. But going there was an experience, and was most likely shared with friends, a parent, or a child. A Colorado parent remembers her visits there: “Seated before the touchingly beautiful view of the harbor in the evening, we would talk over the day’s events with the daughter who knew her way around. It was there we learned Katy was in love. It was there, after the graduation ceremony, that we saluted her PhD.” Though Katy’s mother found it “odd” to say that she’d “lost a personal, public landmark,” it wasn’t odd at all. It was in the nature of the place. Probably many of the deck’s visitors now regret losing a personal spot—“I can’t go back there anymore.” Windows on the World, the famous 107th-floor restaurant, was another memory generator. The food, as people used to say, was better than it needed to be, because the place itself was the draw. It was not ordinary, certainly not the sort of restaurant you went to just because you were hungry. Most went there, I think, to create a special experience—a memorable experience—with friends or family. Those who had the good fortune to dine there acquired an intimately personal stake in a skyline that could seem profoundly indifferent.

New York’s skyline has been rearranged many, many times, but usually it has been yanked upward. Even when quite large buildings have come down, it was done in order to put up even bigger ones. So the towers’ sudden disappearance is unprecedented and confronts us with a question we were not prepared to think about: What is the next stage of lower Manhattan’s skyline? Is this the end of grand development? Or is this a prelude to something yet unimagined? As we look for that now-shifting, hard-to-locate place in the sky where the towers used to be, it’s helpful to remember that their contribution to the skyline was not always or universally admired. When they were new, many people felt that the Twin Towers dwarfed the older skyline to the north and east; they were isolated and, with their feet practically in the river, seemed to unbalance the entire island. If by last September we no longer felt that way, it may have been in part because we had gotten used to the effect, but also because the skyline had adjusted to the towers. To the west, Battery Park City and the World Financial Center were built on landfill scraped out of the WTC’s foundations; large as they are, they furnished (in the phrase of the World Financial Center’s designer, Cesar Pelli) foothills to the WTC’s mountain range. To the south and toward the East River, the slender towers of the old skyline had been gradually hidden behind a ring of big, boxy buildings—neither “tower” nor “skyscraper” adequately registers their utter stolidity. Now the WTC is gone, but the adjustments are still there—most unhappily so. The World Financial Center seems unfocused and weak, while the “boxes” around the other side of the financial district are just plain ugly. They hide the slender spires of the neighborhood as completely as ever, but now without the redeeming lift of Trade Center 1 and 2. What is to be done?

That, of course, is the question everyone is asking. Proposals for the site have already been floated. Presented for the most part in sound bites, they have, not surprisingly, been one-liners: new office buildings, a replica of the towers, a peace park, ruins, a monument with names of the lost. It’s clear that the site could be redeveloped as office space. Or it could be designed as a memorial. What seems less clear is whether any one of these could ever fulfill both its commercial and its mnemonic potential. Can a functioning part of the city be successfully freighted with the burden of memory, sorrow, and national resolve that people want from the site? As if that weren’t challenge enough, a more difficult question has emerged: How to get beyond the purely personal dimensions of the tragedy of September 11—the sad, agonizing, pathetic, heartbreaking stories that have filled the papers for weeks, piling up into a mound as high and more unscalable than the towers themselves. I do not mean to suggest that we should ignore the individual tragedies, but rather that we must also account for the larger significance to the community of what took place that day, and what is still to come. Community is more than sentiments of empathy for the bereaved, more than neighbors holding hands. September 11 was more, and different, than the sum of five or six or seven thousand individual tragedies. And the WTC was more than a place where people worked, ate, and died. Or was it?

What did the towers stand for, anyway? Since their destruction, we’ve heard often enough that they stood for capitalism, free enterprise, business, or, perhaps, what their designer called “the humanity and democratic purposes in which we in the United States believe.” But the complex’s purposes were more specific. First, of course, it was intended to salvage the real-estate investments of some very influential people. More grandly, in Yamasaki’s words, it was meant to serve and symbolize “the working together in trade of the Nations of the World.” That, after all, is why it was called the World Trade Center. I wonder if its destroyers heard and understood the literal meaning of these words, which we New Yorkers had long ago demoted to a mere sound—Wurltraydsen’r. Had the complex become, unbeknownst to us, a symbol not merely of world trade but of free trade, of the globalism of Seattle and Genoa? Its destroyers, at any rate, seem to have remembered something else that we New Yorkers had largely forgotten. The WTC was not an expression of free enterprise: It was built by Big Government, was roundly criticized for that, and in market terms could not have been called a good investment. It was never, in this sense, practical, and its ideology was not that of the free market. In symbol and substance, it was government projecting a design. That has been easy to forget during these past thirty years of contempt for government and of fawning praise for market capitalism. But in its destruction the WTC put government back at the center of our consciousness: it is to government that injured people and businesses have reflexively turned for help—each level of government looking expectantly to the next—and it is government at the highest level that is now redesigning lives and deaths through decisions that affect us at every level—military deployments, homeland security, and much more.

Symbols are important. They can get us killed. But they are also, in some sense, imaginary, made up by us. For most people who worked in or visited them, the towers were probably never symbols of anything in particular. When they came down on September 11, then they became symbols. But when, a week later, my neighbor said, “I miss them,” she meant the buildings, not the symbols. I miss them too.

Notes

The quotation from Paul Goldberger is taken from the New Yorker, September 24, 2001; those from Minoru Yamasaki and Ada Louise Huxtable are from Anthony Robins’s The World Trade Center (Englewood, FL: Pineapple Press, 1987) and that from Katy’s mother, Marion Stewart, is from High Country News, September 24, 2001.

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The CAA Board of Directors held its second meeting of the year in New York on Sunday, May 1, 2011 at the offices of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton LLC in Manhattan. President Barbara Nesin welcomed the four newly elected board members—Leslie Bellavance, Denise Mullen, Saul Ostrow, and Georgia Strange—who were attending their first meeting. Nesin also recognized Anne-Imelda Radice, who recently joined the board as an appointed director. In addition, new officers began their one-year appointmentat the May meeting (see the board list for all names, titles, and affiliations).

The board reviewed a three-year budget projection for CAA for fiscal years 2012–14 and approved the fiscal year 2012 budget. This is the first time that CAA staff has developed a multiyear budget projection in order to better plan and effect positive changes for the future. The 2012 budget includes: an increase in staff for publications, membership, and information technology; a professional analysis of the journals to determine the feasibility of transitioning to electronic formats for The Art Bulletin and Art Journal and to prepare a business plan for practical publications; and increased funds for Professional-Development Fellowships for artists and art historians.

Linda Downs, CAA executive director, presented an overview of recent advocacy initiatives and recommendations for greater board and member participation. Andrea Kirsh, former vice president for external affairs, is assisting the organization on advocacy issues by researching and preparing public statements in cooperation with the executive director and legal counsel. The board agreed to clarify CAA’s position in support of the proposed legislation on orphan works and to publicly post a statement that can also be sent to art schools and art departments.

The board approved a resolution to use online voting in the annual election of directors to the board, eliminating paper ballots. (CAA had employed both formats for several years.) Concerned about the low number of members who vote in elections, the group considered strategies to address the issue. Surveys of members indicate that the primary reason they do not vote is because they do not know the candidates. CAA currently provides short videos from the candidates as well as written statements and biographies that describe their backgrounds and their interests in serving on the board. CAA also reminds members to vote through email messages. The board welcomes suggestions on how to increase voter participation (see below for contact information).

Patricia McDonnell, who led the Task Force on Practical Publications, presented a resolution to develop a business plan to launch practical publications. The board approved the resolution , and the business plan will become part of the professional analysis of the journals to be carried out in the next two years.

Anne Collins Goodyear, who led the Task Force on Editorial Safeguards and Procedures, presented a resolution to revise CAA’s statement on conflict of interest. The amendment specifically addressed procedures for editors and added language about the importance of confidentiality. The new Statement on Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality, published last month, will be read and signed annually by board members, journal editors, committee members, and award jurors.

The board welcomes conversations on any question or issue related to the association and invites members to submit agenda items to the board and to the Annual Members’ Business Meeting. Send your ideas and suggestions to Vanessa Jalet, CAA executive assistant. Upcoming board meetings are scheduled for: Sunday, October 23, 2011, in New York; and Sunday, February 26, 2012, in Los Angeles, a day after the Annual Conference. The business meeting will be held on Friday, February 24, 2012, during the Los Angeles conference.

You may also read about two previous board meetings, held in October 2010 and February 2011.

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FIELD REPORT

posted by May 03, 2011

Lucille A. Roussin is an attorney-at-law who earned a PhD in art history and archaeology from Columbia University. She is the founder and director of the Holocaust Restitution Claims Practicum at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York from which she earned her JD. Roussin introduced the conference and served as moderator of one panel, “Nazi Era Looted Art: Research and Restitution.”

A Conference Report on “Human Rights and Cultural Heritage”

Paul Cézanne, Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory, 1891, oil on canvas, 36¼ x 28¾ in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (artwork in the public domain)

The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York hosted an all-day conference, entitled “Human Rights and Cultural Heritage: From the Holocaust to the Haitian Earthquake,” on March 31, 2011. The program brought together experts in both human-rights law and Holocaust-era restitution law. Its organizers also invited specialists in the same areas who had not previously engaged this important topic.

The program commenced with opening remarks by Allan Gerson, chairman of AG International Law PLLC, a Washington, DC–based law firm specializing in complex issues of international law and politics. During his talk on “Civil Litigation to Secure Cultural Property as a Human Right,” he spoke of the continuing debate over the existence of a recognized human right to secure restitution of cultural property and, when a victim is deprived of actual possession, the right to just compensation. Gerson included news about his current litigation against the Metropolitan Museum of Art over Paul Cézanne’s Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory (1891) and Yale University over Vincent van Gogh’s The Night Café (1888). Both cases involve major issues in international law, including the Act of State Doctrine and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

 

The first morning panel, entitled “Natural Disasters: Haiti and Beyond,” comprised leaders in the law-related nonprofit world. A former officer of the United States Army, Corine Wegener has witnessed cultural-heritage catastrophes firsthand in Sarajevo, Iraq, and, most recently, Haiti. In 2006 she founded the US Committee of the Blue Shield—the “cultural equivalent of the Red Cross”—and serves as its president. Her illustrated presentation addressed what has been, and is being done, to preserve the many cultural monuments of Haiti since the devastating earthquake in January 2010. Wegener stressed that, because of current law, the US cannot provide aid to endangered nations on its own initiative: the country suffering the disaster must first request assistance. Her current efforts focus on training local communities to conduct preservation work themselves.

As executive vice president and chief operating officer of the New York–based World Monuments Fund, Lisa Ackerman helps lead an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving threatened ancient and historic sites around the globe. Using a wonderful PowerPoint presentation, she demonstrated the evolution of heritage-protection efforts in which she has been involved. Ackerman commented that when floods ravaged Venice in 1966, operations rallied around the city as a cultural icon and saved many important works of art. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, however, community building took precedence over art and architecture. She drove home her point with images of the preservation efforts at the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church in the Ninth Ward, which is not just an architectural gem but the heart of a community. Her two-fold message was a powerful one. First, nonprofits so accustomed to operating on shoestring budgets should not be afraid to think big. Second, widespread public perception that cultural-heritage preservation during times of crisis occurs at the expense of helping humans is a false dilemma. The two-pronged effort in Haiti is an excellent example of how disaster relief led by medical and humanitarian organizations can work side by side with specialists in cultural heritage.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam, ca. 1530, oil on panel, 75 x 27½ in. Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena (artwork in the public domain)

Tess Davis, the executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation who has significant preservation experience, particularly in Cambodia and Sri Lanka, summed up the panel. She observed that the public does not realize how important cultural heritage becomes until after the dust settles, floods recede, and immediate humanitarian needs are met. She also emphasized how cultural-heritage preservation should be an up-front part of postwar and disaster-management planning.

The second morning panel concerned “Nazi Era Looted Art: Research and Restitution.” Marc Masurovsky, a leading scholar in this field and the cofounder of the Holocaust Art Restitution Project, led with an historical overview of the restitution of artworks looted during the Holocaust. Inge van der Vlies, a member of the Dutch Restitution Committee in Amsterdam and a professor of constitutional law and of art and law at the University of Amsterdam, considered the workings of Dutch project, its processes, and recent successes. Lucian Simmons, vice president and head of the Restitution Department at the New York branch of Sotheby’s, informed us about the process used at his auction house to determine if a work of art has a questionable provenance. He then illustrated recent restitutions and settlements, discussing research efforts and the outcomes. Lawrence M. Kaye, partner and cochair of the Art Law Group at Herrick, Feinstein LLP, spoke of recent major recoveries to the heirs of the Amsterdam art dealer Jacques Goudstikker. Kaye also addressed the current lawsuit against the Norton Simon Museum for two notable pieces from the former Goudstikker collection, Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (both ca. 1530), in which a petition for certiorari has been filed with the US Supreme Court. He then detailed other art cases that his firm had handled, most importantly the restitution of several paintings in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam to the heirs of the Suprematist artist Kasimir Malevich.

One program highlight was the midday keynote address by Howard N. Spiegler, also cochair of the Art Law Group of Herrick, Feinstein LLP, who provided an overview of many aspects of and results in cases involving Holocaust-era looted art. He related several examples, including the recently settled case of United States v. Portrait of Wally, in which the firm represented the heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray, the rightful owner of the Egon Schiele painting, Portrait of Wally (1912). Spiegler referenced a haunting testimonial by Rabbi Israel Singer, who once related that: “Himmler said you have to kill all the Jews because if you don’t kill them, their grandchildren will ask for their property back.”

Moderating the first afternoon session, “Libraries and Archives: Restitution of Recorded Cultural Heritage,” was Lynn Wishart, Cardozo’s associate dean for library services and professor of legal research. Her three panelists examined the many difficult issues with the restitution not of art but of written documents. Jeff Spurr, secretary and board member of the Sabre Foundation (based in Cambridge, Massachusetts), deliberated contesting arguments for the restitution of the ancient Jewish books, papers, and manuscripts rescued from the looting and burning of the Iraq National Library and Archives after the American incursion in 2003. Library representatives contend that the holdings belong to their country’s history, but a Jewish community no longer exists in Iraq. With some support from the American government, former Iraqi Jews in Israel and the US argue that the documents should be given to a living Jewish community. Nathan Lewin, a partner at the Washington, DC–based firm Lewin & Lewin LLP, represented the successful plaintiff, Agudas Chasidei Chabad, against the Russian Federation, discussed the case from the viewpoint of international law, under which the Russian Federation is obligated to return books and documents to the Chabad in New York but has refused. Patricia Krimsted, senior research associate at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute in Massachusetts, provided a history of looting by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in Western Europe. She noted that the three largest ERR concentrations of books contained works that came from both West and East—but far more originated in the West. Grimsted also highlighted how looted collections (an estimated 600,000 books) that came to rest in the Soviet sectors of postwar Berlin, taken as part of the Soviet trophy brigades. Prospects for restitution today largely hinge on whether the archives ended up in the Soviet or Allied sectors. Six years ago the Russians admitted for the first time that collections were taken to Minsk in November 1945; Grimsted had found scraps of evidence in card catalogues that matched ERR confiscation lists. She questioned how the Russians could view the cultural materials, taken from Jews and published in languages few people in Russia can read, to be compensation for their World War II–era losses and then demand their own compensation to return them.

The second afternoon panel on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) presented a lively discussion on the applicability of the law. Jennifer Anglim Kreder, a professor in the Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, conducted a roundtable with four experts on FSIA litigation to explore the intersection of cultural property, human rights, and the War on Terror. The panelists, all based in Washington, DC, were Mark N. Bravin (partner, Winston & Strawn LLP); Lisa Grosh (deputy assistant legal adviser, US Department of State); Laina C. Lopez (attorney, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP); and Stuart H. Newberger (partner, Crowell & Moring LLP). Bravin has represented both plaintiffs and defendants in FSIA litigation, including McKesson v. Islamic Republic of Iran (plaintiff), ongoing for twenty-five years, and Orkin v. The Swiss Federation, concerning a van Gogh drawing allegedly sold by a Jew under Nazi duress to a Swiss collector in 1933 (defendant). Grosh, who spoke in her individual capacity, was heavily involved with litigation under the FSIA’s Terrorism Amendments, which expressly authorized litigation against nations identified as State Sponsors of Terrorism. Lopez’s firm represents Iran, included in the McKesson case and proceedings brought by plaintiffs who obtained default judgments against Iran under the Terrorism Amendments; the plaintiffs seek to seize and sell Persian antiquities currently held in US museums to partially execute their judgments. The panelists engaged in a fascinating discussion of the mechanics of FSIA litigation, exploring such questions as: Should forced seizure and possible auction of cultural objects be fair game to compensate victims of terrorism? Is litigation or mass-claims resolution a better course to secure justice for terrorism and genocide victims—and for public safety?

In conclusion, “Human Rights and Cultural Heritage,” which brought together new voices in cultural heritage and human rights, was dynamic, informative, and thought provoking.

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FIELD REPORT

posted by April 26, 2011

Svetlana Mintcheva is director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship. She is also the editor, with Robert Atkins, of Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression (New York: New Press, 2006) and the curator of Filth, Treason, Blasphemy? Museums and Censorship, shown at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago, Illinois, in 2007.

Hide/Seek: Museums, Ethics, and the Press: A Symposium Report

Hide/Seek may be remembered as the censorship controversy that launched a hundred discussion panels. There were public statements and street protests, of course, letters to the Smithsonian Board of Regents and articles in the press, but most of all, there were the conferences. Starting with a gathering at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, DC, spreading to the West Coast, and featuring major public events at the Corcoran and the New Museum, these discussions responded to an apparently endless desire to analyze and assign blame, to blow off steam and extract lessons, and to place what happened within the history of Culture Wars in America.

An April 9 symposium, “Hide/Seek: Museum, Ethics, and the Press,” organized by the Institute of Museum Ethics at Seton Hall University and the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers Business School, had the goal of framing the issues surrounding the Hide/Seek controversy as ethical ones. Daniel Okrent, former chairman of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), opened the event by posing several key questions: Is choosing to do a controversial show an ethical decision? Should a show ever be changed after opening? What happens after a controversy in terms of institutional definition and future planning? A diverse group of participants from such disciplines as art history, law, political science, and philosophy, as well as Smithsonian representatives and one journalist, attempted to grapple with these issues and more.

Mounting a show on a controversial topic was, indeed, a decision requiring courage and commitment to the concept of the museum as a space where important cultural conversations should happen. Over forty-five other arts institutions had rejected the idea of a canonical show of queer art before the NPG took it up. With the curators Jonathan Katz and David Ward, the museum went forward with Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture even though it expected—and was prepared to respond to—controversy and homophobic reactions. Unfortunately the NPG was not as capable of resisting the internal hierarchy of Smithsonian decision-making.

The attacks on the show came a full month after its opening, just as the museum was ready to declare the Culture Wars over. Detractors latched onto a few seconds of video portraying a plastic crucifix, taking the position of the offended victim of hate speech, rather than that of the intolerant bully, which would have happened if they had focused on what really annoyed them: the queer content of the exhibition. The rest of the story is familiar: the NPG’s preparedness to face public complaints was never tested as Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough unilaterally—and within a single day—ordered the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly, with its eleven seconds of ants crawling over a crucifix. Clough’s ill-conceived effort to appease Republicans in Congress backfired, and the censorship controversy hit the headlines.

Clough’s decision appears to have pitched the pragmatic, that is, protecting funding for the Smithsonian from congressional assault, against the ethical: protecting the integrity of the institution and free-speech principles against partisan pressure. As Abe Zakhem, a philosophy professor at Seton Hall, commented: when normative ethics and practical considerations are in conflict, the need for courage arises. Courage and, perhaps, some political sense: it is far from certain that oppositional bluster in Congress would have succeeded in cutting the budget for the venerable Smithsonian. Worse, it is almost guaranteed that the artwork’s removal will only encourage future interference with the Smithsonian’s curatorial independence.

Failing to demonstrate either courage or political sense, Clough comes out as the villain in the story. Even his supporters on the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents criticized his decision as rash. What about the other actors in this drama? Symposium panelists discussed the role of Penny Starr, whose outrageously titled article—“Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts”—published on November 29, 2010, for the Cyber News Service (formerly the Conservative News Service) appears to have started it all.1 Starr was the first to isolate the eleven seconds of A Fire in My Belly; she also described and photographed other pieces from Hide/Seek and, in an email, goaded Republican Representatives Eric Cantor and John Boehner, among other congressional leaders, with questions about the offensiveness of these images.2

The panelists agreed that the press was indisputably the instigator of crisis in this case, as it has been in many others.3 No matter how detestable and biased one may find Starr’s cultural “intervention,” the press has the right, even the obligation, to direct the public’s attention to matters of importance, including the curatorial politics of the Smithsonian. As the cultural journalist and blogger Lee Rosenbaum noted, Starr was practicing “Journalism 101” when she contacted stakeholders to elicit a response in a potentially controversial case.

The actions of politicians who, alerted by Starr, threatened to cut funds to the Smithsonian remained virtually unquestioned—perhaps because Republican congressmen were so clearly in the wrong, or perhaps because such actions have become politics as usual. Nevertheless, if we have learned anything from the Hide/Seek controversy, it is that museum leaders do not make their ethical decisions in a vacuum but must negotiate a path spiked with the demands of politicians, the eyes of the press, and the campaigns of special-interest groups. Could things have gone differently? Should Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery (and symposium participant), have resigned in protest? Should the Smithsonian’s secretary have attempted to persuade the detractors in Congress—some of whom admitted they never even saw the show—to temper their threats? The possibilities are many, but none present a magic-bullet solution. The Smithsonian has bent under political and interest-group pressure before, and neither the resignation of a museum director nor attempts to appease critics by exhibition script revisions has won any victories.

There is reason to believe that something moderately positive may come from the situation. Sullivan welcomed the new policy adopted by the Smithsonian Board of Regents, which states “in the absence of actual error, changes to exhibitions should not be made once an exhibition opens without meaningful consultation with the curator, director, Secretary, and the leadership of the Board of Regents.” The regents have also decided that the director of the specific museum should make the call regarding the fate of an exhibition, not the Smithsonian secretary, whose decisions are heavily influenced by the risk-averse Office of Congressional Relations.

Another new Smithsonian policy is much more ambiguous, if not ominous. Criticized as “curating via crowdsourcing,” the policy requires solicitation of public input during the exhibition-planning process.4 In previous instances, including the Enola Gay exhibition at the Air and Space Museum (1995–98) and the show of photographs from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge at the National Museum of Natural History (2003–4), preexhibition input has had dire consequences for curatorial freedom.5 One can easily imagine the effect of public input in which the Catholic League or a similar professional “offense hound” attacks a show in the vulnerable period of its gestation.

In his memoir about the attacks and subsequent cancellation of the Enola Gay exhibition, Martin Harwit, who resigned as director of the Air and Space Museum in protest, writes that “our nation has begun to settle important issues … not through substantive debate, but through partisan campaigns aimed at victory by any means.”6 Apparently little has changed since.

Nevertheless, it was encouraging to hear Rachelle V. Browne, associate general council at the Smithsonian, clearly state that the First Amendment protects museums from having to choose between government funds and self-censorship. She also formulated the most unequivocal ethical message of the day: that concerns about financial sustainability do not override the museum’s obligation to sustain integrity and free speech.

Notes

1. Penny Starr, “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts,” CNS News, November 29, 2010, http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/smithsonian-christmas-season-exhibit-fea.

2. In an email obtained by Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo, Starr wrote to House and Senate leaders from both parties asking for feedback on her story. The email reads: “The federally funded National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian, is running an exhibition through the Christmas season that features an ant-covered Jesus and what the Smithsonian itself calls ‘homoerotic’ art. Should this exhibition continue or be cancelled?” Boehner and Cantor responded by immediately asking that the exhibition be pulled. See Brian Beutler, “Ant Jesus: An Anatomy of the Latest War on Christmas Scandal,” On Capitol Hill (blog), Talking Points Memo, December 1, 2010, http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/author_blogs/2010/12/ant-jesus-an-anatomy-of-the-latest-war-on-christmas-scandal.php.

3. Recent examples include the leadership role taken by the New York Daily News in the efforts to boot the Drawing Center from a proposed new space at Ground Zero in 2005 (which succeeded) and to close the Brooklyn Museum’s Sensation show in 1999 (which did not).

4. Bob Duggan, “Mob Rule: Curating via Crowdsourcing,” Picture This (blog), Big Think, April 7, 2011, http://bigthink.com/ideas/37784.

5. For a fascinating story of the workings of the Smithsonian’s politics, see Martin Harwit, An Exhibit Denied: Lobbying the History of “Enola Gay” (New York: Copernicus, 1996).

6. Harwit, vii.

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The CAA Board of Directors held its first meeting of the year in New York on Sunday, February 13, 2011. Twenty-four board members attended in person at the Hilton New York in midtown Manhattan.

The board welcomed its first appointed director, Anne-Imelda Radice, a senior consultant for the Dilenschneider Group who has a strong record of public service. The director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services from 2006 to 2010, she also served in the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts and worked as a museum curator and director. Radice earned a PhD in art and architectural history from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Rick Asher, president of the National Committee for the History of Art (NCHA), summarized the relationships among his organization, CAA, and the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA). For example, NCHA includes two CAA representatives on its board—currently Nicola Courtright and Paul Jaskot, both past CAA board presidents. Asher reminded the CAA board about the upcoming CIHA conference, to be held in Nuremberg, Germany, in July 2012. He also expressed a desire to foster more regional participation and will look to CAA for assistance in the future.

Barbara Nesin, CAA president, and Linda Downs, CAA executive director, thanked the board and staff for an outstanding Annual Conference and Centennial Kickoff. Drawing a record seven thousand attendees this year, the conference presented new approaches to sessions, such as bringing together leaders in the field for the Centennial Sessions, and the use of new technologies. Nesin and Downs commended the Services to Artists Committee for outstanding programming in ARTspace.

The newly elected board members were announced: Leslie Bellavance, Alfred University; Denise Mullen, Oregon College of Art and Craft; Saul L. Ostrow, Cleveland Institute of Art; and Georgia K. Strange, University of Georgia. These four will begin their four-year terms at the next board meeting in May 2011. Nesin thanked five directors who will rotate off the board at the end of April for their dedicated service: Sue Gollifer, University of Brighton; Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps College; Andrea Kirsh, independent scholar and curator; Amy Ingrid Schlegel, Tufts University; and William E. Wallace, Washington University in St. Louis. The entire board joined Nesin in extending a heartfelt appreciation for the dedication of Paul Jaskot of DePaul University, who joined the board in 2004 and served as president from 2008 to 2010.

In the past eighteen months, CAA has made progress on accomplishing a third of the tasks described in the 2010–2015 Strategic Plan, particularly in communications, membership, and Centennial publications. Andrea Kirsh, vice president for external affairs, reported on an increase in student and artist members and thanked the board for its involvement in solicitations for the Centennial Campaign.

Maria Ann Conelli, vice president for committees, presented the annual review of CAA’s Professional Interest, Standards, and Practices Committees. She commended the Committee on Women in the Arts, the Education Committee, the Museum Committee, the Professional Practices Committee, the Services to Artists Committee, and the Student and Emerging Professionals Committee for their outstanding work this year.

Michael Fahlund, deputy director, announced the recipients of the 2010–11 Professional Development Fellowships: Alma Leiva, Virginia Commonwealth University; Sheryl Oring, University of California, San Diego; Brittany Ransom, University of Illinois, Chicago; Mina T. Son, Stanford University; and Amanda Valdez, Hunter College, City University of New York. Fahlund also discussed the recently launched podcasts series on career-development topics.

Sue Gollifer, vice president for Annual Conference, confirmed the record attendance of seven thousand attendees and applauded the great success of the Centennial Sessions. She also thanked Jean Miller, a fellow board member, for helping her organize the first Strategic Plan Focus Group Discussion, which was devoted to technology and communications.

Anne Collins Goodyear, vice president for publications, presented the Resolution and Recommendations on Editorial Safeguards and Procedures, which represented the results of an eighteen-month review of CAA publications and research into similar scholarly publishers. After a thorough analysis of the editorial practices of The Art Bulletin, Art Journal, and caa.reviews, the task force concluded that CAA is among the leaders in addressing safeguards and editorial practices. The Recommendation on Editorial Safeguards and Procedures will soon be published on the CAA website.

Patricia McDonnell presented a preliminary report from the Task Force on Practical Publications, which she heads. The board convened the task force to address the expressed need for publications on pedagogy and professional development, and the final recommendations will be presented to the board at its May meeting. (Read the task force’s previous report from September 2010.)

Officer elections were held, and the following members will begin their one-year terms in May: Patricia McDonnell, vice president for external affairs; Maria Ann Conneli, vice president for committees; Anne Collins Goodyear, vice president for Annual Conference; Randall Griffin, vice president for publications; and DeWitt Godfrey, secretary. In addition, three board members have been elected to the 2011 Nominating Committee: Jay Coogan, Jacqueline Francis, and Patricia Matthews.

The board approved applications from four organizations to become CAA affiliated societies: Art, Literature, and Music in Symbolism and Decadence (ALMSD); the Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA); the Curator’s Network at Independent Curators International; and the National Alliance of Artists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (NAAHBCU).

The board welcomes your thoughts on the above issues and more in preparation of its next full-day meeting, scheduled for Sunday, May 1, 2011. Send your ideas and suggestions to Vanessa Jalet, CAA executive assistant. You may also read about the previous board meeting, held in October 2010.

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The following text by Benjamin Lima, assistant professor of art history at the University of Texas at Arlington, was originally published on February 13, 2007, as part of the CAA Conference Blog. At the time of writing, Lima was a PhD candidate in the history of art at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

The Hilton New York in 2011 (photograph by Christopher Howard)

For as long as I’ve known, when CAA meets in New York, it meets at the Hilton. In spite of its familiarity, however, the hotel itself has been something of a mystery to me. In honor of the 2007 Conference Blog, I wanted to find out what the internet could disclose about the Annual Conference’s triennial home.

The 1963 hotel was designed by William Tabler (1914–2004), a highly prolific midcentury hotel designer, who nonetheless doesn’t make it into most capsule histories of the period. The AIA New York guide credits Tabler with a few entries, not including the Hilton. Neither Kerr Houston’s review of Annabel Jane Wharton’s book on Hilton International hotels and modern architecture, nor Wharton’s article on Hilton in the New Statesman, mention Tabler, although his firm seems to have done a lot of international work.

The firm’s website has a period press photograph [no longer extant] of the New York Hilton, with the building’s base looking a lot cleaner than it does today. (It’s hard to tell if that’s an artifact of the photograph). At the online City Review, Carter B. Horsley calls the low-rise base “not at all attractive,” although he praises the tower.

Great Gridlock reports on works by three artists which have adorned the hotel: Philip Pavia’s bronze sculpture Ides of March in the driveway (although the work hasn’t been there since 1988); Ibram Lassaw’s fifteen-foot Elysian Fields in the promenade; and James Metcalf’s sculpture in the lobby. This is a reminder of upper midtown’s heyday as a gallery district; around this time, Lassaw showed at Kootz, and Metcalf at Loeb.

James Metcalf sculpture in the Hilton lobby (photograph by Christopher Howard)

The free archives of Time Inc. reveal some striking period touches in similar hotels. For instance, at Tabler’s San Francisco Hilton, guests would enter via the garage, “get their room keys by pneumatic tube from the main lobby, zoom up the spiral ramp, and start looking for their room number when the floor beneath the car matches the color of the key tab.” In New York, Tabler “fitted out a service elevator as a speedy, efficient pantry for Continental breakfasts: one man, instead of the usual three, takes an order on the telephone, warms rolls and pours coffee while the elevator moves, then delivers it to the proper floor.” (The same article notes that “Few Tabler hotels win design prizes….”)

In keeping with the no-nonsense persona that emerges from the limited number of sources examined so far, the only Time article written by Tabler himself is entitled “Why U.S. Housing Costs Too Much,” and a short profile of the “balding, cherubic” Tabler is called “Hotels: With a View of the Dollar,” which vividly relates Tabler’s genius for parsimony. This inspired a Swiftian letter from S. W. Burnett of Chicago, who began: “Hotel Designer William Benjamin Tabler and his moneysaving ideas [Aug. 6] intrigued me. Permit me to suggest a few more such economies. Instead of a bed, supply a cot 3 ft. by 6 ft. suspended from the wall. The room need then be only one foot wider and longer than the cot….”

In conclusion, nominations are invited for the most appropriate actor to play William Tabler, who surely deserves at least a small part in the epic film version of CAA’s history.

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Andrea Kirsh, an independent scholar and curator, is CAA vice president for external affairs. In summer 2010, she and Linda Downs, CAA executive director, held meetings with leaders from art schools and departments in New York and Philadelphia.

Linda Downs and I had a great opportunity to learn more about the membership and its needs by talking with a number of department chairs and deans in New York this summer, despite the 95-degree heat, and then during torrential storms in Philadelphia (my home) in the fall. We wanted to let them know about the upcoming Centennial conference and, in particular, the opportunities for students. Such prospects include free Wi-Fi at the Students and Emerging Professionals Lounge, which will be open throughout the conference and doesn’t require a badge. If students can’t afford the $120 discounted fee to register for the entire conference, they can attend on a session pass and participate in numerous free events, such as Convocation, sessions planned especially for the Centennial, and all ARTspace events, including the Annual Artists’ Interviews. They can volunteer as room monitors in exchange for conference registration.

Mostly we visited with colleagues to listen. We asked what they thought CAA has been doing right, and how we might better serve their needs. We learned a lot. What struck me was the range of comments and the variety of useful suggestions. Nancy Barton, chair of the Art and Art Education Department at New York University (NYU), told us about her school’s program in Ghana, which made us realize that CAA’s revived International Committee should include artists as well as art historians. Downs and I then met with Pepe Karmel and Kathryn Smith, the outgoing and incoming chairs of NYU’s Art History Department. They teach undergraduates only, so we discussed ways the CAA conference might give their students taste of graduate school and professional life, as well as a chance to network.

David Rhodes, president of School of Visual Arts, opened our visit by vigorously accusing CAA of favoring art historians over artists on the issue of orphan works and opposing droit moral for artists. We let him know that CAA doesn’t favor either side on orphan works: the organization supports potential users making a serious search for copyright holders and, failing that, publishing the works and then paying copyright holders if they turn up. And we’ve never opposed droit moral. Rhodes’s major request of CAA was help in organizing foundations courses, which always receive the lowest ratings. We’ll bring the issue to the Education Committee, which regularly presents conference sessions on pedagogy, and will also consider it as a subject for the practical publications that CAA hopes to produce.

The issue of advocacy came up again during our visit with Patricia Rubin, director of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts; the topic was the cost of reproduction rights. Rubin came to the institute from England, where several major museums recently eliminated charges for scholarly use of images. Downs told her that she regularly attends the American Association of Museum Directors’ meetings and works the crowd on the issue, but it could use help from a more concerted group of organizations.

In Philadelphia we began at the University of Pennsylvania, whose faculty has been very involved with CAA. Holly Pittman, chair of the Department of the History of Art, was pleased that I’d be addressing Penn graduate students about the upcoming conference during a departmental colloquium. At University of the Arts, Joe Girandola, director of the MFA programs in ceramics, painting, and sculpture, was enthusiastic about the value of CAA conferences and suggested that his school organize a group to attend the New York meeting in February. His colleague, Susan Viguers, director of the MFA program in book arts, thought CAA didn’t do enough for artists; however she hadn’t attended recent conferences and had no idea about ARTspace activities. She also didn’t realize that this year all of CAA’s Professional-Development Fellowships were targeted at artists because of their greater funding needs.

Stephen Levine, chair of art history at Bryn Mawr College, told us about calling CAA in the past to request demographic information about the field to use in hiring discussions. He said more such information would be useful, and also hoped CAA might help schools reach minority candidates whose work spans fields (archaeology, anthropology, history, and area studies) and who might not be alert to possibilities in art history. He further expressed the desire that CAA develop standards so that schools do not require letters of recommendation before candidates are shortlisted.

Timothy Rubb, director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was emphatic that the most important thing CAA could do for museums was to circulate the word that art-history departments are not turning out sufficient students in areas such as East Asian and ancient Near Eastern art to fill curatorial positions. He also hoped CAA might address guidelines for museum-studies programs, as his institution finds that graduates of current programs have neither useful skills nor realistic expectations.

Gerald Silk, chair of the Art History Department at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, gave us a tour of his school’s new facilities and showed us a number of studios. We were able to talk with artists and art historians who work together successfully, asking them to suggest ways CAA might build on the presence of both groups at the Annual Conference. They suggested that art historians might want to join artists in participating in critiques. Hester Stinnett, printmaker and a Tyler vice dean, thought we should consider themed conferences, so that one meeting was distinguished from another. We liked the idea and said that the upcoming Centennial conference in New York was built around a series of interdisciplinary sessions chaired by pairs of scholars from different fields, and that the Los Angeles conference in 2012 was addressing art of the Pacific Rim. Stinnett also suggested, based on her experience with a recent graphics conference, that students preferred informal events away from the conference center to the usual formal sessions. While CAA always offers many offsite events at conferences, it will be a challenge to organize a conference for five thousand attendees if that cohort continues to prefer dispersed events.

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FIELD REPORT

posted by November 18, 2010

October SECAC/MACAA and Arts Education Conferences

Cover of the SECAC-MACAA conference program

It is a perennial pleasure to return to my native South for the Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC). This year’s meeting, held in scenic Richmond, Virginia, was a joint venture with the Mid America College Art Association (MACAA), both CAA affiliated societies. Hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the conference took place October 20–23, 2010, in the beautiful Jefferson Hotel, a Beaux Arts masterpiece operating since 1895.

With his VCU colleagues, the artist, printmaking teacher, and freelance art critic Andrew Kozlowski cleverly branded the conference with the title “Curiouser: Where Cerebellum Meets Antebellum,” and planned some very sexy aesthetics and materials to go along. Sessions featured—if you can believe it—representations of the penis in modern and postmodern culture among familiar discussions on curriculum development and connections between memory and art.

On Thursday evening, after the first day of sessions from artists, historians, and curators, we were treated to the genius that is Pablo Helguera, who delivered the keynote address. Born in Mexico City, Helguera is a New York–based artist working with installation, sculpture, photography, drawing, and performance. His focus on a variety of topics such as history, pedagogy, sociolinguistics, ethnography, memory and the absurd takes the form of lecture, museum display, musical performance, and written fiction—tailored made for a memorable public speech. Helguera, who is also director of adult education programs at the Museum of Modern Art, sagely pointed out that he has spent many an evening sitting in the back of a darkened auditorium listening to people bloviate on all manner of topics. Through a performance that reflected on the act of performing that is any lecture, Helguera teased insight from the five elements of classical oration, culminating in a cacophonous delivery of a talk presented in alternating voices for four different hypothetical audiences: postmodernists and theorists (defined as people who read October), art-world insiders, arts administrators and educators, and the Facebook generation. His take was an incisive remonstrance of the expectations we carry to these types of events, and he exploded the notion that an art-history conference should be serious, dry, humorless, and devoid of careful calibration of character.

Following Helguera was a reception for the annual members’ juried exhibition held at 1708 Gallery. Founded in 1978, this artist-run alt space plays a leading role in connecting Richmond’s diverse community with the work of exceptional, innovative artists from Virginia and beyond. With fifty-six participants, the show was packed with work in every medium imaginable. Congratulations to these three CAA members for receiving top honors from Joe Seipel, the curator and juror: photographers Antonio Martinez of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Allyson Klutenkamper of Shawnee State University, and the painter Matthew Kolodziej of the University of Akron.

Philip Reinagle, Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog, 1805, oil on canvas, 18¼ by 36½ in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (artwork in the public domain; photograph by Ron Jennings)

On Friday the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts hosted a reception for SECAC and MACAA. Newly reopened after a $150-million expansion that boosted gallery space nearly 50 percent, the museum is perhaps best known for its stunning collection of Art Nouveau masterpieces, where I found this bed that, to me, looked more like a set piece from Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Boogie Nights than a product of French modernism. Amongst wings of amazing Faberge cloisonné, French drawings, and superb holdings in modern and contemporary American art, I most enjoyed the rooms of British sporting art. Donated by Paul Mellon, who was also the establishing patron of the Yale Center for British Art, this profuse collection of painting and sculpture is the largest display of horses, dogs, pheasants, and guns that I’ve ever seen all in one place.

A street arts festival on Friday called “InLight Richmond,” organized by the folks at 1708 Gallery, was a really fun way to get us out-of-towners to Shockoe Bottom, a major nightlife and dining district. On my way back to the hotel, I walked past the Virginia State Capitol. An incredibly ghostly lighting design courtesy of a major restoration project rendered the building a spectral vision in white, glowing, nearly pulsing, with the principles of the Enlightenment. This was a particularly arresting, inspiring experience to have within a fortnight of an important midterm election.

But really, SECAC is such a wonderful affair each year. As a three time attendee, I’m not sure if it’s because Rachel Frew, the central nervous system of the conference, is so freaking awesome, or if it’s because the month of October in any Southeastern state is so beautiful, or if it’s because I can gorge myself on fried green tomatoes and Hoppin’ John. One thing I know for sure is that I am consistently amazed by the quality of scholarship and camaraderie of experience at this particular conference. Start planning now for the next one, “Text/Texture,” hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design, November 9–12, 2011.

A couple of days later, back in New York, I attended the twenty-fourth annual National Conference on Liberal Arts and the Education of Artists, organized by the Humanities and Sciences Department of the School of Visual Arts. The event provides a forum for the exchange of ideas and information about the role of the liberal arts in the education of artists, and this year’s theme was “Green, Greener, Greenest: Romancing Nature Again.” Taking place October 27–29, 2010, the conference is truly impressive for its interdisciplinarity. The first session I attended, on the topic of “Nature Study and Interdisciplinary Learning,” included papers by a biologist, a mathematician, an art professor, and a director of student outcomes, and I ate lunch with a journalism professor who presented a body of research on the visualization of the “truly American” landscape vis-à-vis illustrated editorial spreads in early Life magazines. One panel asked if we can pique people’s moral and ethical responsibilities to the environment by heightening aesthetic appreciation through depiction in art. Another session explored the dual metaphor of nature as both sublime and accessible through literature, Hindu myth, and Gerhard Richter’s paintings based on photos.

“Green, Greener, Greenest” was an intimate gathering presided over by the dark-cherry interior of the Algonquin Hotel, and as such our conversations could have a personal, more lasting effect. Each year the organizers seek proposals on diverse topics relating to an annual theme and on other interdisciplinary issues. Check out the conference history or contact the conference director, Maryhelen Hendricks, for more information on presenting and attending.

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