CAA News Today
Meeting Linda Nochlin at the CAA Annual Conference in Washington, DC
posted by CAA — Mar 07, 2016
The following article was written by Marisa Baldassare, Associate Professor, Universidad Nacional de San Martin, Buenos Aires, and 2016 CAA-Getty International Program participant.
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)