posted by CAA — December 06, 2022
In fall 2018, we announced CAA had received an anonymous gift of $1 million to fund travel for art history faculty and their students to special exhibitions related to their classwork. The generous gift established the Art History Fund for Travel to Special Exhibitions. We are happy to accept new applications again for this upcoming year.
The fund is designed to award up to $10,000 to qualifying undergraduate and graduate art history classes to cover students’ and instructors’ costs (travel, accommodations, and admissions fees) associated with attending museum special exhibitions throughout the United States and worldwide. The purpose of the grants is to enhance students’ first-hand knowledge of original works of art. Interested members can also see recent awardees share their experiences at the session at the CAA Annual Conference at the session Art History Fund for Travel to Special Exhibitions: Sharing Stories.
Applications are due by January 15, 2023.
We are excited to introduce the presenters for the virtual symposium, Global Conversations: Materiality and Mediation, on October 4, 2022 from 11 am to 1 pm Eastern time. The event is organized by the College Art Association (CAA) and two of its international affiliated societies, the Design History Society and the International Association of Word and Image Studies. To register for the event, visit this page.
This global collaborative project brings together three intersecting constituencies—art and design, design history, word, and image studies—to examine how materiality and mediation intersect.
Four participating scholars will present on the following topics, followed by Q&A and discussion. The event will be recorded and shared online following the event.
This no-cost event is open to the public. Please consider donating to support no-cost programming and providing access to new and emerging scholarship.
CAA’s membership program connects you to the largest community of individuals and organizations working together and advocating to advance research, practice, and the impact of the visual arts. Visit our website for more information and to join our organization.
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Arts organizations interested in joining CAA as an affiliated society can do so by visiting our website.
To join the Design History Society, please visit this page.
To join the International Association of Word and Image Studies, please visit this page.
Global Conversations: Materiality and Mediation
Presentations and Panelists
“Tavolino di gioie”: The Mediation of Material Techniques in Late Cinquecento Hardstone Inlaid Tables – Wenyi Qian, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, University of Toronto, Toronto
Wenyi Qian is a Ph.D. candidate in early modern Italian art, with a focus on the relationship between artistic practice and knowledge culture of the period. Her dissertation examines the production of hardstone inlaid tables in late Cinquecento and Seicento Italy at the nexus of early modern craft knowledge, natural sciences, and courtly life and consumption. It aims to track technical crossovers between disparate artistic media and scales in the making of this genre of domestic furniture. She holds a BA in History of Art with Material Studies and an MA in History of Art from University College London. Prior to her doctoral research, she interned at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and worked as a convenor of academic programs at OCAT Institute, Beijing. This latter experience led to her interest in the historical formation of the discipline in Europe, as well as transnational intellectual exchange around the ideas of the arts and humanities across Europe, America, and East Asia over the last century. In addition to academic research, her translation of Victor I. Stoichita’s L’Instauration du tableau: métapeinture à l’aube des temps modernes is forthcoming by the end of 2022.
Mediating the Meaning of Textiles through Exhibition Displays in Israel, 1950s-1970s – Noga Bernstein, Marie-Sklodowska Curie Visiting Researcher, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Noga Bernstein is an art and design historian, specializing in modern craft in the United States and Israel, with a particular focus on textiles. She is currently a visiting researcher at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her current research project, funded by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship, investigates the history of textile art and design in Israel between the 1940s-1990s. She also works on a book manuscript on the US-textile design Ruth Reeves. Dr. Bernstein is a recipient of grants from the Smithsonian Institution, the American Council of American Art and the Center for Craft. She completed her PhD in art history at Stony Brook University in 2019.
Made in Japan: Development of the Poster Medium in Japanese Commercial Art and Design – Nozomi Naoi, Associate Professor of Humanities, Yale-NUS College, Singapore
Erin Schoneveld, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Director of Visual Studies, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania
Nozomi Naoi is Associate Professor of Humanities at Yale-NUS College with joint appointment at the Department of Japanese Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore. She specializes in modern Japanese art and the media environment and is the author of Yumeji Modern: Designing the Everyday in Twentieth-Century Japan (University of Washington Press, 2020; awarded the Honorable Mention for the John Whitney Hall Prize 2022). Her current project focuses on Japanese poster design and the role of department stores, designers, and global modernism during the early twentieth century and she is currently preparing her second book manuscript titled: Modern Design and the Japanese Department Store: Visualizing the New Lifestyle. She is also co-curating an exhibition on postwar Japanese posters at the Poster House Museum in New York, opening in March 2023.
Erin Schoneveld is Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures; and Associate Professor and Director of Visual Studies at Haverford College. Schoneveld’s scholarship and teaching engages with modern and contemporary Japanese art, cinema, and visual culture. Her book Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism: Art Magazines, Artistic Collectives, and the Early Avant-garde (Brill 2019) provides a critical framework for understanding the tensions between the local and the universal that accompanied the global development of modernism. Schoneveld’s current book project Naomi Kawase and the Future of Japanese Cinema examines the role of Japanese women directors within national and world cinema cultures by evaluating Kawase’s auteur status at the intersection of film history, reception theory, gender, and identity. Schoneveld is also co-curating an exhibition on twentieth century Japanese poster art and design at the Poster House Museum in New York, opening in March 2023.
Mine Craft: Design Histories of Mining – Ellen Huang, Associate Professor of Art and Design History, ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, California
Arden Stern, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Sciences, ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, CA
Ellen Huang, Ph.D. is a historian of material culture, art, and technology at ArtCenter College of Design (Pasadena, CA, USA). In addition to teaching and research, Huang is also a curator, having organized exhibitions through universities such as the Ackland Museum of Art (UNC Chapel Hill), University of San Francisco and the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, as well as for civic museums. Huang is finishing a manuscript about Jingdezhen porcelain as material design in late-imperial Chinese and global history. Huang has contributed to publications for museums, journalistic forums, and academic journals, including Archives of Asian Art, Journal of World History, Art&Object, Jewels in Buddhist Imaginaries (University of Hawai’i Press), the National Museum of Korea Research Series, and Oxford Bibliographies.
Arden Stern, Ph.D. is a design historian whose scholarship focuses on the intersecting histories of US labor, graphic design, and visual culture. They are currently an Assistant Professor of Humanities & Sciences at ArtCenter College of Design (Pasadena, CA, USA), also teaching in the Media Design Practices program, and have served as Visiting Faculty in the Department of Anthropology at Wayne State University. They have contributed to various scholarly and journalistic publications, including the Design & Culture journal, Design Issues, and Print magazine, and are currently working on a manuscript that analyzes labor and class histories of graphic design in the United States from the late nineteenth century through the present.
A prolific art historian and critic in the fields of 20th and 21st century art and the psychology of art, Jonathan Fineberg has shaped generations of students with his many publications and textbooks. As a long-time member of CAA, Fineberg describes his experience with the organization:
“Seymour Slive, one of my favorite art history professors in college told me I should join the College Art Association if I wanted to be an art historian. CAA was (is), he pointed out, my professional association! I signed up right away (in 1966) and have remained an active member ever since. I’ve served on the board, I started the “artist interviews” many years ago, I’ve chaired and participated in many sessions and committees over more than fifty years, and until COVID hit I think I only missed one annual conference – my personal protest against the racism and anti LGBTQ+ stance of the state of Louisiana (that was the year we went to New Orleans). I love CAA for the many things it does for artists and art historians.
In order to give back this year I decided that I have made my fair share of royalties on my survey book Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, so I took back the rights from the publisher and have given a high-resolution copy of the last edition to CAA for free download by any students and teachers who want it. You will find it here. I hope it inspires students to love contemporary art as I do and to bring them to join their fellow travelers in the CAA.”
CAA is immensely grateful for Fineberg’s generous donation to CAA, a digital version of his seminal work, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being, 3rd Edition. Fineberg is offering this publication at no-cost access to both members and non-members for three years. A valuable pedagogical resource at many universities, this text is out of print, which presents a problem for many art history professors and students who cannot obtain copies. We are grateful for Fineberg’s donation, and for his fifty-plus-year membership in CAA.
posted by CAA — April 14, 2022
CAA’s Art History Fund for Travel to Special Exhibitions is designed to award instructors of qualifying undergraduate and graduate art history classes funds to cover the costs (travel, accommodations, and admission fees) associated with students and instructors attending museum special exhibitions throughout the United States and worldwide.
The awardees for 2022 are:
Terri Geis, New York University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Course: “International Surrealisms”
Exhibition: Surrealism Beyond Borders, Tate London
Christopher Heuer, University of Rochester, NY
Exhibition: 59th Annual Venice Biennale, 2022, Theme: “The Milk of Dreams”
Allison Stagg, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany
Course: “19th Century American and German Landscape Painting: Gendered Connections”
Exhibition: Women, Art, and Land: Reframing the Hudson River School at the Thomas Cole Historic Site, Catskill, NY
Applications for the next round of grants will be accepted by CAA beginning in fall 2022.
posted by CAA — July 19, 2021
We’re delighted to announce fourteen scholars have been awarded Terra Foundation for American Art Research Travel Grants in 2021.
These grants provide support to doctoral, postdoctoral, and senior scholars from both the US and outside the US for research topics dedicated to the art and visual culture of the United States prior to 1980.
International Research Travel Grants for US-based Scholars
Thomas Busciglio-Ritter, The University of Delaware, “‘The Union of Excellences’: An Atlantic History of Early American Landscape Views (1790–1860)”
Ann Tartsinis, Stanford University, “Modernism in Pieces: Transatlantic Visual Culture Between the Wars”
Postdoctoral & Senior Scholars
Caroline Riley, Boston University, “Thérèse Bonney’s Photography: The Politics of Art, the Body,and War from 1920–1970”
Nadia Sethi, University of Washington, “Alaska Native Cultural Belongings held in Museums in Estonia, Finland and Sweden”
Kay Wells, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, “Uncanny Revivals: Designing Early America during the Rise of Fascism”
International Research Travel Grants to the United States
Max Böhner, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany, “Twilight Aesthetics: Queer Visual Culture in the United States Between 1945 and 1969”
Sarah Happersberger, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Germany, “Connection, Community, Kinship, Network: Women Artists Performing Togetherness in the Long 1970s”
Jacqueline Mabey, University College London, England, “This Must Be the Place: Mapping Artistic Kinship and Economic Change in Downtown New York, 1973–1987”
Ana Gabriela Rodriguez, The Courtauld Institute of Art, England, “Tracing Puerto Rican Graphic Arts: Bridging Workshops and Crossing Borders, 1940s –1970s”
Frances Varley, The Courtauld Institute of Art, England, “Identity, Provincialism and Modernism in the US and Britain from a Comparative Perspective, c. 1870–1914”
Wen Yao, The University of York, England, “A Travelling Surrealist: Mobility and Representation in Stella Snead’s Paintings, Photographs and Collages Made in the US (1940–1980)”
Postdoctoral & Senior Scholars
Dafne Cruz Porchini, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, “Jean Charlot: A French Artist in the United States and Mexico (1921–1944)”
Maria Stavrinaki, Université Paris I Panthéon–Sorbonne, France, “‘After History’: Variations on a Theme in the Art and Thought of the 1950s–1960s”
Emily Warner, Independent Scholar, “Abstraction Unframed: Abstract Murals at Midcentury”
We are saddened to learn of the passing of Robert L. Herbert, a visionary in art history and extraordinary teacher to many. He received CAA’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art in 2008. He passed December 17 of a stroke at 91.
Robert L. Herbert
In an extraordinary career spanning more than sixty years, Robert L. Herbert was remarkably consistent in a practice that has come to define the social history of art, which he described as “the moral and passionate … search for what paintings and drawings meant in the artists’ time.”1
As an undergraduate at Wesleyan University in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was fascinated by the history of science, an interest that encouraged his study of color theory in his dissertation on the nineteenth-century French artist Georges Seurat, completed at Yale University under the direction of George Heard Hamilton in 1957. By that time, Herbert had already been inspired by the work of Meyer Schapiro, who encouraged his lifelong commitment to socialism as a framework for political and intellectual development. Proud of his roots in a working-class New England family, Herbert resisted the formalist bias of his training, although he readily acknowledges a debt to those who taught him to look carefully at works of art and to appreciate the importance of technique and pictorial structure. From the beginning he always insisted that “the stuff of ordinary daily life should enter into art history,” and made it his goal “to restore the flesh of real painters and their culture to the bones of style and form.”
A desire to balance respect for the artist’s distinctive modes of representation with a socially and historically grounded reading of subject matter was a salient feature of Herbert’s research, which focused, for example, not only on the color and facture of paintings by Seurat and other Neoimpressionist artists, but also on the distinctive subject matter and the politics of their art. Recognizing that the prevailing view of Seurat tended to privilege his large-scale paintings, Herbert trained attention on his drawings in a book published in 1963; yet he also continued to explore the meanings of Seurat’s paintings, organizing a major retrospective exhibition on the hundredth anniversary of the artist’s death in 1991 as well as another, Seurat and the Making of “La Grande Jatte,” that was devoted to his most celebrated painting in 2004. In fact, many of Herbert’s most innovative and important contributions to the history of art have been made in the context of exhibitions, which require careful attention to individual objects in addition to the presentation of a unifying conception of the whole. For his first foray into this genre of scholarship, the 1962 exhibition Barbizon Revisited, Herbert wrote a catalogue that won CAA’s Frank Jewett Mather Award and precipitated a renewed appreciation of the work and historical significance of mid-nineteenth-century landscape painters such as Corot, Millet, and Rousseau, among others. His ambition for the exhibition was expressed in terms that convey his dedication to a particular kind of art-historical practice: “The purely historical treatment of art is bloodless. The real heritage of Barbizon art is in the paintings, and their vitality must be experienced in our viscera. Otherwise works of art are documents to be assessed, catalogued, and filed away. But there is a proper use of history, namely, to prod us into discoveries which release our imagination and permit us to rise to the realm of true poesis. An historical evaluation of Barbizon art will only have value if it succeeds in doing just this.”
Just as the study of Seurat’s drawings prompted Herbert to look carefully at Millet’s drawings and other work in articles and exhibitions of the 1960s and 1970s, so Seurat’s paintings eventually led him to the work of Fernand Léger, whom he considers to be Seurat’s descendant and a great practitioner of the craft of painting. Thus although Herbert’s scholarly reputation is bound to his work on nineteenth-century French painters—he has written books on Monet and Renoir, a survey devoted to the leisure subjects of the Impressionists, as well as the publications mentioned above on Seurat, Millet, and the Barbizon School—he has also produced significant scholarship on early-twentieth-century modernism. His first contribution to that field was an edited volume of ten essays, Modern Artists on Art, published in 1964. This was followed twenty years later by a detailed study of the large, diverse collection of European and American modernist art from the Société Anonyme that Katherine Dreier had bequeathed to Yale at midcentury and that Herbert had explored for many years together with his students. Along the way, Herbert developed research he had undertaken as a graduate student into a book, published in 1972, on David’s Brutus and its political significance in the context of the French Revolution; his commitment to the social history of art was also evident in a volume of selected art criticism by John Ruskin that Herbert edited in 1964 and for which he wrote an eloquent introduction that provided a thoroughgoing reevaluation of Ruskin’s significance from a variety of perspectives, demonstrating his acute relevance to the social history of art that Herbert was in the process of articulating at the time.
It is impossible to summarize Herbert’s contributions to art history simply in terms of his scholarly production, impressive as that output has been. He has also been an inspiring teacher of undergraduate and graduate students, setting an example in countless ways that go well beyond his commitment to scrutinizing original works of art alongside archival resources of the most diverse kinds. In addition to imparting these indispensable staples of the trade, he maintained an extraordinary level of personal and professional engagement with his students, loyally supporting their ambitions and celebrating their achievements, whether large or small. Refusing to be impressed by conventional measures of status, in 1990 he acted on his commitment to feminism by relinquishing his position at Yale in order to join his wife, Eugenia Herbert—whom he has always described as his greatest intellectual companion—on the faculty of Mount Holyoke College.
As professor emeritus and living in South Hadley, Massachusetts, he discovered a passionate interest in the life and work of a mid-nineteenth-century female botanist and illustrator named Orra White Hitchcock. “I’ve taken the plunge,” Herbert has remarked, “into the world of American women’s diaries, into travel diaries, and into the history of geology and the natural sciences, embraced in the broader spectrum of American social and cultural history of the middle third of the nineteenth century. It’s a new world for me, and I have no regrets at giving up French art history!” Subsequently he turned to exploring the history of Mount Holyoke and curated several exhibitions with James Gehrt and Aaron Miller.
He died December 17 of a stroke at 91 and is survived by his wife of 67 years Eugenia (Fi); children, Tim, Rosie, and Cathy; their mates, Mara, John and Chris; six grandchildren, and a wealth of friends to whom he was immensely devoted as well.
posted by CAA — October 05, 2020
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
12:00-12:30 PM (ET)
Free and open to the public
We’re delighted to introduce CAA members to a new series of conversations between Meme Omogbai, our executive director and CEO, and N. Elizabeth Schlatter, the president of the CAA Board of Directors. Amidst so much change in our lives, workplaces, and world, join CAA leadership for an informal chat on how CAA is reshaping its efforts to provide access and resources where members need it most. Meme and Elizabeth will speak on the economic implications of COVID-19, the urgent importance of members’ scholarship, and the changing terrain of this cultural moment.
For best results, we recommend using the most up-to-date version of Chrome as your web browser. The conversation will be recorded and shared afterwards.
We would love to hear your questions, too. Please send them in advance to: email@example.com
Meme Omogbai is Executive Director and CEO of College Art Association (CAA). Before joining CAA, Omogbai served as a member and past Board Chair of the New Jersey Historic Trust, one of four landmark entities dedicated to preservation of the state’s historic and cultural heritage and Montclair State University’s Advisory Board. Named one of 25 Influential Black Women in Business by The Network Journal, Meme has over 25 years of experience in corporate, government, higher education, and museum sectors. As the first American of African descent to chair the American Alliance of Museums, Omogbai led an initiative to rebrand the AAM as a global, inclusive alliance. While COO and Trustee, she spearheaded a major transformation in operating performance at the Newark Museum. During her time as Deputy Assistant Chancellor of New Jersey’s Department of Higher Education, Omogbai received Legislative acknowledgement and was recognized with the New Jersey Meritorious Service Award for her work on college affordability initiatives for families. Omogbai received her MBA from Rutgers University and holds a CPA. She did post-graduate work at Harvard University’s Executive Management Program and has earned the designation of Chartered Global Management Accountant. She studied global museum executive leadership at the J. Paul Getty Trust Museum Leadership Institute, where she also served on the faculty.
N. Elizabeth Schlatter is the President of the CAA Board of Directors and Deputy Director and Curator of Exhibitions at the University of Richmond Museums, Virginia. A museum administrator, curator, and writer, she focuses on modern and contemporary art and on topics related to curating and issues specific to university museums. At UR, she has curated more than 20 exhibitions, including recent group exhibitions of contemporary art such as “Crooked Data: (Mis)Information in Contemporary Art,” “Anti-Grand: Contemporary Perspectives on Landscape,” and “Art=Text=Art: Works by Contemporary Artists.” She also serves on and chairs various University and School of Arts & Sciences committees. Prior to the University of Richmond, she worked with exhibitions at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) in Washington, D.C, and in fundraising at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. She is author of Museum Careers: A Practical Guide for Novices and Students (Left Coast Press, Inc.) and a contributor to A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career (American Association of Museums). She has a BA in art history from Southwestern University in Texas, and an MA in art history from George Washington University.
posted by CAA — September 28, 2020
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Kanwal Khalid, Director of the Punjab Archives, Lahore, Pakistan, and an alumna of the CAA-Getty International Program.
Having spent my career as a university professor, I recently was appointed the director of the Punjab Archives in Lahore. This rich collection is one of the best in South Asia and I am pleased to share a description of the institution, which also includes a library and museum, with readers of CAA News, who will soon be able to access many of the collection’s materials online.
The history of every nation is important and documents that reveal a nation’s history become increasingly precious over time. The majority of these documents are held in archives—collections that are both accumulations of historical data and repositories of record. Pakistan contains many rich archival collections: The National Archives of Pakistan and the National Documentation Centre, both located in Islamabad; the Sindh Archives in Karachi; and the Baluchistan Archives in Quetta. But the oldest of them all is the Punjab Archives in Lahore, located inside the Tomb of Anarkali.
The Punjab Archives is significant both for the immense value of its holdings and for the historical importance of its building (Fig.1), which was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627). It was originally a tomb attributed to a woman named Anarkali, traditionally thought to be a concubine of Jahangir’s. According to the date written on the cenotaph, the monument was completed in 1615. The building has witnessed many ups and downs in its four-hundred-year history. After the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849, the building was used as storage for documents pouring in from all parts of South Asia that were under the control of the British Raj. Two years later it became a church used for Sunday services, but in 1891 it was declared a record office.
Punjab Archives Collection
The Punjab Archives (Figs. 2, 3a-b) holds one of the largest repositories of documents in South Asia and it is responsible for the safekeeping of official documents and records of the Pakistan government. It houses census reports, civil and military gazettes, official files, historical documents, manuscripts, handouts, brochures, pamphlets, maps, notifications, memoranda, lithographs, research papers, journals, magazines, newspapers and periodicals. Many of these cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The archive also includes a fine collection of miniature paintings and seals.
The records in the Punjab Archives date back to the seventeenth century and cover the Mughal, precolonial, colonial and postcolonial eras in South Asia. Primarily the collection consists of:
- Persian Record of Mughal Period, 1629-1858
- Persian Record of Sikh Period, 1799-1849
- Akhbar Darbar-e-Lahore (Daily Court Proceedings of Sikh Rulers), 1835-1849
- Persian Record of British Period, 1809-1890
- Old Persian Newspapers, 1840-1845
- Colonial Agencies Record, 1804-1849
- Record of Princely States in Punjab, 1849-1947
- Record After the Annexation, 1849 to 1947
- Record After Independence, 1947
The Archival Library
Sir Edward Meclagan served as chancellor of University of the Punjab (1919-1924) and Governor of Punjab (1923). He was a historian whose passion for knowledge is evidenced by his donation of rare and out of print books to the Archives. This initiative led to the establishment of a small but important library that still exists today.
The collection consists of biographies, reports and travelogues. Currently the library holds more than 70,000 highly valuable reference books. The oldest book is a memoir, Journal of Sir Thomas Roe, which dates to 1616 and recounts the author’s journey to different parts of India (Fig. 4).
Another person who played an important role for the Archives was Lord Malcolm Hailey. He went one step beyond his predecessor and established a small museum in 1924 in the central hall of the tomb (Fig. 5). This collection, still maintained today, contains portraits of important Lahore personalities (Fig. 6), along with paintings, prints, maps and lithographs. Mughal Farmans (proclamations), important official letters, old stamps, medals, weapons, and miniatures are also on display (Fig. 7).
For the past several years, the Punjab Archives has been in the process of digitizing its collection to improve accessibility to scholars. Approximately 500,000 pages of historic documents are currently being scanned and catalogued, precluding the need to move the fragile original documents, thus minimizing their wear and tear. A web portal will make these digitized documents accessible under the authorization of the Punjab Archives. This project is a first step towards a long-term strategy of modernizing the Punjab Archives and Libraries. To date, more then 120,000 pages have been digitized. Although the project was scheduled to be completed by June 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought all activities to a standstill. Once completed, the archives online services will be a primary resource for scholars throughout the world. In the meantime we are providing information to any researcher who contacts the Archives Department by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
International News: “My World Now Is Black in Color:” Pandemic-Era Programming, Anti-Racist Activism, and Contemporary Art in Italy
posted by CAA — August 11, 2020
The following article was written in response to a call for submissions by CAA’s International Committee. It is by Tenley Bick, Assistant Professor of Global Contemporary Art, Department of Art History, Florida State University, and the 2019–20 Scholar in Residence at Magazzino Italian Art Foundation, New York. A related essay, “Ghosts for the Present: Countercultural Aesthetics and Postcoloniality for Contemporary Italy,” will be included in an edited volume forthcoming from Lexington Books.
June 13, Milan. The 2006 monument to Italian journalist Indro Montanelli was found covered in red paint and tagged “razzista, stupratore”: racist, rapist. The intervention targeted the statue of Montanelli and the journalist’s past as a colonial soldier in East Africa. In 1935, Montanelli bought a twelve-year-old Eritrean girl, Destà, to serve as his wife under the practice of madamismo. Montanelli never apologized. The intervention ignited public debate in Italy on racism and public monuments, bringing the country popularly known for apathy toward its colonial and fascist histories, pervasive associated monuments and street names into renewed transatlantic debates on these topics. Four days prior, Italian-Somali writer Igiaba Scego, writing on anti-Black racism, Black Lives Matter, and monument debates in the United States and Europe in the Italian weekly Internazionale, made a call for Italy to confront the “uncomfortable traces of our past.” Citing an earlier intervention at the Montanelli monument in 2019, Scego noted the absent memorialization of Destà: “It would be nice if someone, whether a street artist or a municipality, dedicated a statue, a drawing, a memory to that distant child” (trans. Bick). Street artists and activists responded (Figs. 2–3). Cities did not. The Montanelli monument was cleaned and, by mayoral decision, remains in place.
One of the first hotspots in the COVID-19 pandemic, Italy was then emerging from a three-month lockdown. During that time, Italian museums (public and private) became leaders in innovative arts programming for a pandemic-era world. The Museo Madre launched an #iorestoacasa “call to action” campaign, publishing artists’ responses to the pandemic online; the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna invited and posted videos about its permanent collection; the Fondazione Prada produced podcasts and alternative exhibition encounters through its #innerviews and #outerviews programs, using social media as a “laboratory” for “new formats and codes” (@FondazionePrada, Mar. 18). This innovation has since extended to safety technology. Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo introduced wearable sensors to ensure social distancing—technology subsequently implemented by institutions of Italian art outside of Italy. Magazzino Italian Art Foundation (New York) is the first museum in the United States to use the technology, reopening with Homemade (cur. Vittorio Calabrese with Chiara Mannarino), an exhibition of work made during the pandemic by New-York-based Italian artists.
While the Montanelli debate coincided with a moment of reckoning for institutions in the United States and Western Europe, the overwhelming majority of art museums in Italy have not announced such programming, policy changes, or statements of solidarity. This inattention is not due to a lack of anti-racist social justice activism in Italy (Black Lives Matter Roma, Neri Italiani, the Stati Popolari movement, among others), nor is it due to an absence of Black Italians in Italian popular culture, especially in literature (Scego), cinema (Fred Kuwornu, Amin Nour), and music (Ghali).
A few exceptions demonstrate the potential for institutionally supported, sustained, collaborative programs to counter anti-Black racism in Italy. The Uffizi has partnered with Black Lives Matter Florence on a series of virtual programs to address “the presence of black culture in European art, told through the works of the Gallerie degli Uffizi” (https://www.uffizi.it/video-storie/black-presence). Organized by Justin Randolph Thompson, co-founder and director of Black History Month Florence (BHMF), in collaboration and partnership with the Uffizi as part of their On Being Present program, the eight-week series entitled “Black Presence” debuted July 4th with Thompson’s video discussion of a Piero di Cosimo work and continues with concerts and video tours on representations of Black Africans in Renaissance art. MAXXI, one of Italy’s major contemporary museums, launched a short-lived social media initiative: #MAXXIforblacklivesmatter. The campaign “aims in raising awareness and consciousness of the @blklivesmatter movement through art” (@museomaxxi). With eighteen tagged Instagram posts (most recently dated June 17), the museum posted images of BLM protests in Italy and works by African and African diaspora artists Robin Rhode, John Akomfrah, and Yinka Shonibare from MAXXI’s 2018–19 exhibitions. The initiative was highlighted on June 12 by Italian-Haitian-Ghanaian cultural curator and Griot founder Johanne Affricot in an essay for Artribune as a “necessary” if late action amidst the generally delayed response from arts and culture in Italy to BLM in comparison to the global context (“Black Lives Matter ma non in Italia. Il ritardo dell’arte e della cultura nel paese,” June 12). Program information is notably no longer available on MAXXI’s bio.
Beyond these varied efforts, Black artists have been included in major museum and gallery exhibitions, and Black curators have curated exhibitions at prominent museums, but these figures are almost always non-Italian artists and art workers. While Italy is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic (and multi-racial), the country does not track ethno-racial statistics (Reynolds 2018, BBC; Ambrosetti and Cela 2015). Instead, citizenship and place of birth serve as “proxies” for race and ethnicity (Ambrosetti and Cela 2015). This is one of many reasons—from racial laws under fascism to renewed racism in response to cross-Mediterranean migration—why Blackness in Italy is most associated with foreign identity (with populations of African migrants, immigrants, and residents) rather than with Italian identity as well.
Two Afro-Italian artists—Jem Perucchini (b. 1995) and Luigi Christopher Veggetti Kanku (b. 1979), both based in Milan—are making inroads that might change that. Perucchini made a series of portraits of Black Italians in history for Vogue Italia during Black History Month (see Jordan Anderson, Mar. 12, 2020) (Fig. 4).
Harper’sBazaarTV followed with a “visual interview” in mid-July. When asked “What colour is your world, these days?” the Ethiopian-Italian artist responded: “Certainly my world now is black in color. I think it is the color that is most suited to represent the situation that the whole world is experiencing, in terms of sanitary, economic, social problems” (interview by Laura Taccari, trans. Bick). At the end of lockdown, Perucchini had completed a large painting of the Stele of Axum: the ancient obelisk that Italy returned to Ethiopia in 2005, nearly seventy years after stealing it as war spoils (Zoom interview with Bick, Fig. 5).
Veggetti Kanku (represented by Galleria Rubin, Milan) has confronted the institutional and cultural marginalization of Black people in Italy directly. In late June, the Congolese-Italian artist held a soft opening of a new exhibition space in Milan’s center for Afro-Italian artists (Zoom interview with Bick, Jun. 29). Entitled The Office, the evenings-and-weekends-only arts space is a legal office during regular business hours. Veggetti Kanku’s monumental portraits of Black women (Fig. 6), intended to bring Black figures into (white) Italian bourgeois homes (Griot, Mar. 25; Zoom interview with Bick), hang in the space, to be inaugurated this fall with his solo show SOTTOPELLE: “A show dedicated to black women, inclusive of social status, a show that destabilizes and puts up for discussion the canons of strictly Western beauty in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic Italian reality” (Veggetti Kanku, email correspondence with the author, July 16, trans. Bick).
The museum complex now perhaps most directly engaged with Italy’s colonial history, the Museo delle Civiltà (home to Italy’s national ethnographic museum and partial repository of Italy’s colonial collection, formerly at the Museo Coloniale di Roma and various iterations that followed), has announced plans for a new museum (in development since 2017) dedicated to Italian colonialism in Africa (including postcolonial periods and an engagement with contemporary art): the Museo Italo-Africano Ilaria Alpi, to open in 2023. (See Scego, and Giulia Grechi and Viviana Gravano’s interview with colonial collections’ curator and cultural anthropologist Rosa Anna Di Lella in Roots–Routes). As Italy begins to address the presentness of its colonial past, the absence of Black Italian artists in Italy’s museums and galleries persists. What might a Perucchini or Veggetti Kanku exhibition look like at MAXXI or the Galleria Nazionale? What might happen if the innovation of Italian arts programming and centrality of the arts to Italian identity made space for the multi-ethnicity of Italy today? It remains to be seen if and how the country’s art museums and galleries—leaders in arts programming in many ways—will address racial inequity in their own collections.
We were saddened to learn of the passing of longtime CAA member Dr. Richard Brettell last month at the age of 71. Dr. Brettell was a tireless advocate for the arts, a well-respected scholar, former director of the Dallas Museum of Art, and founding director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at the University of Texas, Dallas. Read an remembrance by Jonathan D. Katz, Interim Director, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and Associate Professor of Practice in the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, below.
Richard (Rick) Brettell died July 24, 2020 in Dallas after a long battle with prostate cancer—and entirely characteristically, he was working until the very end. A tireless advocate for the arts in general, for French Impressionism in particular and for Texas artists and the local cultural scene, Brettell spanned genres, chronologies, nationalities and professions with an acrobatic grace. He was a world class scholar, a museum director and builder, and above all a connector, of people to ideas, of money to institutions, of museums in France to museums in the US, of friends to other friends. Seemingly limitless in his capacity to extend friendship and take it up again, I’m sure there are legions out there who think Rick was their best friend. A man of sure and independent judgment, Brettell was as thrilled to bring attention to an underknown or even unsung artist as he was to Gauguin, and approached both with the same profound curiosity and boosterism.
A graduate of Yale University, Brettell’s dissertation on Pissarro set the pattern for the rest of his life. Once he became interested in something, he would not only write about it, he’d also work up an exhibition spotlighting it—in this case, the very first international Pissarro exhibition, curated when he was still quite young. He turned his enthusiasms into scholarship with a speed and assurance that suggested he saw no difference between the two modes. And the goal was always the same, to kindle the viewer’s own enthusiasm, to seduce close looking and careful thought and make art history, art criticism, and art appreciation one and the same.
Initially hired as a professor at the University of Texas, in 1980 Brettell left Texas to become the Searle Curator of European Painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. Renovating and reinstalling the Art Institute’s vast European art collection hardly impeded the string of notable international exhibitions he curated, most centrally the one that earned him the honor of being named a Chevalier (Arts et Lettres) by the French government: A Day in the Country, Impressionism and the French Landscape. Because Brettell traveled in some of the most rarified circles in the country, his genuine friendships with some of the country’s wealthiest citizens made him a rainmaker in a class by himself. When he was a curator at the Art Institute of Chicago and I was still a grad student, I remember visiting him at the museum to ask about the whereabouts of a specific Gauguin painting, the subject of a paper I was assigned. Rick reached down to the safe at his feet, opened it, pulled it out and nonchalantly asked, “this one?”
In 1988, Brettell moved to Dallas to become the McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art. There he continued to develop important international exhibitions—including a new emphasis on the arts of Latin America and Africa—while also raising the funds to build a major new wing. In 1998, Brettell became the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Chair in Art and Aesthetic Studies at the University of Texas, Dallas (UTD). He would soon transform UTD, bringing in such transformational gifts as a huge endowment to build the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History. With the assistance of Margaret McDermott, in 2017 Brettell created a $150,000 bi-annual lifetime achievement in the arts award, The Richard Brettell Award in the Arts. The following year, he acquired the Barrett collection of Swiss art for UTD, consisting of 400 works, including a large percentage by the Swiss 19th/early 20th-century master Ferdinand Hodler. And last year, he helped UTD acquire the extensive Crow Collection of Asian Art, along with 23 million dollars to build a new museum, the second for the collection, on campus. A lifelong student of architecture, he helped to found the Dallas Architecture Forum. Many doubtless fondly remember his loud, enthusiastic, no holds barred architecture tours, where he would alternately vigorously praise and vehemently excoriate architects, and the houses and institutions they built.
Brettell was the author of numerous books and catalogs, including the editor of the forthcoming Gauguin catalogue raisonné. As a leading international specialist in French art history, he joined forces with his friend Elizabeth Rohatyn, then the wife of the Ambassador to France under Clinton, and Françoise Cachin, former Director of the French National Museums, to found an organization called FRAME (French/Regional/American Museum Exchange). He directed this project in cultural diplomacy bringing together twelve French and twelve American museums to cooperatively share works and develop exhibitions. For this effort, he was named a Commandeur in the French Order of Arts et Lettres. For decades, Brettell was loyally assisted by Pierrette Lacour, who shared his grand visions, but was rather more attentive to the nuts and bolts work of bringing them about.
Immensely erudite, opinionated, and frank, Brettell would assert that fame was no barometer of quality. He loved complicated, intelligent work regardless of the artist’s standing. He boosted Texas artists in general, and none more so than James Magee, an artist he frequently called the most underrated in the country. He was central to the ongoing effort to protect Magee’s extraordinary project in the desert outside of El Paso, The Hill, a hand-built mytho-poetic compound that has taken the bulk of Magee’s artistic life.
A famous raconteur, fabulous cook, witty tour guide, emotional lover of beauty and gossip, Brettell was roundly adored. He leaves behind his wife Caroline, his 94 year-old mother, his assistant Pierrette, and legions on every continent who basked, however briefly, in the warmth of his attention. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date. But those who wish to remember Brettell are encouraged to make donations to the University of Texas at Dallas’ Richard Robson Brettell Reading Room in the future UTD Athenaeum, which Brettell helped conceive.
Remembrance by Jonathan D. Katz.