Graduate Work

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    Launching Botany Hall

    On Thursday, March 29th, Colleen O'Reilly and I launched our collaborative project Botany Hall: Dioramas on Context in the Hall of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The event marked the launch of our online exhibition at www.botanyhall.com and provided an ideal opportunity for facilitating a cross-institutional, interdisciplinary discussion about art and science. This latter component was always an essential part of our project vision. Indeed, in our initial mock grant proposal (drafted in Spring 2016), we posited that our project would contribute to academic discussion on the politics of display, representation as a pathway to knowledge, and the lives and agencies of objects. 

    We were delighted to assemble a panel of individuals who contributed to our research process between 2016 and 2018. Lugene Bruno, Curator of Art & Senior Research Scholar at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, provided expert knowledge on the history of botanical illustration and helpfully contrasted 2D and 3D representations of scientific phenomena. Bonnie Isaac, meanwhile, is an in-house expert on the space we have been studying for two years. As Collection Manager of Botany at CMNH, Isaac manages the herbarium and has witnessed the evolution of the museum since 1989. Erin Peters, joint lecturer of curatorial studies in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Assistant Curator of Science and Research at the CMNH, straddles the line between art history and historical, scientific display, so has provided invaluable advice on this project since its inception. These individuals helped to generate a lively discussion about dioramas, display techniques, and collaborative work. 

    We were also pleasantly suprised by the number of attendees. Participants arrived from a range of institutions and disciplines: ranging from faculty and students from the School of Education and the Department of Art and Architecture at Pitt as well as staff from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Andy Warhol Museum, Hunt Institute, City of Asylum, and the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania. 

    Having launched the website and hosted an opening event, we are taking some time away from Botany Hall. We may do more with this project, but are allowing ourselves some time to write our own dissertations and reflect on the work we've done thus far. Feel free to send us feedback after perusing the website! 

    Categories: 
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    CFP, Contemporaneity Edition 8: “Yesterday’s Contemporaneity: Finding Temporality In The Past”

    Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture

    CFP, Edition 8: “Yesterday’s Contemporaneity: Finding Temporality In The Past” 

    In recent decades art historians across the discipline have offered new insights into how communities in the global past understood their own positions in time. For example, Marvin Trachtenberg has made the case that twelfth- and thirteenth-century European architecture articulated a form of medieval modernism. Conversely Paul Binski has argued for how the same material could be understood as not only innovative, but also firmly historicist in nature. Studies of eschatology in artworks ranging from Renaissance wall paintings in Italy to Pure Land Buddhist Mandalas in Japan have highlighted how people in the past used theology to conceptualize their own place in time in the face of an uncertain but infinite future beyond their death. Meanwhile, studies of the visual cultures that emerged under different eras of imperialism and colonialism have illuminated how local and foreign definitions of time, history, and contemporaneity could directly shape the identities of both conquered and conquering peoples.  

    Contemporaneity asks what it means to be contemporary. The term is often invoked in reference to the current lives of citizens of today’s world, but this edition seeks to highlight contemporaneity across a wider variety of historical contexts. The aim is to uncover how cultures throughout the global past have negotiated temporalities, modernities, and historicisms, to come to terms with what it means to be present in their own moment. How can both history and modernity be visualized, contextualized, or conceptualized to create a sense of contemporaneity? How have institutions created temporalities for the cultures they study, and how can a historical object or space shape a person’s perception of an entire culture’s identity or agency? What is at stake in defining a work of art’s place in time? 

    Submissions on all topics will be considered. Potential topics may include, but are not limited to: 

    -modernism, medievalism, and historicism 

    -modernity and history in a global context 

    -anachronisms, futurisms, and revisionist histories  

    -Orientalism and other uses of the temporal in cross-cultural exchange 

    -spoliation, re-use, and/or appropriation 

    -museums, the ethics of collecting and “Grand narratives” 

    -traditional or historical art and crafts and the preservation of style 

    -contemporary interventions on historical objects or sites  

    -creation myths, apocalypses, beginnings and end times 

    The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2018. Manuscripts (circa 6,000 words) should include an abstract, 3-5 keywords, and adhere to the Chicago Manual of Style. To make a submission, visit http://contemporaneity.pitt.edu, click Register and create an author profile to get started. Proposals for book and exhibition reviews, interviews, or other scholarly contributions will also be considered, and we recognize that these submissions may take many forms.

    Proposals and questions can be directed to the editors at contemporaneityjournal@gmail.com

    Contemporaneity is a peer-reviewed online journal organized by the History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh. Visit http://contemporaneity.pitt.edu for more information.

    Categories: 
    • Research Groups
    • Temporalities
    • Current Projects
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
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    Tracing the Influence of William Henry Fox Talbot: Thoughts on a Guided Tour at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Author: Krystle Stricklin

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    In early February 2018, a group of Pitt graduate students and faculty spent the afternoon talking all things Talbot with curator Dan Leers, during a special tour of the Carnegie Museum of Art exhibition, William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography. Organized by Leers, the show brought together more than 30 works by British photographer William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877), making this the largest collection of Talbot photographs displayed in the US in the last 15 years. During the tour, Leers discussed his vision for the show, highlighting key moments from Talbot’s long career, as well as the difficulties in displaying such fragile objects. 

    Talbot’s influence on the development of paper-based photography is undeniable, with his patented “calotype” process serving as a forerunner to the darkroom techniques that many photographers still use today. At the time, daguerreotypes reigned supreme, but required photographers to spend hours laboriously treating and polishing copper plates, and allowed for only a single image per plate.

    However, Talbot’s calotype process allowed for multiple prints and shorter exposure times, which in turn expanded the potential subject matter. One point that Leers highlighted in his talk, was the incredible range of subjects that Talbot tackled in the early years of his photographic practice. After reducing his exposure times from a few hours to just a few minutes or even seconds, Talbot set out to photograph the world around him, in an almost encyclopedic fashion.

    The photographs on display offer a broad sampling of Talbot’s interests, from landscape scenes, street views, and family portraits to pictures of ceramic bowls and glass vases, classical busts, botanical specimens, and even his mother’s treasured lace collection. He photographed the things and places that had captured his fascination early on as a young Oxford student, where he cultivated a passion for the arts, sciences, and the classics. As Leers reminded us, it was Talbot’s unceasing pursuit of knowledge and his role as a “gentleman scientist” that led to his innovations in photography – innovations that can be traced from this early moment in photography’s history through to today.

    For those who missed the show, which closed in February, do not fret. The exhibition was accompanied by a wonderful catalogue available online or through the Carnegie Museum of Art gift store, with brilliant reproductions of Talbot’s works, an introductory essay by Leers, and detailed captions by noted photo-historian and Talbot expert, Larry Schaaf. With Leers at the helm of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Department of Photography, I have no doubt that we can expect more exciting exhibits to come, rousing more dialogues about the varied and far-reaching promises of photography.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Paul Glabicki, Work in Computer Animation, Drawing, and Installation. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Forum Gallery/Carnegie Museum of Art. Courtesy of the artist

     

    Anxious Optics: Microcinema Series Celebrates Local Animator Paul Glabicki

    Author: Ben Ogrodnik

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and 2017-2018 Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education

    Paul Glabicki, Professor Emeritus of Studio Art at the University of Pittsburgh, has spent most of his career quietly but profoundly changing the world of animated film.

    From his earliest psychedelic experimentations with a Super 8mm camera, to his found-footage plunderings of TV commercials, to current interest in computer graphics, Glabicki has been concerned with animation as a vehicle for generating ideas, concepts and new modes of perception, rather than the Disney-ified usage of animation-as-entertainment that many of us may be used to. When you ask him to discuss his work, he frequently draws analogies with computers – his visuals “encode” new kinds of data directly to the viewer’s brain. He brings to the world of animation his deep interests in such fields as information theory, linguistics, continental philosophy, and classical music. His work has garnered numerous accolades in festivals around the world; and today, the prestigious Kim Foster Gallery in New York City represents him.

    Glabicki completed not one, but two MFA degrees at Ohio University, in Painting (1974) and Film (1979), respectively. He moved to Pittsburgh in the 1980s at the offer of a full-time professorship at Pitt. The city in this decade was a major hub for experimental animation. Local Pittsburgh animators such as Brady Lewis and Victor Grauer opened up new ways of seeing, through the cinematic manipulation of motion/movement. At the same time, the local film scene enjoyed a constant stream of visiting artists. Thanks to the presence of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s pioneering Film Section, founded by Sally Dixon in 1970, and led by Bill Judson from 1975 on, Glabicki recalls seeing leading animators present new work in person at the Museum, such as Robert Breer, George Griffin, and Suzan Pitt. Glabicki quickly made his presence felt in the community by serving as the Board Director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers; teaching courses on art and animation; and exhibiting his work at the Mattress Factory and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

    Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Glabicki’s work is that, as an artist, he has enjoyed critical success in both the film-world and the art-world – two disciplinary spheres which do not always intersect or tend to recognize the other’s interests as valuable. Indeed, many filmmakers complain they are neglected in the art-world, which prioritizes auratic, priceless objects, like sculpture or painting. Meanwhile visual artists oftentimes struggle to create films that “succeed” with audiences in a more theatrical setting. Neither one is the case for Glabicki. His dual affinity for film and fine art is most evident in his one-of-a-kind animation technique: each film is carefully crafted by means of thousands of hand-drawn images on paper – “each drawing representing both a frame of film and a unique, complete work.” In short, his films are, by their very ontology, multidisciplinary: they exist both as fine-art objects (drawings) and reproducible copies (films/videos).

    Indeed, Glabicki has been able to subsidize his time- and labor-intensive animated work (sometimes taking up to 4 years to complete a twenty-minute short!) by selling individual frames to collectors as stand-alone works.

    In the 1980s, Bill Judson would visit Glabicki working tirelessly in his studio on Pitt campus, just a stone’s throw from the curator’s Museum office. There, he witnessed the slow evolution of Glabicki’s films, which were later displayed as serial drawings in art spaces, as in the 1981 University Art Gallery exhibition, Drawings and Studies for Animated Film.

    The close fit between fine art and film resulted in many innovative exhibitions that broke down the barriers dividing these disciplines. For instance, Judson organized a solo exhibition of Glabicki’s computer-based work, Computer Animation Studies, in 1991, in the Forum Gallery. The installation work on display blended computer animation, drawing, and sculpture. In turn, the animated image fluidly moved across distinct formats and institutional spaces, from the traditional movie theater, to the Amiga computer screen, to the white-cube gallery walls of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

    On April 11, at the Melwood Screening Room, local audiences will once more have an opportunity to survey the boundary-crossing animated work of Glabicki, across three decades of his practice.

    In my role as Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education in History of Art at Pitt, I have been able to curate a retrospective of Glabicki’s animations to cap off the third and final installment of Pittsburgh’s Avant-Garde, a free microcinema series at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers media arts center. On April 11’s screening – “Anxious Optics: The Experimental Animations of Paul Glabicki” – the artist will be in conversation with Judson, discussing his hand-drawn animations from the 1970s and 1980s, and more recent computer-based works, such as Red Fence, 1999, which exist and circulate in multiple formats as video loop, installation, and feature-length films shown at festivals.

    The Pittsburgh Avant-Garde film series aims to “explore rarely seen works, and honor Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ legacy as a hub for artistic experimentation and innovation.” After our inaugural screening on visiting artist Stan Brakhage, and a subsequent event on important work by gay and feminist local artists, we are thrilled for an animation-centric event that celebrates a local filmmaker’s contribution to this important cinematic tradition. Much like his artistic predecessors Oskar Fischinger, Viking Eggeling, and Walter Ruttmann, Glabicki has transformed animation into a powerful bridge, opening up new connections across painting, drawing, and the moving image.

    For a complete list of works being shown, and other information about the event, please click here, or feel free to contact me directly. We hope to see you there!

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Update on Botany Hall

     

    This post was written by Colleen O'Reilly, PhD Candidate, Department of the History of Art and Architecture

    This past year has been filled with many productive developments and collaborations in relation to Botany Hall: Dioramas in Context. Aisling and I were very honored to receive support from the School of Computing and Information, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and the Cultural Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, and from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which allowed us to apply for an Interdisciplinary Humanities Grant from Pitt’s Humanities Center. These funds enabled us to present our project at two conferences in the fall of 2017. The first was the International Council of Museums Natural History conference, which took place at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in October, and was focused on the theme of the Anthropocene. We presented some of our research on Botany Hall to an audience made up of museum professionals and natural history curators, many of whom are working with dioramas and displays, both new and old, at their institutions. We were able to share our viewpoints as researchers, working from outside the museum to produce work that helps to put natural history dioramas in historical context, and contribute to a broader discussion about the responsibility of the natural history museum in relation to our contemporary environment. 

    In November 2017, we presented at the Museum Computing Network annual conference in downtown Pittsburgh. This was a completely different setting in which we had the chance to talk about diorama history to an audience of museum professionals who are specifically focused on how to use technology in their institutions. It was enriching to share our work on the potential of a digital exhibition for contextualizing natural history museum content, and to bring questions about the role of visual technologies in museums to bear on the dioramas themselves, thinking through their status as objects that mediate knowledge. You can hear our talk here

    With the support of the grant, we are now completing the first iteration of our online exhibition, and will be launching it with special panel discussion event at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in front of the dioramas themselves. This will take place on Thursday, March 29th from 4:30-6:00pm (write to me at cwo8@pitt.edu for more info and to register). We will be talking about the role that the dioramas play in the museum and the community, incorporating the perspectives of Pittsburgh experts in botany, botanical art, and environmental justice. We are looking forward to hearing reactions to our digital exhibition, and we anticipate that we will continue to develop it as Aisling and I move towards the ends of our PhDs and our next projects. 

    Categories: 
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Ph.D. Candidate Rae Di Cicco discusses Tlingit visual culture in the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    Bringing Tlingit Stories to Troy Hill

    Author: Rae Di Cicco

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Adding to the department’s many collaborations with local cultural institutions, I have been working with Stephen J. Tonsor, Director of Science and Research at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Stewart Urist, Managing Director at Quantum Theatre, to connect programming at the theater on Troy Hill to local collections.

    In December, I led a tour of the Carnegie’s Tlingit collection to the production and design team of Quantum Theater’s upcoming show, Inside Passage (March 2-25). Based on playwright Gab’s Cody’s true experiences, Inside Passage meshes Gab’s patchy memories of her early childhood in Alaska spent with her parents, step-siblings, and Tlingit foster-siblings with family lore and her true quest for reunification 35 years later. I will lead an additional tour of the Carnegie, open to the public, on Saturday, March 24th at 3:30pm.

    During the tour, visitors will have the rare opportunity to see objects outside vitrines, and learn about the importance of art and ceremony to Tlingit storytelling, adding important cultural context to the narrative of Inside Passage. The following is a text I was invited to contribute to the program for Inside Passage:

    “The push and pull of the ocean’s waves around the islands of the Alaskan panhandle are mimicked by the rise and fall of the tides, the pendulum of the seasons, and the growth of red cedar and its eventual disintegration back into the soil. The Tlingit (Klin-kit) people have called this landscape home for thousands of years, passing down stories of their origins in Southeast Alaska to younger generations. Prior to contact with Europeans, the Tlingit did not have a written language, but instead relied on oral storytelling to chronicle their own history. However, the foundational narratives of the entire Tlingit nation, in which the mythical creature Raven takes center stage, are the only broadly shared body of oral literature in traditional Tlingit culture. Other stories are viewed as clan histories. Dating to a time when animals could transform into humans, the origin of clans often entails an ancestor’s overcoming a supernatural foe, partnering with a mythical figure, or transforming themselves from an animal into a human, thereby establishing a new clan. Because they represent familial histories, only clan members have the right to tell such stories.

    Indeed, the Tlingit conceive of stories as important immaterial sources of wealth shared among clan members. This type of ownership is manifested within the narrative content and structure, means of transmission, and visual record of stories. Ownership is usually indicated within the story itself; characters represent important ancestors or mythological creatures representative of the clan in stories with morals about familial duty, respect for natural resources and the changing landscape, or the duality inherent in all creatures. Most overt announcements of clan ownership have been removed in textual publications of Tlingit stories, but within the culture, ownership of oral texts is recognized and respected by audience and storyteller alike.

    Tlingit oral tradition extends beyond verbal communication of narratives to incorporate artistic and ceremonial tradition as well. The stories are not meant to stand alone, and clan chiefs often commission totem poles to represent a chosen narrative to be shared at a potlatch ceremony. For a people with no written documentation, the potlatch ceremony gathered together members of the community at the host’s clan house to publicly share a piece of clan history. The totem pole would often be carved in secret, with only the commissioner and the artist knowing what story the imagery represents. At the potlatch, the totem pole – seen for the first time – is raised in stages. The pole rests on a log crutch intermittently to accommodate breaks for dancing and the explication of the story in successive acts. When the story and ceremony end, the sculpted poles stand as material reminders of the narrative they represent, while confirming the identity, rank, and social standing of the clan. The ceremonial act of storytelling thus canonizes events to a collective history while reaffirming the strict social structure of Tlingit society.

    Removing native children from this context divorces them from their clan histories, making them resource-poor members of the tribe, if they have access to indigenous culture after removal. Inside Passage balances the serious, and often heart-breaking, realities of Indian child welfare with a comedy that mirrors the tension and release seen in Tlingit oral tradition and artistic design. Much like the push and pull of the waves on Alaska’s coast, Inside Passage chronicles one woman’s separation from her indigenous foster siblings and her return, decades later, to the landscape of her earliest family memories. This is Gab Cody’s story."

    For more information about the tour, Inside Passage, and to purchase tickets, click here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Debuting Channel Silver Eye

    Author: Emi Finkelstein

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    As a first year graduate student in the History of Art and Architecture department at Pitt, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to explore the many museums and galleries that make up Pittsburgh’s art scene. During the “Unblurred” gallery crawl night on Penn Ave, I walked into Silver Eye Center for Photography, a non-profit gallery that focuses on contemporary photography. I was immediately impressed with the space; the large glass windows and adjoining bookstore reminded me of the kind of galleries you see in New York and London. The artwork I saw, from local and international artists, was new, engaging, and beautifully displayed. 

    As I worked through my first semester, I got to know the talented team behind the gallery: Executive Director David Oresick and the wonderful Communications Coordinator, Kate Kelley. It was Kate who first approached me with a new idea: wanting to get the HAA department more involved with the gallery exhibitions, she thought of introducing a micro-cinema programme, where graduate students could curate a night of short films for the community. I immediately agreed, and Channel Silver Eye, a series that aims to exchange knowledge and open lines of communication between the university and the art gallery, was born. 

    My screening, to be held on March 29th, will debut the Channel Silver Eye series to the public. As such, I have chosen to combine some of the themes most dear to my heart (and my research): feminism, materiality, experiment, and affect theory. In the process, Kate introduced me to the Video Data Bank, a media archive for moving-image art founded by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

    Using the organization’s database, I found the first two films in my screening: Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988) and Shigeko Kubota’s My Father (1973-75). I liked that both of the films dealt with the idea of family and loss through the lens of media. Kubota’s film is a mourning diary, where the artist comes to terms with the loss of her father through television and pop music. Meanwhile, Hatoum’s film deals with displacement and exile, questions of translation and distance (both physical and linguistic), through a series of letters written between the artist in London and her mother, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. 

    While the first two films were easy to settle on, I struggled to find a third film to balance out the evening; I wanted to find something more contemporary, with more humor, that reached beyond the idea of personal loss, and was made by an artist working in Germany, the country that my research centers on. Initially, I suggested Tacita Dean’s beautiful 16mm film Kodak, which explores machinery and workers in the soon-to-be-closed Kodak film factory in France; Kate reached out to Dean’s gallery, but the costs of printing and projecting a 16mm film far exceeded the modest budget Silver Eye had provided me. 

    Although we were disappointed, the staff at Silver Eye were patient and I was flexible. I spent a couple days exploring the recesses of UbuWeb, an online archive of avant-garde film, art, and writing, and eventually came across Hito Steyerl’s film Lovely Andrea, which ticked all the boxes on my wish list: it was made in 2007 by a German filmmaker/visual artist, included moments of humor, and, most importantly, located loss in a photograph rather than a person. The film follows the artist through a search for a bondage picture featuring Steyerl herself, taken 20 years prior in Tokyo, and uses restriction, archives, terrorism, and the idea of images to think about loss, censorship, and how pictures can act on their viewer.

    With the final lineup chosen, I named the screening “Imag(in)ing Loss: Media and Melancholy in Feminist Experimental Film” and began to write a short series of essays for the mini-catalogue that Silver Eye will publish alongside the event. I am so excited and honored to be kicking off this series, and to be able to introduce other graduate students and the Pittsburgh community to these amazing artists. 

    As a graduate student, it is important to me to get involved with the local arts community, and to share both my knowledge and work. Silver Eye has given me the opportunity and freedom to do so, and will continue to work with other graduate students in upcoming events for this series. On March 29th, I will be introducing my screening with a short talk, as well as hosting a question-and-answer session after the screening to open up a discussion of how material and loss, feminism and experiment, are portrayed in these three films. 

    I hope to see you there!

    Channel Silver Eye presents “Imag(in)ing Loss: Media and Melancholy in Feminist Experimental Film,” curated by Emi Finkelstein, PhD student in the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh.
    Silver Eye Center for Photography 4808 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15224
    Thursday, March 29, 2018 / 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
    More details and registration here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Toward a Critical yet Empathetic Eye for Exhibition Design in the Anthropocene

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Late October, Alex Taylor and Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh gave me the opportunity to attend a conference concerning exhibition in the Anthropocene at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. This opportunity enabled me to sit in on talks and discussions on exhibiting climate change, postnatural histories, and geologic time scales in contemporary ways. The University of Pittsburgh’s Colleen O'Reilly and Aisling Quigley's historical and digital work on Botany Hall in the museum and Richard Pell's keynote, The Missing Museum: Excavating Wonder and Curiosity, are exemplars in illuminating hidden histories through digital supplements and attention to provenance. 

    O'Reilly and Quigley presented their work on historically and digitally preserving and interpreting the pedagogical and artistic integrity of the museum’s Botany Hall. They illustrated the history of the dioramas as well as their provenance. Making a point to complicate that history, they discussed how the dioramas in their current state still argue for the dominion of man over nature. Reframing this modernist fallacy under the current conditions of the Anthropocene, O'Reilly and Quigley argue for the forefronting of prerequisite historical interpretation. They interrogated the assertion in the previous panel, that "dioramas are useful teaching tools," and maintained that objects in themselves, even with the aid of wall and brochure information, do not provide their own interpretation. Rather, as demonstrated in the preceding panel concerning the visually stimulating and interactive exhibits a the Natural History Museum of Utah, supporters of geologic, botanical, or biological knowledge must supplement the material in a historically oriented way. Within these questions of visual and historical representation, they offer a compromise: Botany Hall: Dioramas in Context is a work in progress that offers entrances to disciplinary knowledge in a pedagogical capacity. This compromise was echoed by audience members afterward, proposing the possibilities of social media, audio-visual, and Virtual Reality supplements to exhibition design. You can read more about their Botany Hall project here.

    Rich Pell's keynote began with complicating the seemingly evergreen dichotomy between natural and culture. He positioned his Center for Postnatural History as an intervention in this divide, a descendant of the first museum in the United States, Peale’s Museum in Baltimore,  Maryland. Peale's museum was dedicated to science, art, nature, and technology, a mission expressing the unity of cultural industries in the early history of the United States. “Sincere science,” as it were, put on display: conundrums, wonderful and curious things in the arts and natural world, wild and domesticated animals, and the awesome like. The postnatural, as an approach to the natural and unnatural world, posits that biological life has been intentionally and heritably altered by humans. The postnatural stems from this exhibition lineage and provides the foundation for the Center. His exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History debuted at the conference: We are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene, is a manifestation of innovative exhibition design and historical positioning.

    With the postnatural as the un/natural force behind his thinking, he argued that the Anthropocene is always in the background of our collections, that "we have always been collecting the Anthropocene.” He provided his artifact of the Common Grackle that was stoned to death by schoolchildren from a Pennsylvania school district. He forefronted this provenance of this artifact, a specimen intentionally altered by schoolchildren. Naming it an "ambassador of that moment," he pairs it with another artifact, a bald eagle shot to death during the Battle of Gettysburg. The bald eagle was witness to the Civil War, war being a notable arbiter of the Anthropocene. These artifacts are interlocutors between moments long passed and today. In his work at the Smithsonian, he uncovered and reconstructed a history of genetically modified organisms while documenting the people that brought specimens, recently killed by newly cleaned windows or quick-at-hand brooms, to the attention of the on-site collector. Security guards and secretaries then became arbiters of the museum’s displays of knowledge; they became wrapped up in the species’ and institutional history. It is in this ways that Pell validated provenance and attribution as critical historical markers in exhibit display in the Anthropocene.

    Pell defended his study and exhibition practice (though I do not think he had to!) when he said, “you might think what you’re looking at is boring,” that if you look closely enough something awe-inspiring happens. He invited us into the inspiring, frustrating, and wonderful dignity of “boring” research. Though he admitted that the spectacle will often supersede sincerity, an indebtedness to sincere inquiry will preserve the integrity of knowledge and the integrity of sincere exhibition practices. Same with O’Reilly and Quigley: updating our exhibition methods continuously within the shifting conditions of the Anthropocene will maintain the integrity of these spaces as mediators of systems of knowledge, especially today when those systems are under increased scrutiny, questioning, and in some cases, attack. These stories take intention and effort to unfold, as Pell states in Land, Animal, and Nonanimal (K Verlag 2015). I would like to add to the discussion that though a historically critical eye will help viewing these deceivingly complicated objects, I argue that intentional, tender attention to these objects—and an understanding that artifacts are not as simple as they appear—will engender a empathetic yet critically thinking audience, newly motivated to preserve the life and lives on this planet.

     

    Thanks to Colleen O'Reilly, Aisling Quigley, Deborah Danuser, and Rich Pell for the winding conversations supporting many of these observations.

     

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    José Díaz talking about the jar series Faghat Eshgh-Only Love, 2007

     

    On Farhad Moshiri’s Solo Exhibition at The Andy Warhol Museum

    Author: Golnar Touski

    Graduate student. History of Art and Architecture

    Farhad Moshiri: Go West, an exhibition curated by Jose Carlos Diaz, The Andy Warhol Museum’s chief curator, is currently on view at The Andy Warhol Museum. This is the Iranian artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, surveying two decades of Moshiri’s career.

    Moshiri rose to fame with his embellished, jeweled paintings adorned with calligraphic inscriptions of Iranian pop poetry. Over two decades, his works referenced the Iranian pop culture, calligraphy and decorative arts in dialogue with the prevalent American culture of entertainment and consumerism, ubiquitous in Iran of 1980s and 1990s. Often profiled as a Pop artist, his art defies categories of art commonly associated with the Middle East. He uses icons of the Iranian and ancient Persian art, but unlike his Iranian modern predecessors of the 1960 and 70s, he is not much interested in abstraction. Rather he employs visual markers of Middle Eastern art to comment on consuming an imagined Persia.

    In the context of The Andy Warhol Museum, Farhad Moshiri’s works find a situated-ness that otherwise would not be as visible to the Iranian and non-Iranian audiences alike. Seen in this context Moshiri initiates a dialogue with the Western imported pop culture, Western movies, Disney cartoons and French postcards on the one hand; and iterations of the Iranian consumerism on the other. Seen next to Warhol’s interest in and referencing of the American pop culture, Moshiri’s labor-intensive, elaborate remaking of popular everyday objects juxtapose infinite reproducibility with an obsessive hand-making of images; a way of making reproducible objects of one’s own by dense, rich textural adornment and adoration.  

    Moshiri’s art could be thought of as a playful manipulation of mechanisms of desire, labor and language. By flattening ancient objects in his famous jar series (Faghat Eshgh-Only Love, 2007) he generates a metonymy of the Ancient Persia, an imagined identity referring to everyday lives of Iranians who were exposed to the globalized capitalism especially during the years after the 1979 revolution and who found it necessary to define Iranian-ness in the face of an increasing political isolation of the country.

    Such artistic strategy also redefines objects linguistically, linking the Persian calligraphy, a form of “sublime” artistic production to consumerism. Moshiri notices how calligraphy, an art of Persian royal courts and a revered form of art practice became a commodity of the world of art and a marker of identity.

    But perhaps the most striking about his recent works, such as the Frosting Stories series, is their uniquely sensory quality. Viewing Moshiri’s art closely is a completely different experience. The glittery, ornate details strike a chord with the viewer's sense of nostalgia and desire; and it would be fair to say that the Iranian and American audiences both experience such an affective, visceral response. The rich textures and subtle details recreate the Persian 17th century architectural elements, Persian manuscript illumination and calligraphy, but in the shape of cake frosting and cheap jewelry; something thet one wants to touch, and taste. Something that is commodifiable Yet the commodities Moshiri offers us always entail an uncomfortable encounter that is either sexually charged or implicitly violent.

    Moshiri’s use of domestic labor is also worth noting. He employs local craftswomen whose specialty is making wedding dresses to create garish, glittery beaded surfaces and embroidered paintings; a form of low-brow, domestic art which was never taken seriously vis-à-vis sublimity of the Iranian Modern art movement of mid-1960s and 1970s. While the imagery is playful and cartoonish, the rich texture is indicative of hours and hours of labor, hence implying a subtle sense of discomfort in the contradictory co-existence of labor and consumerism.

    Moshiri was born in 1963 in the early years of the Iranian modern art movement; he is well aware of the legacy of the Iranian modern art as a form of 'committed art' which at the same time drew heavily on the EuroAmerican tradition of modernism. It so seems that Moshiri’s glittery, elaborate surfaces respond to a culmination of events before and after the Iranian revolution of 1979, when revolutionary aspirations of the modern art were replaced by a fervor to accumulate objects and consumption of identity.

    ___

    Golnar Yarmohammad Touski presented her response to a tour of the Fahrad Moshiri: Go West exhibition by Jose Carlos Diaz on October 20 at The Andy Warhol Museum. The above blog post records her comments and reflections on this occasion.

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  • Life Magazine, 1950

     

    Between Figuration and Abstraction: Rediscovering Stephen Greene

    Author: Alan London

    PHD Student, HAA

    I spent time this past summer researching some mostly forgotten twentieth century American painters who negotiated, in assorted individual ways, the treacherous mid-century intersections of figuration and abstraction. One of the most interesting of them is Stephen Greene (1917-1999) who, after an extended crisis of artistic confidence, was inspired by a 1958 series of six lectures by Clement Greenberg to change, abruptly, his painting style from Renaissance-inspired realism to a kind of refashioned color-field approach.  

    What luck for me to discover that the best before-and-after illustration of Greene’s turnabout is right here at the Carnegie Museum of Art, which owns an excellent example of each of Greene’s two major periods, Mourning (Five Figures with Candles) (oil on canvas, 1947) and Violet Light (oil on canvas, 1969). And what a boon to have the cooperation of Elizabeth Tufts Brown, CMOA Associate Registrar, and Hannah Turpin, Curatorial Assistant for Photography and Modern and Contemporary Art, in arranging for me to see these two paintings.

    Stephen Greene’s work is virtually unknown today, and most museums that own his paintings, including the CMOA, do not have them on display. But it was not always so. In the March 20, 1950, issue of Life, Greene was featured as one of the magazine’s nineteen best artists in the United States under the age of 36. And seven months later, in its October 23, 1950, issue, Life gave Greene his own two-page spread, citing him as a highly successful painter whose work was bought up quickly by important museums and collectors. The CMOA picture, Mourning, while not reproduced in the article, is clearly in the same formal and emotional mode as his works about Holocaust themes that Life did reproduce, with the same dry, chalky tonality and the same bald, manikin-like figures, sharing space and sorrow but not communicating. Indeed, several of the figures in Mourning are variations on the candle-holding mourner in The Burial.

    It’s rare to find examples of Greene’s figural work on the market, but there are plenty of opportunities to see his abstract paintings. In 2016, the Jason McCoy Gallery in New York had an exhibition of Greene’s large abstract paintings from the 1960s, curated by the artist’s daughter, Alison de Lima Greene, the Chief Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Although the color worlds of the paintings in the 2016 exhibition are different from that of the CMOA’s example of Greene’s abstract work, Violet Light, the general formal impression the viewer gets is similar. As Ms. de Lima Greene explained in an exhibition presentation accessible at the above website: “As gesture and hue gained in importance, [Greene] brought a new quality of light to his paintings, working through subtle layers of oil washes, and bringing a quiet drama to his nuanced orchestrations of primary and secondary colors. At the same time, he allowed certain shapes to resonate, and fragments of ladders, props, and the human anatomy persist like latent memories.”  In my encounter with the later Greene picture in the CMOA collection, I see a boomerang (or a wishbone), a disposable razor, and maybe a kidney, all disbursed among the soft mauves and greys and brighter orange flashes of Violet Light.

    If I consider Stephen Greene as a case study in my dissertation, one theme through which his work could be explored could be that proposed by Michael Fried (who in the 1950s was Greene’s student at Princeton, as was Frank Stella) in a May, 1963, Arts Magazine article titled The Goals of Stephen Greene. “The crucial problem raised by Stephen Greene’s work is this: can a painter today make paintings which are meant to express a particular mood or attitude toward reality and which yet manage to satisfy the imperious and rather restricting demands of a sensibility trained on the abstract painting of the past twenty-five years?”

    This remains an important question for the history of midcentury American art. The museum records that Elizabeth and Hannah were kind enough to share with me suggest that Mourning was a museum purchase in 1982 using the A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund and that Violet Light was donated to the museum in 1983 by the art dealer from whom Mourning had been purchased.  There appears to be no record of either painting ever being exhibited in the Museum’s galleries, a fascinating reflection of Greene’s own position within the shifting sensibilities of American painting during and since the 1950s.

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