Graduate Work


    Local Collectors and Global Gestures

    Author: Alex Taylor

    Assistant Professor and Academic Curator, History of Art and Architecture

    In a new collection display at the University Art Gallery (UAG), Pitt graduate students Emi Finkelstein, Rebecca Giordano, Adriana Miramontes, and Brooke Wyatt conducted object research on a group of abstract paintings from the late 1950s and early 1960s by artists from Britain, Japan, India, Italy and Venezuela. The result is an exhibition titled Global Gestures: Post-war Abstraction from the Lowenthal Collection, open until March 21, 2019.

    These works were all donated to the UAG in the 1980s by Oakland-based collectors Anne and Alexander Lowenthal and their children. The Lowenthals were actively involved in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community and enthusiastic art collectors, purchasing works from the Carnegie International and on their travels around the world. In addition to their donations to the University Art Gallery, their collection was also donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery in Washington, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

    Their eclectic collection included eighteenth-century furniture, nineteenth-century French prints, Persian ceramics and twentieth-century paintings such as those included in the exhibition.“It’s more than collecting pieces or donating,” Anne Lowenthal once told an interviewer, “it’s important to us because this leads to a global vision." The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) records held by the University Library System includes oral history interviews with both Alexander and Anne Lowenthal that explore their diverse cultural interests.

    The works that the Lowenthals donated to the UAG exemplify just such a global vision. The centerpiece of the exhibition is Painting (1959) by Indian modernist painter V.S. Gaitonde (1921-2001) which was cleaned and treated by Rikke Foulke Fine Art Conservation for the occasion. Gaitonde’s was the subject of a major retrospective V. S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2015, and was recently featured in The Asia Society’s exhibition The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India.

    As Giordano explains in her label on Gaitonde’s work, his is a “modernist painting that is no mere imitation of western modes, instead pursuing hybrid forms that engaged with the crises and questions of India’s newly post-colonial society.” Japanese abstraction too had, as Wyatt uses the work of Hiroshi Kunimata to explain, “emerged from a repressive wartime climate into a period of intense activity.” Across all of the works in the exhibition, the political entanglements of post-war abstraction emerge as a persistent thread.

    The social resonances of these paintings are further revealed by the titles of several works that exploit the boundaries between abstraction and figurative content. In her account of Saroni’s work, Finkelstein notes how the Sergio Saroni’s Natura Morta di Carne uses a thick impasto to suggest the “tactile, visceral effect” of its titular subject, while Bernard Farmer’s Meridian deploys sharp linear and curved forms to suggest the ‘divisions in time and space’ marked by the prime meridian at Greenwich.

    Other works point towards the engagement of their makers with the broader expansions of avant-garde practice in the post-war decades. In Alberto Collie’s Spatial Rhythm #7, for example, Miramontes connects its formal expansion beyond the limits of the frame to the artist’s own ‘floating sculptures’ and more broadly, to the embrace of space, light and motion by many Latin American artists of the period.

    Global Gestures: Post-war Abstraction from the Lowenthal Collection is open until March 21, 2019.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Mapping Mobility in the UAG

    Author: Ellen Larson

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and University Art Gallery graduate fellow

    As University Art Gallery (UAG) graduate fellow, I am collaborating with HAA Professor Michelle McCoy, along with five undergraduate students on a pop-up exhibition to take place in the UAG mid-March. This exhibition supplements Professor McCoy’s HAA 1010: Approaches to Art History undergraduate course, focusing on Chinese art objects within the UAG collection. Students selected Chinese work, as a means of initiating in-depth original research on themes and ideas related to the art objects themselves or broadly connected to socio-cultural contexts from which these materials emerge. 

    In my role as a curator and mentor to undergraduate students, I am working with the class to conceive a short-term exhibition that presents these objects as portable agents of culture, whose value lies not only within the realm of connoisseurship and museum collecting, but also as transient catalysts of new knowledge activated through their physical positions within an exhibition-setting. Rather than uncovering specific temporal histories, the exhibition seeks to extend spatial and thematic connections between works centered upon mobility and exchange. 

    Selected artworks include ink paintings by Chinese master painter, modern nomad, and notorious forger Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Following the Communist takeover and subsequent establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the Mainland in 1949, Zhang Daqian traveled to Macau, Argentina, Brazil, and Carmel, California, before settling in Taipei in 1978. Other featured works include rubbings depicting seventh-century Buddhist monk Xuanzang, whose travels led him to regions throughout central Asia including parts of modern India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Xuanzang’s writings inspired the sixteenth-century Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. Additional objects include a selection of Chinese snuff bottles, whose aesthetic utilitarianism is juxtaposed with the non-utilitarianism of a ritual ceramic vessel displaying the abstracted character , meaning “good fortune.” This object references a common practice of pasting the upside-down character  in one’s doorway, allowing good fortune to descend upon the dwelling, as the words for “upside-down” and “to arrive” are homophonous. This is further suggested by the same Chinese term, which indicates the performative action of pouring liquid from a vessel. While the selection of snuff bottles and  ritual vessel are commodity objects, the latter serves as a striking example of totality found within the context of written language, material objects, and ritual practice. 

    Echoing the words of Susan Stewart, this particular presentation of objects replaces the notion of origin with classification, presenting “temporality as a spatial and material phenomenon.” [1] In addition to displacing one’s understanding of time, the collection’s relational organization highlights the exhibition’s function as a three-dimensional map into which gallery visitors are invited to physically enter. These objects represent points of exchange and connection; concealed and revealed only through their spatial relationships to each other. Thus, new knowledge is produced through space, and is further activated through the creation of multiple networks that traverse and transition from Pittsburgh to China, and beyond. 

    [1] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1984), 153. 


    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Musée Yves Saint Laurent, installation detail, Paris, France


    Fashions Far Afield and Close to Home

    Author: Emily Mazzola

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and 2018-2019 Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education

    I arrived three years ago at Pitt, just as excitement over fashion exhibitions began to take hold here with the opening of Killer Heels at The Frick Pittsburgh. Due to my interests in gender, identity, and museum display practices, I was encouraged to research and write about the clothing exhibitions happening across Pittsburgh. I quickly discovered, however, how unprepared I was to take up this research. I needed to read, see, and experience more. So I created a grant proposal and travel itinerary that took me to some of the largest fashion collections and fashion exhibiting institutions in Western Europe. Four weeks, ten cities, and thirty-five museums—I spent the month of July fully immersed in fashion displays and clothing history. Exploring how museums across London, Paris, and Amsterdam tell stories using clothing, create spaces for audiences to imagine new bodily experiences, and position fashion in relation to the history of art. 

    But, as is often the case when we leave home in search of something new, I discovered upon returning to Pittsburgh, something fashionable and novel just beyond my own front door—The Frick Pittsburgh’s latest exhibition Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper (open through January 6, 2019). Fashioning Art from Paper is an exhibition of meticulously crafted paper gowns spanning the history of art and dress. Reveling in the materiality of its objects and witty trompe l’oeil that transforms paper pulp into silk, velvet, and pearls—Fashioning Art from Paper offers a compelling meditation on the ways fashion exhibitions continue to connect with museum audiences. 

    Chief Curator Sarah Hall’s display strategies facilitate object movement, an approach that replicates the ways fashion and dress history exhibitions empower viewers to imagine engaging with garments beyond their bodily experience. But in Fashioning Art from Paper the garments are not clothes, and the spaces opened up by the exhibition for viewers to image new tactile experiences give way to questions and desires about creativity rather than consumption.  Upon entering the exhibition viewers are greeted with the costumes of the Ballet Russes gently twirling in the air. Paper tutus mounted from the ceiling dance with the audience when they move around the rotunda in a captivating call and response. Paper, however, does not flutter the way tulle does, and the interest usually sparked by garment movement in fashion exhibitions to wear, feel, and possess the clothing gives way to new curiosities regarding the transformation of paper, tape, and glue into dazzling garments. In fact, Hall revealed during a private exhibition visit, that one of the primary audience responses was not the urge to touch or wear the garments, but a desire create paper fashions of their own.  

    The seeming accessibility of de Borchgrave’s process and materials is amplified by the ways Fashioning Art from Paper plays with fashion curation’s emphasis on craftsmanship and handwork, replacing academic appreciation of technical skill with wit and clever visual illusions. Fashion exhibitions, especially haute couture shows, highlight the skills required to uphold the traditions of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Fashioning Art from Paper’s embrace of trompe l’oeil turns this element of fashion display on its head. It is not the intricate embroidery or beadwork that draws the viewer in, but de Borchgrave’s mimicry of it. Tongue and cheek details reveal the artifice of the paper garments. For example, in de Borchgrave’s Medici Series, the trappings of Renaissance wealth, such as gold pendants and chains, are rendered as single pieces of cut paper. By refusing to model the heft and weight of Florentine gold, the artist lets the viewer in on the joke, revealing her sleight of hand.    

    Fashion exhibitions continue to draw museum audiences in part because they create spaces for engaging with objects that are once relatable and familiar yet sensorially foreign, providing opportunities to imagine bodily experiences beyond the realm of our everyday experiences. But in Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper the viewer is not asked to imagine the tactile sensations of Baroque silk, but rather how paper can be painted, torn, and embellished to emulate it. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Keynote and Response


    Motivating Monuments, Reflections on the 2018 Graduate Symposium

    Author: Sarah Conell, HAA graduate student

    The first weekend of November, the History of Art and Architecture Department (HAA) graduate students hosted our bi-annual symposium entitled Motivating Monuments: Defining Collective Identities in Public Spaces. We were honored to have as our keynote Jacqueline Jung, associate professor at Yale University. Her talk, “From Cathedral to Monument: Abundant Histories at Reims & Naumburg,” was delivered at the CMOA Theatre, and unfolded the biographies and stakes of two architectural examples in relation to local and global communities. A rich discussion unfolded, thanks in large part to the keynote respondent and HAA professor, Kirk Savage. This valuable conversation kicked off an inspiring event, including the impressive work of ten graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who traveled nationally and internationally to participate. Together, we had the opportunity to reflect on some of Pittsburgh’s own local monuments, including a tour and discussion of the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning. 

    When we began to develop the idea of this symposium, we found it useful to organize thematically around the moments of creation, modification, and destruction of works in public spaces. What emerged when organizing the sessions, however, were richly engaging approaches to temporalities, the built environment, and the body. These groupings are a product of our broader Constellations model in HAA. The faculty respondents to each of the sections (Christopher Nygren, Jennifer Josten, and Shirin Fozi respectively) teased out the rich connections within these themes and brought together, into fresh and timely dialogue, the presenters’ topics that spanned time periods and geographies. 

    The event was a rewarding success as a product of year-long planning and organizing. With a delegation structure, a website hosted on university servers, and new relationships with local vendors, we have established a transparent foundation for future organizers, building on the pioneering work for the Debating Visual Knowledge symposium of 2014. We have reworked the website begun that year, to be more useful for future graduate student organizers of varying levels of proficiency in website design and management. We have worked with local Pittsburgh printmakers to strengthen artistically minded bonds in our own city. By refocusing and clarifying the procedural and planning knowledge, which is passed down through graduate student generations, we hope our efforts this year will continue to bear fruit as future symposia continue to shape the University of Pittsburgh as a fertile institution for current, diverse, and gainful conversation–an international hub for scholars. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Visitas guiadas en español en la UAG


    Cruzando las fronteras del lenguaje en la Galería de Arte de la Universidad

    *You can read this text in English below the Spanish version 

    Autora: Adriana Miramontes, estudiante de doctorado en HAA

    ¿Cómo puede la Galería de Arte de la Universidad (UAG) relacionarse con más audiencias e incrementar su presencia y visibilidad en la universidad y en la comunidad? Este semestre de otoño y como parte de una iniciativa de alcance y de programas educativos, más de 110 estudiantes del Departamento de Lingüísticas y Literaturas Hispanas de Pitt visitaron la Galería de Arte de la universidad. De estos estudiantes, el noventa y dos por ciento declaró en encuestas que esta había sido su primera visita. Uno de estos estudiantes escribió: “fue una experiencia que probablemente yo no hubiera recibido si no estuviera en esta clase. Fui sacado de mi zona de confort.”

    Los estudiantes registrados en Español Intermedio 3, Español Intermedio 4 y Conversación participaron en visitas guiadas en la galería de arte y las exhibiciones Desempacado: exposición de ex-alumnos del 50 aniversario Esto no es lo ideal: mitos de género y su transformación. Todas las visitas guiadas fueron llevadas a cabo en español e incluyeron un breve recorrido del claustro y un análisis más profundo del arte contemporáneo y de las exposiciones temporales. Además de incluir la discusión de temas vigentes relacionados con el cuerpo, la cultura popular, el tiempo, la identidad de género y violencia de género, el objetivo de estos recorridos es crear espacios alternativos en donde se pueda practicar la diferencia y donde la diversidad pueda ser celebrada. Como mujer mexicana que aspira a ser profesora en los Estados Unidos, afirmar el valor de la diferencia cultural en las aulas en un asunto de gran importancia para mí.    

    En los trece años que llevo estudiando y trabajando en los Estados Unidos esta es la primera vez que interactúo con estudiantes con conversaciones en español dentro de un espacio académico. Antes de mudarme a Pittsburgh yo vivía en Texas en donde el español es comúnmente hablado y es un factor importante de la vida local cultural; sin embargo, aquí en Pensilvania, en donde la población Hispana o Latina es mucho menor, el comunicarse en español ya no es parte de mi vida diaria. [1] Regularmente mis conversaciones en español ocurren únicamente con mis colegas del Departamento de Historia del Arte y Arquitectura. Esto es especialmente cierto ahora, en esta época en la que los mexicanos somos frecuentemente difamados por el presidente Trump. En el clima político presente, debo admitir que ha sido tanto desafiante como intimidante el expresar mi lengua y cultura. En este contexto, la galería y las visitas guiadas me han provisto del valor y el espacio necesarios para interactuar en mi idioma natal con gente que proviene de una gran variedad de ambientes y de diferentes disciplinas académicas dentro de la universidad. La UAG me ha proporcionado un “espacio seguro” en donde puedo interactuar con otros y orgullosamente presentar mi idioma. Por consiguiente, mis interacciones con estudiantes del Departamento de Lingüísticas y Literaturas Hispanas han sido no solamente revitalizantes e instructivas, sino también personalmente gratificantes.   

    En estas visitas guiadas de 50 minutos los estudiantes participan en conversaciones, contestan preguntas y completan una hoja de trabajo sobre las obras en exposición. Asimismo, al hablar, leer, y escribir en español practican sus habilidades y conocimientos. Mientras que las dinámicas de aprendizaje se vuelven más interactivas con el estudio basado en objetos y fuera del salón de clase tradicional, los estudiantes han manifestado su entusiasmo acerca de sus visitas a la galería. Así se expresó un estudiante al respecto: “aprendí mucho sobre el arte y algunas ideas artísticas. Mejoró mi habilidad de interpretar el arte. [La visita guiada] mejoró mi habilidad de escuchar, [era] más complicado escuchar a alguien que nunca antes había conocido. [Yo] tenía que pensar en español ideas complicadas sobre el arte.”

    Con la variedad de temas desafiantes presentados en la Galería de Arte de la Universidad, las visitas guiadas en español, y las estrategias de aprendizaje basadas en objetos, la diversidad y el entendimiento están siendo promovidos y practicados. Debido al continuo llamamiento al cierre de fronteras entre Estados Unidos y México por parte de la administración, creop que ahora más que nunca la necesidad de que otras culturas y lenguajes permanezcan activos y presentes en nuestras comunidades es crucial. La oportunidad de poderse comunicar en un idioma extranjero no es solamente una habilidad necesaria en el contexto de un mundo globalizado, sino una habilidad que creo es esencial para combatir el racismo. Estas visitas son un importante primer paso, pero es necesario hacer mucho más aquí en el campus. En nuestros esfuerzos por alcanzar una audiencia más grande y crear una universidad y una comunidad más diversa y compasiva, nos seguimos preguntando, ¿qué más se puede hacer para promover un campus inclusivo y una mayor pluralidad de voces, culturas, e idiomas en nuestra sociedad?

    [1] “Fast Facts: Pittsburgh Campus,” Office of Institutional Research, University of Pittsburgh, consultado 28 de November 2018,


    Crossing the borders of language at the UAG

    Author: Adriana Miramontes, HAA graduate student

    How can the University Art Gallery (UAG) reach different audiences and increase its presence and visibility on campus and in the community? As part of an outreach initiative and education programming this Fall semester more than 110 students from the Department of Linguistics and Literatures at Pitt visited the University Art Gallery. Of these students, ninety-two per cent declared in survey forms that it was their first visit. As one student wrote: “It was a new experience that I probably wouldn’t have received if I wasn’t in the class. I was taken out of my comfort zone.”

    The students enrolled in Intermediate Spanish 3, Intermediate Spanish 4, and Conversation were introduced to the art gallery and to the exhibits Unboxed: 50thAnniversary Alumni Exhibition and This is Not Ideal: Gender Myths and their Transformation. All the different tours were conducted in Spanish and they included a brief tour of the cloister and a more in-depth discussion of contemporary art and the temporary exhibits on view. The tours have been highly interactive, prompting questions, discussion, and close looking. In addition to discussing relevant topics related to the body, popular culture, time, gender identity, and gender violence, the goal of these tours is to create additional spaces where difference can be experienced and diversity is celebrated. As a Mexican woman who aspires to be a professor in the United States, asserting the value of cultural difference in our classrooms is a matter of great personal significance for me.

    In the thirteen years I have been studying and working in the United States this is the first time that I engage with students in Spanish conversations within an academic space. Before moving to Pittsburgh I lived in Texas where Spanish is often spoken and is an important part of local culture; but here in Pennsylvania, where the Hispanic or Latino population is much smaller, speaking Spanish is no longer a part of my daily life. [1] Regularly my conversations in Spanish occur only with my colleagues in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. This is especially true now when Mexicans are frequently maligned by President Trump. In this political climate, I must admit, it has been both challenging and frightening to embrace my language and culture. Against this backdrop, the gallery tours have given me the necessary courage and space to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds and academic disciplines across the university in my first language. The UAG itself has provided me with a “safe space” where I can interact with others and proudly embrace my language. Thus, my interactions with the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures have been not only refreshing and instructive but also personally rewarding.

    In these 50-minute tours the students engage in conversation, answer questions, and complete a worksheet on the artworks exhibited. Their speaking, reading, and writing abilities are all practiced in these sessions. The tour dynamics are more interactive than the traditional classroom, offering object-based study and as a result the students often express their enthusiasm for visiting the gallery. As one student commented, “I learned a lot about art and some artistic ideas. It improved my ability to interpret art. [The tour] improved my listening ability, [it was] more difficult to listen to someone I’ve never met before. [I] had to think about complicated art ideas in Spanish.”

    Through the challenging topics presented by the University Art Gallery, the Spanish tours, and object-based learning strategies, diversity and understanding are being encouraged and practiced. Due to the the current administration’s continued call for the closure of the US-Mexican borders, now more than ever, it seems, the need for other cultures and languages to remain active and present in our communities cannot be overemphasized. The opportunity to communicate in a foreign language is not only a necessary skill in the context of a globalizing world, but one I believe is increasingly crucial for combating racism. These tours represent an important first step, but there is still more that can be done here on campus. In our efforts to reach larger audiences and continue creating a more diverse and compassionate university and community, we continue to ask ourselves how we can foster a more inclusive campus that promotes a plurality of voices, cultures, and languages in our society?

    [1] “Fast Facts: Pittsburgh Campus,” Office of Institutional Research, University of Pittsburgh, accessed November 28, 2018,

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Gallery discussion: Art History in the #MeToo Era


    From #MeToo to What Now?: Coping with Sexualized Violence in Art History

    Author: Nicole Scalissi, HAA graduate student

    In mounting This is Not Ideal: Gender Myths and Their Transformation the curatorial team wisely produced a slate of public programming to create space for community processing, discussion, dissent, and response to the challenging and often difficult content in the exhibition. The first of these events was an open discussion for us—students, instructors, curators, artists, and members of the public—to talk about what it means to engage with artworks that show gender-based and sexualized violence in the era of #MeToo.

    In 2017, #MeToo became a viral hash-tag following high-profile and celebrity disclosures of sexual abuse, and spawned a public referendum on sexualized violence. Me Too was originally founded by Tarana Burke and had been helping survivors, especially women and girls of color, find pathways to healing since 2006. Our open discussion was intended to be a space for offering up questions and sharing knowledge about how can we rethink how we (or do we) include—in our galleries, research, and classrooms—artworks that directly engage with gender-based and/or sexualized violence in the Me Too moment? With contributions from Sylvia Rhor, Curator and University Art Gallery Director, and artist Sarika Goulatia, the discussion was provoked by the sophisticated curation process of the Museum Studies students who produced This is Not Ideal, and it’s a big question that some museums, artists, and universities are only starting to grapple with publically. 

    On the one hand, that seems like an over-due question: isn’t it about time? On the other hand, this is a profoundly difficult question to take on for people who curate, teach, or learn about art history: throughout time, and especially in the Western tradition, the history of art is full of images of naked women and scenes of their victimization—sexual and/or otherwise. Women’s bodies have been pressed into service not just in but asnational histories and identities, myths and cautionary tales. Thinly veiled as “allegory,” women’s bodies have been made vulnerable, exposed, restrained, and consumed as art history. So, how then, are we as students and instructors, curators and artists, to deal with a culture of images that so often takes the female body not as subject but as object—i.e. not as people but as things—as a material, form, or concept to be mined and manhandled, gazed upon and fetishized? If we understand #MeToo or #TimesUp to be a reckoning, a cultural point-of-no-return where survivors, especially women—anatomically and not, cis-gendered and otherwise—can speak up and be believed, then what do we do with works of art that illustrate or are the real world product of actual gender-based violence or oppression?

    We panelists got the conversation started with our own research and concerns. As the historian on the panel, I wanted to get a few things to the surface and sketch out the recent national dialogue surrounding sexualized violence, especially as it has intersected with the universities and art world since over the past 5 years: 

    • controversial changes to Title IX under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (more ‘protections’ for those accused of sexual assault, closeddoor adjudication processes) [1]
    • remember Emma Sulkowicz, who carried a 50lb mattress around Columbia University campus for their 2014 senior year in artistic dissent of how CU (mis)handled their rape case? [2]
    • a listing of men’s names, including artist Chuck Close, who have been publically shamed and/or fired—or should be—for sexual misconduct [3]
    • and on the day after the portentous midterm elections and just days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in the US Senate (that the nominee to the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her), it was right to note the ways in which we have recently witnessed what are perhaps the highest stakes for this nation’s understanding of sexualized violence and its ability, or inability, to believe its bravest survivors. [4]

    Sylvia and Sarika shared with us how presenting Prosecuterix, an interactive exhibition based on real disclosures of sexualized violence, in a university setting impacted upon their work as curator, artist, and as citizens. Sylvia showed us how wading into the difficult territory of public display and sexualized violence produced new questions, ethical considerations, and the building of empathy and support networks, and how that experience shaped how she imagines an audience and her work most broadly as both a educator and curator. For example, how to envision and install an exhibition that allows for varying levels of engagement with problematic content, or how to loop in the Title IX office to support viewers and student curators at different levels in the exhibition process. Even still, the question arose again of how to handle problematic or potentially triggering images in the classroom.

    The discussion was built and shaped by members of HAA at all levels, undergraduate students in HAA and/or Museum Studies, graduate students, and faculty—including the Chair of the department. Undergraduate students who co-curated This is Not Ideal shared the debates they had in selecting objects and writing wall captions, and making decisions about which images would represent the exhibition to the public—issues that emerged from close—and sustained looking in this current social context. Most important, they provided feedback to the instructors in the room about what they felt would help them grapple with such images in the classroom, including what has worked and how they felt they could be better supported. (For this, we are grateful.)

    As new ideas emerged, so too did new questions: if content warnings are utilized on the walls of the UAG to support a diverse audience in navigating the difficulty in This is Not Ideal, might we also use these at the start of lectures, on a syllabus? How specific a warning? How to do we prepare as a learning community to handle unforeseen, unwarned triggers that emerge in a class? How can we help our students beyond the “warning,” how can we direct them toward survivor resources, and build a community of support that outlasts the class? How can we as a university community embed this in our culture, not just in specific lectures that engage with this content? 

    Maybe it is not just warnings and support, but enriching our content. For example, if we teach Alexandre Cabanel’s Birth of Venus (1875), or any of the thousands of female nudes in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, then perhaps we must also teach The Guerrilla Girls Do Women Have To Be Naked To Get Into the Met Museum? (1989)—and also that the Met does not own it or any work by the Guerrilla Girls.[5] If we teach the paintings of Chuck Close or Pablo Picasso, ought we also teach about the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made against them, and the art made in response such as Emma Sulkowicz’s nude performances in front of their paintings at the Met and MoMA? 

    Sylvia and Ellen Larson, Curatorial Assistant at the UAG, convened a panel surrounding a knotty and difficult question, one that is perhaps not answerable in one, final way. A way to begin answering it, however, and to continue the reckoning #MeToo set into motion is something like this discussion: it is navigating this terrain together, responding to the question with more questions, drawing on ideas from other fields, and dialoguing as a community across and through different roles at the university. 


    [1] See Megan Cerullo, “Betsy DeVos Proposes Sexual Misconduct Rules that Would Protect Alleged Offenders,” Los Angeles Times (August 29, 2018),

    [2] Note: Sulkowicz has used gender-neutral pronouns publically since 2017. See Soraya Nadia McDonald, “It’s Hard to Ignore a Woman Toting A Mattress Everywhere She Goes, Which is Why Emma Sulkowicz ss Still Doing it,” The Washington Post (October 29, 2014)

    [3] Claire Voon and Jillian Steinhauer, “For More Women Allege Sexual Misconduct by Chuck Close,” Hyperallergic (January 16, 2018),

    [4] See published transcript, “Christine Blasey Ford’s Opening Statement for Senate Hearing,” [National Public Radio] (September 26, 2018),

    [5] As the Guerrilla Girls pointed out in the artwork—which surely seemed overdue in 1989, too—“Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections [of the Metropolitan Museum] are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”


    If you feel you are a survivor of sexual harassment or assault, the University of Pittsburgh has support resources, some of which can be obtained anonymously. For more information and to report, see the Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE)



    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Touching Correspondence: Archive Visit during Making Advances Mellon Workshop

    Author: Paula Kupfer, PhD student in History of Art and Architecture and Making Advances Workshop participant

    One of the postcards shows a hunky man with dark eyebrows and long black hair, dressed in a vibrant red sweater. His left hand grasps his belt, the intensity of his gesture matched only by the fiery look in his eyes. The backdrop—a pink wall with three small pictures in kitschy frames—crowns the humorous earnestness of his pose. The other postcard depicts a hand-colored black-and-white reproduction of Jesus: his hair, highlighter orange; his sleeves, highlighter blue; his torso, highlighter pink. A caption reads: Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Sacred Heart of Jesus). 

    These postcards were sent by artist and photographer Nan Goldin (b. 1953) to her friend, the artist Greer Lankton (1958–96), and are part of the Greer Lankton archive at the Mattress Factory, which we visited during the Making Advances Mellon Workshop in early May. Lankton is remembered for her hand-sewn dolls, installations, and autobiographical work reflecting her life experiences as an artist and a transgender person who also struggled with drug addiction. Goldin is best known for her Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a series of personal photographs mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, of her life and friends in Boston, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere. The pictures reflect moments of ecstasy and pain, in particular highlighting the ravages that the AIDS crisis inflicted on her community. Ballad offers an intimate, diaristic view of Goldin’s life; she would present it as a slideshow, often in nightclubs, accompanied by a soundtrack created by her and her friends.

    On the back of Jesus, Goldin wrote, from Mexico, in 1982: 

    Dear Greer, a belated valentines card for you, my sweet. . . . Still living a lazy existence, reading a lot, swimming, cooking + cleaning, eating only fruit + veggies for a while. It must be a modern Mexican miracle—this sudden domesticity I’ve fallen into. Still, it’s difficult to be a woman down here. It’s like walking past one enormous construction site all the time. It’s very repressed sexually especially this area. . . . Women can’t drink in the cantinas or play pool in the halls or do much alone. But actually there seems to be a new breed of woman coming up seems more independent. Mardi gras carnival is starting so we’ve been going to all these town events—the crowning of the child queen, the crowning of the lady queen. Marceled hairdos à la colonial Spain, banana curls with tiaras or else Carmen Miranda drags. . . . We’re still planning to come back March 10. Will write if changes. Love to Michele. Miss you! Want word from NYC.” 

    On the back of the handsome man in red, sent from Germany in 1984, Goldin wrote: 

    Dear Greer, this is one of the sex symbols of Turkey. We stayed in Little Turkey in Berlin—like the Lower East Side. Lived in a house with 40 people, a printing press, carpentry factory, dinners for 40 every night. A real little socialist state. Spent all the $ I brought on sekt—the link between wine and champagne—so I have not much to show for it and not even sure how many memories. Did make some good connections workwise. . . . Did 2 slideshows at cinemas, one in Berlin, one here in Wuppertal—sort of like Pittsburg [sic] except w. Pina Bausch company here. No amour this trip. Coming back in time to do the Diane B shot so get ready! Can’t wait to see Art Forum and yr new work. Love xxx Nan” 

    Although I knew of links between the two artists—Lankton appears in many of Goldin’s photographs from the 1970s and ’80s, perhaps most famously in Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC, from 1982—the discovery of these two postcards was particularly affecting. Doubtless it was the sweetness of the tone in both, but also the surprise of reading first-hand words by an artist who so often speaks through images. Reflecting the sort of intense personal character of both Goldin and Lankton’s work, these postcards embody a material link between the two women, a form of tenderness relayed through handwriting, a traveling piece of cardboard that speaks of their connection, trust, and a form of care that spanned geographic distance.  

    Goldin is credited with inaugurating a new aesthetic in photography—her off-the-cuff, bright-flash, richly colored representations of her own life represented a new possibility within the realm of fine art photography. Her life was her art—raw, joyous, painful, sexual, tender. She had this in common with Lankton, whose work and archive—a deeply moving, deeply human collection of photographs, photo albums, diaries, and letters—bears testament to the troubles and joys of her unusual life and its translation into artworks. These postcards fall into the same spirit: they are sincere, disarming, and funny. 

    Thinking of Greer Lankton and Nan Goldin feels urgent today. Not only because of new threats against the lives and rights of transgender people. Or because of Goldin’s admirable and ongoing activism in response to the opioid crisis in the United States—of which she herself has been a victim—and the complicity of art institutions. But also because the radical vulnerability they offer the world through their art and archive is deeply political and necessary today. The more stories of pain and alterity—but also joy and euphoria—are shared with others, the more art may serve a form of much-needed empathy. Sometimes such reminders come in inconspicuous forms, such as that of postcards. 

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Kim Fox's installation


    Gendered spaces, materials, forms ... and their transformation

    Author: Brooke Wyatt, HAA graduate student and HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018 

    Handwork is an exhibition of new work by Pittsburgh artist Kim Fox, currently on view in Contemporary Craft's BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery in the lobby of the Steel Plaza T-Station downtown. Six works are presented, ranging in size from the large-scale Eight-Pointed Star Quilt II (2018), a work that employs two salvaged wooden barn doors for its support, to the more intimate Log Cabin Quilt Block (2018), scaled to the size of the reclaimed wood lath that frames the composition. Fox engages a range of found materials, including vintage tin, paper dress patterns, and a tabletop that was used to cut glass in a hardware store, as seen in Blue Honeycomb (2018). In some cases, Fox links these materials to their previous location and function in manufacturing towns around Pittsburgh. Through wall-text information, we learn that the tabletop came from Clairton, PA, home of U.S. Steel's Clairton Works, the largest coke-producing facility in the United States. The salvaged wood used in another work, Honeycomb (2018), was found at the Jeannette Glass Works, defunct since 1983, but once one of Pennsylvania's premier consumer glass manufacturers. 

    In conjunction with these echoes of the region's industrial history, Fox's use of forms and patterns drawn from the world of quiltmaking reflects parallel traditions in the area's production of housewares and crafts. In Handwork, references to mechanized industry and factory production interface with the aesthetics of homemade, hand-stitched textile work to evoke a complicated reading of gender. Materials and techniques associated with masculinized spaces such as the factory floor and the realm of hard labor intersect with interior, domestic spaces often coded as feminine. The works allow layers of meaning to accumulate as found objects join together with the mark-making, collaging, and repetitive ordering that reveals the artist's working process. Fox combines materials and techniques from craft practice with more conventional fine art approaches, effectively playing with embedded hierarchies about which forms are most valuable or visually provocative. Through her material exploration of these binary constructions —masculine/feminine, public/private, fine art/craft, work/hobby — Fox's work unravels dichotomies to present a composite, layered meditation on labor, place, and the convergence of past and present.

    Bringing new interpretations to traditional paradigms of gendered space, material, and form is central to Fox's visual language, and reverberates with the work of Katie Ott, another Pittsburgh-based artist whose work is currently on view in the University Art Gallery (UAG) at the University of Pittsburgh. Part of the student-curated exhibition This is Not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, Ott's work makes a queer and intersectional feminist intervention into the historically masculine domains of woodworking and furniture-making, literally turning the tables on established gender norms around art and craft practice. 

    Handwork is presented in conjunction with Contemporary Craft's biennial show Transformation 10: Contemporary Works in Found Materials, the Elizabeth R. Rafael Founders Prize Exhibition and is on view from September 14, 2018 to January 5, 2019

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Introducing "Sustaining DH"

    Approximately a year following the conclusion of our first NEH Research and Development Grant, the Visual Media Workshop team (with Dr. Alison Langmead at the helm) is embarking on its second NEH-funded project.

    As some of you may recall, the first grant was dedicated to running an extensive case study of Images of Medieval Art and Architecture (, an early manifestation of a digital humanities project. The grant culminated in the creation of a website entitled The Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap (STSR) (, a resource for project managers interested in assessing the status and potential sustainability solutions for their digital projects. 

    With the second NEH grant, we (Dr. Langmead, Chelsea Gunn, and Aisling Quigley) will take the STSR "on the road," running facilitated workshops at carefully-selected universities across the United States (Georgia, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Utah). These two-day workshops will incorporate three major sections: 

    1. A Project Survey (considering the scope, longevity, and sustainability priorities of the project at hand)
    2. An assessment of Staffing and Technologies (considering the socio-technical infrastructure of the project)
    3. An exploration of potential Digital Sustainability Plans (incorporating the NDSA levels of Preservation, file formats and metadata, permissions and data integrity, etc.) 

    As part of this grant, we have also proposed specific mechanisms for engaging with workshop participants and other interested individuals beyond the in-person workshops, offering virtual "office hours," for example, and other resources throughout the granting period. 

    More details on all of these activities will follow in the coming months!

    • Sustaining DH
    • Sustaining MedArt
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • VMW

    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 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! 

    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh