Professor, Chair, Director of Graduate Studies
Eugenia Chase Guild Chair in the Humanities
Department of History of Art, Bryn Mawr College
“Sarah Winchester and the Origins of Silicon Valley”
This talk is about Sarah Winchester (1840-1922), the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms company, who moved from Connecticut to San Jose, CA after the death of her husband. She spent the remainder of her life building a colossal Victorian mystery mansion. Winchester was painted by the press as an eccentric who built her mausoleum-like house out of guilt, melancholy, and superstition, in an attempt to assuage the spirits of Native Americans slaughtered by her family’s guns. In this talk, I claim that she was also a savvy business woman whose vast construction projects were more about Gilded Age displays of wealth: a continuation of settler colonialism, not symbolic reparation thereof. Her many property holdings throughout the Bay Area anticipate the contemporary built environment in that region, and were filled with technically innovative design features of her own creation. How do our stories about Silicon Valley change if we situate her, a 19th-century woman, at the origins of tech innovation culture? The talk includes a reading of Jeremy Blake’s Winchester Trilogy (2002-04).
Assistant Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art
“Marisol’s Anti-Monument: Panamericanism, Masculinity, and Other Imaginaries”
Marisol’s assemblage The Generals (1961–62) assumes a guise of well-worn signifiers of midcentury U.S. patriotic masculinity: equestrian statue, founding father, soldier, and cowboy. At the same time, this sculpture of George Washington and Simón Bolívar on a single horse invokes the very forces Cold Warriors vilified as un-American threats at home and abroad: homoeroticism and Latin American dissent. Marisol’s irreverent anti-monument, which has garnered little analysis but performed a central role during her meteoric rise in the sixties, tapped into Cold War discourses about sexual politics, freedom, national mythologies, and inter-American relations.
Assistant Professor in Art & Public Policy
New York University
“To Free Speech from Free Speech: Queer Marxism and Disability Aesthetics in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s A City of Sadness”
Liberal forms of speech are glorified as the primary political tool by which to achieve representation. Michel Foucault notably located an early genealogy of such practices of speaking truth to power in the Stoic tradition of parrhesia. However, a problematic arises in which centrism demands that “all sides matter” whereby, as demonstrated today, alt-right and radical leftists are seen as equally illiberal and asking for too much. This talk asks what might happen if we free the concept of speech from free speech itself? What might speech look like if not primarily informed through a liberal democratic tradition?
To explore these questions, I turn to disability, particularly deafness and muteness, to grapple with formulations of speech that do not fit under truth, transparency, and liberalism. In particular, I examine Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s classic and lauded film A City of Sadness (1989) and focus on its disability aesthetics. This film, which won the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film festival, displaces sound and speech during Taiwan’s passage from Japanese colonial occupation to mainland Chinese colonization following the second world war. Rather than depicting true images of state violence or privileging historical realism, the director notably develops an aesthetic of opacity and illegibility. Hou’s formal aesthetics, in other words, provide a political critique that does not rely on truth, repair, and recognition. Ultimately, this film provides a space to trace a “queer Marxist” genealogy across two Chinas, as informed by the work of Petrus Liu.
Associate Professor of Religion and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Department of Religion
“Provoking Religion: The Aesthetics of Literalism and the Queer Arts of Myth in the U.S. Culture Wars”
This talk begins with a simple enough question: when is a cross a cross, and when is it a gauntlet thrown in the infamous battles of the U.S. culture wars? How does an image come to offend, who does it offend, and why? During the height of the U.S. culture wars in the 1980s and 1990s, a number of conservative Christian leaders attacked art dealing with issues of religion, gender, and sexuality as pornographic or sacrilegious, if not specifically anti-Christian. Indeed, a number of artists, including Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, Karen Finley, and David Wojnarowicz, drew upon aesthetic forms borrowed from the rich visual and ritual history of Christianity, and of Roman Catholicism specifically, often in ways that seemed to profane religious symbols. This talk focuses on the work of artist and author David Wojnarowicz and his legal battles of Christian Right leader Donald Wildmon to examine the contours of such debates. It asks how we might read such episodes not as typical culture wars battles pitting religious conservatives against secular progressives, but rather as competing struggles to define the place of religion and art in the public sphere.
Department of History of Art and Architecture
“Textiles and Trade in the Dutch Atlantic World: Albert Eckhout’s African Man and Woman”
Art historians have largely abandoned the notion that Dutch artist Albert Eckhout’s (1610-1665) series of so-called ethnographic portraits—today in the National Museum of Denmark—offer transparent portrayals of the people with whom the Dutch had contact in New Holland, the name given to the northeast region of Brazil during Dutch occupancy (1630-1654). Instead, scholars have more recently posited nuanced and careful critiques of these paintings that identify and challenge the Eurocentric assumptions and hierarchies integral to the conception and interpretation of the series. Acknowledging the critical importance of these studies, this talk seeks to reframe the parameters of the discussion by reestablishing the crucial connections between material culture and cultural identity—which are evident even when bound by the pictorial conventions of oppressive colonial forces. Drawing from global, material culture, and literary studies, this talk will focus on the blue-and-white textiles worn by Eckhout’s African figures, garments that gesture towards the complexities of Dutch global trade networks, but also make visible the complex negotiations that informed cultural identities in the early modern Atlantic world.
Department of Art History
The Pennsylvania State University
“Making Up Materials: Donatello and the Cosmetic Act”
Over the roughly half-century that he plied the medium of sculpture, Donatello (1383/6–1464) produced a number of works which, although differing in key respects, all take up the same basic conceit. Broadly speaking, these are sculptures wrought from one material that masquerade as a different substance entirely, always a substance more costly or prestigious than the first. To affect these transformations Donatello and his collaborators would rework the raw substrate of these sculptures – their “skin” – dramatically, applying subtle films of pigment, varnish, gold powder, resin, wax, brick dust, and a host of other materials that work in concert to make terracotta resemble marble or glass mosaic; stucco simulate precious stones; to give limestone the look of porphyry. While the range of activities to which Donatello’s dissimulated materials might be compared was broad, this talk explores the possibility that the sculptor and his peers were reminded of one pursuit in particular:not painting per se, but its less dignified offspring cosmetics, the artificial enhancement of a body with rouge. Contemporary anecdotes, gossip, popular poetry, and payment records offer insight into Donatello’s appetite for cosmetic experiment.By resurrecting these sources, this talk identifies an underappreciated discourse surrounding Donatello’s “made up” materials, at once exalted for their artifice, and marked by a deep-seated distrust of false appearances, in sculptural media and flesh alike. Throughout, I will attempt to remain faithful to the belief among his contemporaries that what distinguished Donatello within his culture was a special aptitude for cunning – my proposal, in fact, is that this quality is most explicitly manifest in how the sculptor treated surface itself, and a key to understanding the facets of his practice that posterity left behind. For unlike Donatello’s better-known works in marble and bronze, which became a rich quarry for posterity to mine, his cosmetic experiments were not once reprised in the sixteenth century.
Deputy Director for Research, Interpretation & Education
“Renoir, Impressionism and the Value of Touch”
“The Human Side of Data”
co-sponsored by Computer Science and the President’s Office
Today, data are everywhere. But what do data really mean, and how can we extract real value from them in our daily lives? In this illustrated talk, information designer and Pentagram partner Giorgia Lupi will discuss our new data reality and “data humanism,” her unique philosophy for understanding and working with data.
Surveying her diverse work over the last decade, Lupi will introduce her distinctive approach to data visualization and offer a look into the far-reaching applications of her work in data and design, from corporate, to institutional, to personal.
Giorgia will encourage creatives (and non!) to harness data as a design tool, while respecting human privacy and experience in their output.
Assistant Professor of History of Art on the Emily Rauh Pulitzer ’55 Professorship
Department of History of Art
Bryn Mawr College
“Shades of Revolution: Guillaume Guillon Lethière and Neoclassicism’s Other Environments”
This presentation explores the neoclassical oeuvre of Guillaume Guillon Lethière—a mixed-race painter who was born in Guadeloupe and ascended to the heights of the French Academié in the early-nineteenth century. Taking up a body of works executed over the course of the French and Haitian Revolutions, this paper centers on the inclusion of Caribbean ecological markers in Lethière’s history paintings. From this perspective, Lethière’s oeuvre articulates a relationship to the Caribbean as an ecology of blackness counterintuitively represented through Classicism. This is an ecology in its broadest sense; it encapsulates not only the psychic machinations of an individual mixed-race artist, but also the diffusion of raced identity into the landscape itself, and the co-mingling of blackness and the botanical in an independent Haiti. Lethière and his painting practice are a distinct node at which multiple colonial dialectics converge: the tumultuous politics of Revolutionary France and Haiti, the liberatory political possibilities of the Classics and botany for black subjectivities, and the interpenetrating psychological and environmental ecologies that opened as much as they foreclosed for Lethière.