Graduate Work

  • Carolyn Wargula, Karen Gerhart, Mimi Yiengpruksawan and Michelle McCoy

     

    Wilkinson Lecture Series: Reconsidering the Agency of Pre-modern Japanese Women

    Author: Carolyn Wargula

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Dr. Mimi Yiengpruksawan, Professor of Art History at Yale University, was this year’s speaker for the annual James and Susanne Wilkinson Lecture held on September 26. This lecture series invites esteemed scholars of pre-modern art each year to discuss their research. Professor Yiengpruksawan, a historian of eleventh- and twelfth-century Japanese Buddhist art, gave a public lecture titled “TWILIGHT WORLD OF SCREENS? REALLY? Women, Art, and Agency in Late Heian Japan,” in which she explored how modern analysis and interpretation of Heian-period (794-1185) literature has skewed and even obscured our view of the political and social agency of Japanese aristocratic women.

    Previous scholarship often assumed that Heian-period aristocratic women were cloistered within their residences and were denied the rights to participate in society at large. Visual and literary sources from this period were used as corroborative evidence that court women were simply passive recipients of the male gaze. 

    In her lecture, Dr. Yiengpruksawan underscored the importance of using new exegetical methods and interpretive strategies, such as those developed by David Summers on the use of space, to recontextualize the agency of Heian court women. She explained the influence that court women had as patrons and their contributions to religious institutions, noting that court diaries show that these women held considerable social and economic power, traveled freely, and were not simply passive figures, but demonstrative and loud about their thoughts and desires.

    One point that Professor Yiengpruksawan highlighted in her talk was that Heian women owned property and could inherit land. Minamoto no Rinshi (964-1053), the wife of the illustrious statesman, Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1028), was actually of higher status and had considerably more wealth than her husband upon their marriage, yet most of the current scholarship focuses on his patronage activities. What becomes clear from this talk is that, despite the patriarchal nature of Buddhist institutions at the time, patronage of Buddhist art and architecture afforded women a public voice and means by which they could negotiate power and form new social identities and communities.

    What makes Professor Yiengpruksawan’s research so innovative and inspiring is her interest in framing the patronage activities of Heian women within a cross-border perspective. She concluded the talk by comparing the patronage practices of Rinshi and her daughter Shōshi (988-1074) with those of Khitan princesses on the continent, arguing that these women saw themselves as crucial figures within a larger Buddhist cosmopolis. It is rare and even refreshing for a scholar of Heian-period Japanese art to bring attention to the exchange between Japan and the continent. This talk offers new perspectives on the religious lives of Japanese aristocratic women and serves as an exemplary model for the idea-driven research of the Constellations program.

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    Workshop session at the University Art Gallery with selected works from the Gimbel collection
     

    Work Forces and Devising an Archive Theatre

    Author: Emma Squire 

    PhD student in Theatre and Performance Studies and Work Forces workshop participant

    On October 25th, 1915 a fire at the Union Paper Box Company in Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood killed thirteen and left an estimated fifteen injured. Twelve of these fatalities were women under the age of twenty-four. Archives and Special Collections at The University of Pittsburgh holds the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office records of the inquest into the fire at 207-209 Sandusky Street. This collection of press reports, proof of identity forms, and verdicts from the coroner’s jury provide a narrative of a city reckoning with its lack of enforced fire codes and underfunded firefighting infrastructures. Additionally, these institutional documents contain glimpses of the individual traumas experienced by the community in the aftermath of the tragedy. These papers contain precisely the sort of information that would be necessary for an attempt to create a devised theatre piece around the Union Paper Box Company fire.

    As a PhD student in the Theatre Arts department, I co-founded the Archive Theatre Project in partnership with Archives and Special Collections at Pitt. Our mission is to devise and stage performances, free to the public, constructed from content found within local archival collections. In February 2019 we produced SALK: The Man Behind the Vaccine a staged-reading created from the Max A. Lauffer Papers housed at Pitt. After SALK, University Archivist Zach Brodt suggested that Archive Theatre Project might look into the fire at the Union Paper Box Company as a possible subject. I had hoped that participating in Work Forces would allow me to research the local tragedy from a variety of different institutional perspectives and archival mediums. While I was able to collect information like the coroner’s office records, what I left the workshop with was a heightened sense of the atmospheric conditions in which the event itself occurred. A painting of slag running down a local hill, a conservator explaining the continuous cleaning-up of industrial grim in early twentieth-century Pittsburgh, photography showing the massive construction sites of buildings still standing downtown; these understandings have brought me closer to the sensory experiences of 1915 Pittsburgh. It becomes easier to imagine the smells, sounds, and sights of daily life for the workers of the Union Paper Box Company. It became clear to me throughout the workshop that accumulating specific information regarding the tragedy of October 25th, 1915 was only one part of the story. In order to create a more nuanced devised theatre piece, an understanding of the atmospheric elements of Pittsburgh’s environmental and labor histories would be necessary.

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Maria Lis and other workshop participants at the University Library System, Archives Service Center, during the Work Forces workshop

     

    Work Forces Workshop: The City of Pittsburgh as Pedagogical Tool

    Author: María Lis Baiocchi

    PhD student in Anthropology and Work Forces workshop participant

    The history of Pittsburgh as a center of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, its relevance to the history of the labor movement in this country, and its identity as a distinctly working-class city are some of the most interesting things that any non-Pittsburgh native gets to learn about this city when deciding to move here. At least that was the case for me when I decided to move here to do my PhD in Pitt’s Department of Anthropology. At the time, my work did not involve addressing issues of labor at all. It has been fortuitus that my research trajectory changed to put labor, and specifically household labor, at the center of my doctoral project while doing my PhD in a city where labor has historically taken center-stage.

    The Work Forces Workshop was an in-depth exploration of Pittsburgh’s rich labor history and culture through the prism of archival collections and art exhibitions. It is not an understatement to say that taking part in it transformed my view of the city. Work Forces underscored the potential of Pittsburgh for labor-related research projects through a range of onsite experiences. For instance, we looked into the Left Ephemera Collection in the Frick Fine Arts Library. Visiting the archive in the Bost Building of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, we examined (among other notable materials) notebooks documenting the accidents of workers in one of Pittsburgh’s steel mills which revealed the laboring conditions in this city at the height of its industrial age. I was struck by an interview with a household worker who used to work at Fallingwater kept in the Heinz History Center. 

    Perhaps most interestingly, Work Forces showed the ways in which the city itself and its surroundings can serve as pedagogical tools for teachers addressing the topic of labor broadly conceived in their classroom. An instructor teaching an introductory social theory course covering foundational Marxist concepts could benefit from taking students on a field trip to the Carrie Furnace or the Tour-Ed Mine to drive home abstract ideas about labor conditions imparted in the classroom. Anyone teaching on the anthropology of labor could very successfully draw from the University Art Gallery collection to discuss material covered inside the classroom. In sum, labor scholars and labor teachers of any background, including and especially anthropologists, stand to benefit from engaging with Pittsburgh’s rich material culture not just in research but also in teaching. Work Forces served as a fantastic invitation to do just that.      

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Emily Mazzola and undergraduate research collaborator Gabriela Schunn at the Detre Library and Archives

     

    Raising a Pittsburgh Glass

    Author: Emily Mazzola

    2018-2019 A.W. Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education and PhD student in History of Art and Architecture

    On February 25, 1972 the people of Westmoreland County proudly took part in a major diplomatic mission occurring halfway across the world when President Nixon concluded his historic trip to China by raising a Lenox Crystal glass filled with California champagne. With the delicate chime of clinking of glasses, Western Pennsylvanian manufacturing was, for a moment, at the center of international diplomacy. Nixon’s toast calling for a “new world order,” was memorialized for the president’s Chinese hosts with gifts of the acid-etched lead-glass champagne coupes, baring the Great Seal of the United States, that were offered as souvenirs of the momentous occasion.

    In the days that followed, the national press highlighted the west-coast origins of the sparkling wine, but failed to acknowledge the Pittsburgh glassware that had made it all possible—an oversight that the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Mount Pleasant Journal eagerly corrected for local readers. Tribune staff writer Dell McCloy lamented the media’s focus on California’s contribution to the event writing:

    "What hasn’t been widely publicized is the fact that Westmoreland County, although not as exotic as the coastal bikini country, also played a part in the drama and diplomacy of the ceremonies. Mainly, a county firm supplied the glasses that held the bubbly that eased the tension that…" [1]

    Following the author’s humorous trailing off, the article details the efforts of the Lenox Crystal production team to manufacture 60-dozen flawless coupes under a significant time strain. McCloy concludes, “Local industry had a hand in making history. And although a glass may not sound as exciting as perishable oranges and grapefruits flown in by special jet, who ever heard of drinking champagne without one?”[2] McCloy’s sarcasm belies the pride local glass workers felt in providing an essential element of a major diplomatic ceremony—regardless of how easily the rest of the country overlooked their contribution. The glass workers’ sense of achievement was echoed by the broader community when President Nixon raised a Pittsburgh glass on the international stage.

    Nixon’s famous toast using Lenox Crystal produced in Mount Pleasant is just one example of the stories tying Western Pennsylvania manufacturing to the material culture of the American presidency, diplomatic gift exchange, and the politics of national taste that I have uncovered while researching at the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives for the past year. As the A.W. Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education, I am developing a digital project that highlights these moments of intersection between local production and presidential politics, contextualizing them within the broader concerns of American material culture studies and the decorative arts. My project is rooted in the Detre Library and Archive’s Bryce Brothers Company and Lenox Incorporated Records 1828-2002. My work with this collection has been made possible by the support of the Heinz History Center and the dedication of my undergraduate research collaborators. 

     

    [1] Dell McCoy, “Crystal in China: Lenox? Vel-l-ly Good…” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 2, 1972.Bryce Brothers and Lenox Incorporated Glass records, 1828-2002, MSS 0800, Thomas and Katherine Detre Library and Archives, Senator John Heinz History Center.  This collection has been made accessible as part of the Basic Processing and Documenting Democracy grants funded by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC).

    [2] Ibid.

     

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Leslie Rose

     

    Curatorial Movements at the University Art Gallery

    Author: Leslie Rose

    2019 Hot Metal Bridge Diversity Fellow in History of Art and Architecture and University Art Gallery intern

    As someone with a deep interest in museum display, curation, and education, I saw my internship in the University Art Gallery (UAG) as a chance to gain a greater understanding of what it means to work in an academic gallery. I was most excited to learn how a strong focus on education influences the UAG’s mission, from day-to-day operations to exhibition planning and public programming. Though there are many components of my internship that introduced me to the unique role of a teaching gallery, my experiences curating for the UAG have been the most illuminating. 

    As part of my internship, I was given the opportunity to curate a small exhibition to complement the traveling exhibition, Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Rulers, on loan from the Schomburg Center of African American Culture, which was on view in the gallery in February – March 2019. For inspiration, I was asked to think broadly about themes present in this show, such as migration and exchange, agency, and representation. Using these themes as a starting point, I curated Movements, an exhibition exploring the representation and expression of people of the African Diaspora in the transatlantic world. My exhibition explored three different definitions of the term ‘movement’: movement as migration; movement in relation to musical composition; and political and civil rights movements. The show incorporated a variety of works ranging from 17th century prints related to the Atlantic slave trade and portraits to the Black Panther newspaper and contemporary zines. 

    The first difficulty I encountered in the curatorial process related to the UAG’s holdings. In every collection, there are bound to be gaps. Initially, this frustrated me: how could I create a dialogue around the people of the African diaspora when these artists were not well represented in the UAG collection? However, it was with the guidance of faculty, graduate students, and UAG staff that I began to see how to work with these “gaps” in a way that would help build the conversation with the viewer and as a way to better underscore the important points of the exhibition. These gaps also reinforced my belief that this type of show is needed and it offered me an opportunity to think more creatively. I turned to the University Library System (ULS) and the Heinz History Center in search of more material, forcing me to reevaluate my own expectations of what objects belongs in an art gallery. So much of my previous museum and gallery experience insisted on the separation of art objects and archival material; however, within an academic gallery setting, I was able to place the unconventional material in conversation with art in order to create a larger dialogue on visual culture. Movements grouped together maps, prints, comic books, music sheets and more to encourage visitors to see various representations and expressions of people of the African diaspora and consider the weight and influence of images in the world. 

    Through this project, I was also able to expand my understanding of curation and exhibitions. Rather than thinking of an exhibition as a visualization of an academic essay, which is where I began, I started to think of it as a space where discussions begin. Curating was not a way to talk at the audience, similar to an essay, but to talk with them. I began to imagine an audience and potential dialogues as a part of my process, altering my selection, arrangement, and labeling of objects. For example, I juxtaposed a stained glass image of a minstrel-inspired character from the Stephen Foster Memorial with a photograph of the Pittsburgh Community Choir, both from the mid 1930s, to encourage the audience to look closely at each work and think on how they operate within a larger system of representation. Rather than dictate this relationship through lengthy didactic labels, I felt that it was important for the audience to question this grouping and perhaps speculate in a conversation with a friend or fellow visitor.

    These experiences allowed me to see first-hand the ways a teaching gallery differs from public museums and galleries, and how the emphasis on education and dialogue informs all aspects of the UAG’s work. This experience also drastically changed my perception of my role as an emerging curator. Rather than seeing myself as solely a source of information, I now see my role as a facilitator for a broader conversation with our audience. As I hope to pursue a career in academia and curation, this is a lesson I plan to take with me throughout my career. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Special Collections Trip for Introduction to Medieval Art

    Author: Sarah Reiff Conell

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Taking an introductory class of 100 students with no recitation sections to Special Collections seemed, at first, a daunting task. My recent experience, however, radically shifted my perception of how feasible and rewarding this undertaking is. Professor Shirin Fozi coordinated with the professionals in Special Collections to organize small-group time slots for which students could register. The Special Collections team was exceptionally generous in their willingness to coordinate visits for students who were unable to make one of the scheduled windows of time.

    While it is often logistically necessary to use projected images to present objects covered in courses, these conditions can obscure the physicality of an object. Special Collections provides a space for different modes of contact. As a graduate student, it was instructive to witness how Dr. Fozi clearly described these works and their structure in a way that engaged the students. As the groups rotated through, I was able to hone my object descriptions through close observation of a masterful teacher and my own iterative practice. 

    Pitt’s fabulous facsimile collection supports meaningful interactions with objects, allowing students to turn manuscript pages, explore their contents, and discuss in small groups about the use of objects. It gives them real-world experience that informs their understandings and allows them to make better-informed inferences. For example, it was exciting to see students quickly drawing on their knowledge of purple codices from lecture when they encountered the Rossano Gospels. They were able to proficiently discuss the assertions of Pope Gregory the Great (that pictures are books of the illiterate) by toggling between the narrative illustrations in this manuscript and its purple-stained pages that betray a more elite audience. They then seamlessly moved onto the mixture of pagan and Christian imagery on the enigmatic Franks Casket, drawing on their exposure to other examples of composite objects from lecture. 

    Students engaged with a mixture of facsimiles, including three objects we had covered in class, three unfamiliar works that were comparable to things previously seen, and one artwork that we were going to discuss in the following class. Within this set, it was productive to have a variety of surrogates with which to engage. The diversely scaled manuscripts were paired with replicas from Dr. Fozi’s personal collection, the Franks Casket and a paper foldout of the Bayeux Tapestry. This collection provided punctuated moments for students to consider the role of form in beholding and use of medieval art. 

    Making the wonderful holdings of the University’s Special Collections visible to undergraduates early in their educational careers empowers students to engage with objects and enriches their time at Pitt. A brief introduction to the space and holdings of Special Collections is informative in and of itself, but it is clear that interacting with this rich corpus of facsimiles yields great rewards. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    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

    Categories: 
    • 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

    Categories: 
    • 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

    Categories: 
    • 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

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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