Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CAA 2012 Recap

I arrived back in Brooklyn early Sunday morning after catching the red-eye flight, and I've been trying to get over the jet lag ever since. The College Art Association 100th annual conference was actually good, which surprises me because overall I wasn't confident that the panels were going to be that interesting. I also wasn't necessarily keen on going to Los Angeles again, but fortunately my opinion of the city has changed as well. I met up with a number of individuals, both colleagues and friends, and saw a few museums too (which I will talk about in another post). So all in all it was a productive few days in L.A.

CAA scheduled the panel session I was on ("Future Directions in British Art") for the same time as the honorary session for renown art historian and critic Rosalind Krauss, which really was rather annoying of them. Nevertheless, we had about 25 people in the audience and at least it seems they received the papers very well. You'll recall of course that my paper was on the sculptor John Gibson (image: Narcissus, 1836-38, Royal Academy). Amy Von Lintel's (West Texas A&M Univ) paper "Art within Reach: The Popular Origins of Art History in Victorian Britain" was an unexpectedly delightful coda to my own paper, in that some of the topics we covered (popular reproductive media and the world fairs of 1851 and 1862) were approached from different, though related, perspectives. She argued that the rise of popular culture helped teach the masses about the history of art in Victorian England. Corey Piper (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) gave an interesting paper on codes of behavior in sporting prints from 1750-1850. The other two papers by Cristina Martinez (Univ Toronto) on legal issues in 18th-century art, and by Irene Sunwoo (Princeton) on contemporary architectural pedagogy, were admittedly more challenging for me, but that was partly because of my lack of knowledge about the topics presented. Discussant Kim Rhodes (Drew Univ) gave an excellent wrap-up to our papers, aptly tying together the threads they shared in pursuit of "future directions" in scholarship. Peter Trippi (Fine Art Connoisseur), our chair, organized the session beautifully.

On Wednesday morning, I popped into the session on "The Materiality of Art: Evidence, Interpretation, Theory," mostly to hear Gülru Çakmak (Univ Mass, Amherst) give an insightful talk on the French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (image: The Death of Caesar, 1859-67, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore). She focused on his technical skills in using paint and the canvas surface to create texture and alternative points of view in the picture plane. (Rumor has it we're both speaking at a symposium in England later this year! More on that another time...) Ann Smart Martin (Univ Wisconsin, Madison) gave an interesting talk on the effects of candle and gas lighting on furniture and wallpaper in 17th- to 19th-century England and America. This actually is a topic I frequently have wondered about, as electrical lighting today has seriously altered our understanding of how art from the past was seen in its own day.

On Thursday morning, I went to the session on early photography. Karen Hellman's (Getty Museum) paper on the daguerreotypist Antoine Claudet explored his interest in optics and binocular vision, while Melody Davis (Sage College, Albany) explored stereoscopes as a form of commerce targeted toward women, virulently challenging the scholarship of Beaumont Newhall and Jonathan Crary on these early types of photographs. Margaretta Frederick's (Delaware Art Museum) paper on Samuel Bancroft's collecting practices of Pre-Raphaelite art and photographic prints, and Deborah Hutton's (College of New Jersey) paper on the Indian photographer Raja Deen Dayal, rounded out the papers rather well. I missed the last paper on the panel because I headed to another room to hear my fellow CUNY Graduate Center colleague Tara Burk give a concise, thought-provoking overview of issues associated with the visual culture of queer activism in NYC from 1987-95. On Friday afternoon, the Historians of 18th-Century Art and Architecture held a session on installations and, as I saw it, the interactive roles of public/private spaces. Hannah Williams (Oxford) gave an excellent paper on the change in perception of two 18th-century French paintings as they went from being exhibited in the Salon to their permanent home in a nearby Church. Jocelyn Anderson (Courtauld) spoke about how English country estates and their owners molded the early experience of viewing works of art, and Heather McPherson (Univ Alabama, Birmingham) gave a thorough overview of the socio-economic politics behind Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery in London. I also went to hear a few presentations sponsored by the Art Libraries Society of North America ("Collaboration, Access, Sustainability: The Future of Image Research Collections") and the Visual Resources Society ("Paint, Prints, and Pixels: Learning from the History of Teaching with Images"), but I have to admit I didn't find those to be as exciting as the art historical papers. As you can tell from my quick synopsis, there was a lot to hear, and this barely scratched the surface of other panel sessions that were given, all of which can be seen here.

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