Sunday, May 11, 2014

SECAC 2014

I received word over the weekend that my proposal was accepted to give a paper at the 2014 Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC), which will be held in Sarasota, FL this coming October. Although it is an independent organization, SECAC is often seen as an off-shoot of the College Art Association (CAA), at which I have spoken before, but this will be my first SECAC paper. I've heard from colleagues that this conference is often eagerly attended by art historians working in the Southeast who often don't have the opportunity to travel to larger conferences. As a result, the conference is considered more collegial, with a warmer, more encouraging reception to presentations than one often gets from the CAA crowd  of highly-competitive academics. SECAC seems to draw a number of colleagues that I know rather well, professionally and personally, so I will be among a number of friends when I'm there in October. (Conveniently, I also will be near the Padre and la famiglia in St. Petersburg so I will also go for a visit to see them as well.)

I am part of the panel session entitled "The Color of Sculpture," discussing the revitalization and different applications of polychromy in sculpture during the 19th and 20th centuries. Two of my CUNY Graduate Center colleagues are also on the same panel, so that was a nice surprise. The image you see here is a photograph I took a few years ago showing a close-up of the Tinted Venus, 1851-53, by John Gibson, at the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool, which will be the subject of my talk. The statue is installed in a glass-walled tempietto, hence the off sheen seen in the photograph. Here is the brief proposal that I submitted.

Tinting Venus: John Gibson and Polychrome Sculpture, from the Studio to the Fair
by Roberto C. Ferrari, Columbia University

Art history has both credited and derided the British sculptor John Gibson for the reintroduction of polychrome sculpture in the nineteenth century. The display of his Tinted Venus at the 1862 International Exhibition in London is seen by most as the highlight and death knell of his career. Perceiving Gibson as a Victorian Pygmalion, critics and scholars—then and now—claim he tinted his statue to make marble appear like flesh. In fact, this is but one of a number of erroneous misconceptions about his Tinted Venus and other polychrome works. Rather, Gibson’s intent was to introduce an ancient Greco-Roman decorative practice, reinvented for a modern audience.

This paper will redress art history’s misconceptions about Gibson and his polychrome sculpture. Among the areas to be discussed will be his sources of inspiration, his studio practice, and the display of the Tinted Venus in Rome long before its premiere in London. This paper also will consider the surprising number of positive reviews that this statue received at the time. Gibson’s experiment was certainly polarizing, but only by correcting assumptions about his practice can art historians today better understand his important role in the history of polychrome sculpture.

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