Monday, May 4, 2015

Art History Research Projects

Art history students worked hard this semester researching topics that complemented our studies in Space, Land, and Concept in Art of the American West. Here's a taste of the terrific presentations they made to the class last week.

Mikayla Carpenter's project, "Pottery in Ancient Native American Tribes: Hohokam Tradition, Mogollon Tradition, and Anasazi Tradition," surveyed three different styles of ancient Southwestern Native American material culture. Her introduction was particularly interesting as she reminded us that speaking about a monolithic Native culture is impossible as there are more than 550 tribes recognized by the United States government and that a good researcher should address the specificities of each culture and each era.

Mimbres black-on-white bowl, ca. 1000-1150, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Alyson Walbridge researched Native American creation stories and analyzed some really beautiful imagery by Joe Ben Jr. (Diné, Navajo), David Paldin (Diné, Navajo), Willoughby Senior (American), Dick West (Southern Tsitsistas/Suhati, Cheyenne), Dan V. Lomahaftewa (Hopi Pueblo/Choctaw), Tom Dorsey (Iroquois/Onondaga). We all agreed that she did a spectacular job describing the various ideas about the creation of these cultures and the world and relating them to the paintings.

David Paldin (Diné, Navajo), Blue World Emergence, 1971, NMAI

Trevor Campbell brought our knowledge of Native American art into the late 20th-century as his project, "Yuthokeca (Change): Contemporary Native American Art," examined the careers of Oscar Howe (the "pioneer" of Contemporary Native American art), Fritz Scholder, George Morrison, and Brian Jungen. Jungen's inventive sculptures that use Nike's Air Jordans as their medium were particularly fascinating.

Brian Jungen, Prototype for New Understanding #23, 2005, NMAI

Tracy Jarrett's project was inspired by a reading we did early on in the semester, Nancy K. Anderson's “The Kiss of Enterprise,”in The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920. She used this as a starting point for her project, "Stumped: How American Art Has Been Influenced by Nature’s Beautiful Trees." Tracy talked about many different artists and eras, from Thomas Cole's use of cut tree stumps in paintings that critiqued the destruction of nature in the nineteenth century to Natalie Jeremijenko's Tree Logic (1999), a grove of upside-down maple trees at MassMoCA.

Natalie Jeremijenko, Tree Logic, 1999

Sarah Lassiter took on a contemporary photography phenom, Peter Lik, whose photograph, Phantom, sold in December 2014 for $6.5 million. Lik's photo is currently the highest selling photograph of all time, having defeated previous record holder, Andreas Gursky (Rhein, $4.3 million). Sarah's paper examined Lik's financial success alongside the critical neglect and derision that he experiences in the fine art photography world. Ultimately, Sarah argued that Lik's works are devoid of concept and primarily about beauty, which is out of step with the more intellectually sophisticated programs of most contemporary fine art photographers. 

Peter Lik, Phantom

Kristina Powell's project looked at British artist Richard Long, and her study complemented the discussions of earthworks we had throughout the semester. Long describes himself as a "rural artist" and uses walking as a way of inspiring performances, installations, and interventions he has made in landscapes around the world. We will see his Sea Lava Circles (1988) when we visit the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX.

Richard Long, Sea Lava Circles, 1988

Kyla Tighe is a photographer and she wanted to research fellow photographic artist Laura McPhee, who teaches at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her work, including the series River of No Return, as Kyla wrote, "focuses on a sense of peace in nature and the history of
the landscape, along with the fact that we as the people hold the world and environment in our
own hands." She uses people, animals, and the backdrop of Sawtooth Valley, Idaho, as the subjects of her enchanting images. Kyla also formatted her paper as a large-format book, which really impressed the class.

Laura McPhee, Mattie with a Bourbon Red Turkey, Laverty Ranch, Custer County, Idaho, November 2004

Lexi Musselman also made a book. As a visual communications student, she knows how to use graphic design to communicate ideas. Lexi researched art and propaganda as part of her quest to follow politics more closely this semester. She introduced the class to the history of propaganda, from posters made in the early 20th century by Nazi Germany, the U.S.S.R., and the United States. And she walked us through some images that have propagandistic meaning related to the American West, including Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother (1936) and Thomas Moran's The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872).

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936

And finally, Grif Williams entertained us all by introducing his project on the history of cowboys in art, film, and culture with a video montage. He then explained the invention of the mythic character of the cowboy in the American West and reminded us that the earliest cowboys were actually enslaved Native Americans. He surveyed cowboy art by Charles Marion Russell, Frederic Remington, and Richard Prince, and wove discussions of films like Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Clint Eastwood's The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, into his paper and presentation. 

Frederic Remington, What an Unbranded Cow has Cost, 1895

We were really impressed and delighted by these very different and engaging topics. Thank you for a great last day of class!

Lara Kuykendall

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