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  • Writer's pictureART HISTORY

Art History Research Seminars: S2

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Art History Research Seminars, convened by Professor Mary Roberts, are held throughout Semester 2 on Thursdays 3-4.30pm live in the Schaeffer Library Seminar Room 210, Mills Building (A26), University of Sydney, and online via zoom. Seminars are free and open to all.


Art class at Leicester School of Arts and Crafts, 1924


3 August. Smarthistory: Creating a Smarter, More Equitable and Diverse Art History

A workshop led by Dr Melody Rod-ari, the 2023 Sydney Asian Art Series Scholar in Residence, and the Southeast Asian Content Editor at Smarthistory.

Smarthistory is the most visited website dedicated to art history in the world. Its content, which includes over 1,100 videos and over 3,000 essays is written by a diverse group of over 600 leading art historians, archaeologists, and curators from all over the globe. Since 2020, Smarthistory content has been viewed over 50 million times each year from people from nearly every nation on Earth. This workshop will introduce participants to the platform and exciting changes on the horizon that will continue to help move the study of art history towards a more equitable and diverse future. The workshop will also serve as an open forum to discuss how to better organize and present material from Asia generally, and Southeast Asia specifically on the platform. Information on how to become a contributor, content editor or institutional partner will also be presented.


Melody Rod-ari is Associate Professor and Chair of Art History at Loyola Marymount University. She is also the Southeast Asian Content Editor for Smarthistory as well as an active curator who has organized exhibitions and permanent galleries for the Norton Simon Museum and the University of Southern California, Pacific Asia Museum. Her research investigates Buddhist visual culture in Thailand, and the history of collecting South and Southeast Asian art in America. Her work has been published by various journals and university presses and include topics such as “Returning ‘Home’: The Journey and Afterlife of Repatriated Objects (University of Florida Press, 2019) and “Who Owns Ban Chiang?: The Discovery, Collection and Repatriation of Ban Chiang Artefacts” (NUS Press, 2020).



10 August Alex Burchmore, Ai Weiwei’s Dropping a Han-dynasty Urn (1995) and the fictions of history - CANCELLED DUE TO ILLNESS

Ai Weiwei, Dropping a Han-dynasty Urn, 1995, gelatin silver photograph, triptych, 148 × 121 cm each. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.


Why have so many contemporary Chinese artists used porcelain in their work? One answer to this question, central to the artistic and object lives narrated in New Export China: Translations Across Time and Place in Contemporary Chinese Porcelain Art (2023), lies in the long historical pedigree of this high-fired ceramic as a globally desired product of Chinese kilns. Rather than uncritically perpetuating or rejecting the authority of this history, however, the artists featured in New Export China use porcelain to uncover slippages between fact and fiction, undermining entrenched assumptions and ideals by emphasising the transient, contingent, and prosaic. Ai Weiwei was among the first Chinese contemporary artists to apply a conceptual sensibility to the ancient art of ceramics, and he remains one of the most widely known, while his Dropping a Han-dynasty Urn (1995) is undoubtedly the most acclaimed example of “New Export China”. The specific historical circumstances in which Ai created this work, however, and the critique of history as a model for understanding the past that it implies, despite or perhaps because of the artist’s global fame remain widely underacknowledged.

Alex Burchmore is an art historian specialising in the study of Chinese art, past and present, with a broader focus on travel and mobility, trade and exchange, and the intersection of the personal and material. He received his PhD from the Australian National University in 2019 and joined the University of Sydney’s Museum & Heritage Studies department in 2021. His first book, New Export China: Translations Across Time and Place in Contemporary Chinese Porcelain Art (University of California Press, 2023), traces the many ways that artists in China have used porcelain to shape their visions of personal and cultural identity.

17 August John Clark and Terry Smith, Questions of Method: Where, When, How and Why did Modern Art Become Contemporary?

Peter Sedgley, Chromosphere, 1967 (detail), University Art Collection, PW1967.22


Terry Smith: Art historical research into art made during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is no longer dominated by what we might call the “mainstream modernism” narrative, one in which developments in the major art centers of Europe and North America, above all Paris and New York, set the agendas for what counted as modern throughout the rest of the world. In recent decades, it has been steadily replaced by a “multiple modernities” picture of art evolving differentially at various art-producing sites around the world that have varying degrees and kinds of connections with the major centres, that may act as centers in their own region, or act mostly according to their own necessities. What are the implications of these changes for our understanding of the nature of the worldwide shifts from modern to contemporary art, ongoing since the 1970s? This is one of several questions that have motivated the art historical thinking of John Clark and Terry Smith, long term colleagues and interlocutors, through several decades. Their conversation will explore this and similar challenges to art historical practice today.

Terry Smith is Professor in the Division of Philosophy, Art, and Critical Thought, European Graduate School, and Faculty at Large, Curatorial Studies Program, School of Visual Arts, New York. He is also Andrew W. Mellon Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory, Department of the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh, and Emeritus Professor of Art History, University of Sydney.

John Clark: Beyond modernity in art and how it became contemporary, art history is faced with the genealogical siting of these approaches in non-Euramerican geographies and within cultures which in many cases were subject to external domination. How is the focus of art history as a set of explanations and descriptions of current and recent art to move beyond its by now habitual exclusions? One way is to look at what artists actually did; another is to listen to what they wrote or said, or find ways of excavating a new archive. I shall attempt to typify some recent approaches which arise from artists and scholars actively concerned with Southeast Asia and see what their intellectual positions involve.

John Clark is Professor Emeritus in Art History at the University of Sydney where he taught for 22 years and retired in 2013. In 2022 he published The Asian Modern from National Gallery of Singapore. He is actively engaged in re-appraising the placement of modern and contemporary art in Euramerican and Asian frames, as well as recently publishing on Southeast Asian Art, including modern painting and literature in Thailand.

31 August Alan McKee, Criteria to identify online pornography that can support healthy sexual development: results of a Delphi panel

This project brought together a Delphi Panel of experts from a range of relevant areas including the production and research of pornography, adolescent and sexual health, and asked them to identify the best online pornography to support young people’s healthy sexual development, as well as the criteria that should be used to make those determinations. Experts were recruited from a range of professional backgrounds who were all stakeholders in the Panel’s question: six experts in each of five areas: sex educators, pornography researchers, online pornography producers, adolescent development experts and sexual health experts. Panelists were asked to nominate examples of pornography that could support healthy sexual development; and to specify the criteria used to make these decisions. In a second round Panelists were asked the extent to which they agreed with a synthesised list of each other’s suggestions; and five proposed online pornographic sites.

Professor Alan McKee is an expert on entertainment and healthy sexual development. His latest book - What Do We Know About the Effects of Pornography After Fifty Years of Academic Research? – emerges from an Australian Research Council Discovery grant entitled ‘Pornography’s effects on audiences: explaining contradictory research data’. He also worked on an ARC Linkage grant with True (previously Family Planning Queensland) to investigate the use of vulgar comedy to reach young men with information about healthy sexual development. He was co-editor of the Girlfriend Guide to Life and co-author of Objectification: on the difference between sex and sexism (2020).


14 September Ann Elias, The Horror of the Under-Harbour

Film Still, Boy Diver Invents own Depths Gear, 1937, newsreel, Cinesound Productions, NFSA


An octopus phobia, typical of the fear surrounding underwater regions of oceanic cities of the “New World”, is investigated through a short film set in the under-harbour of Sydney. A fight between a diver and an octopus ends with the human seemingly defeated and demoralized by the animal. The film suggests the revenge of nature and in one possible reading invokes the monster as a metaphor for anxieties relating to the status of the European as an outsider in the environment. Shot and screened in Sydney in 1937, the film appears never to have been discussed in Australian film history.


Ann Elias is Professor of Art and Visual Culture at the University of Sydney. Building on ideas explained in her recent book, Coral Empire: Underwater oceans, colonial tropics, visual modernity (Duke University Press, 2019), current research for a forthcoming book continues to investigate the oceanic underwater but with a particular focus on colonial, modern, and industrial histories of Sydney’s under-harbour.

5 October Toni Ross, Wellness Business–healing or stalking? Pilvi Takala’s The Stroker (2018)

Pilvi Takala, The Stroker, 2018, 2-channel video installation, installation view.


This paper discusses how a work by Finnish performance artist Pilvi Takala engages with the current cultural and corporate obsession with wellness. Titled The Stroker, of 2018, this 15 minute, 2-channel video installation derived from a 10-day undercover intervention Takala conducted at Second Home: a trendy co-working space for start-ups, entrepreneurs and business creatives located in Spitalfields, East London. With the support of Second Home management, but initially without the knowledge of those who rented the space, Takala posed as Nina Nieminen, founder of a ‘cutting-edge’ wellness company called Personnel Touch. She spent her days roaming the high concept design spaces of Second Home lightly touching people on the shoulder with the words ‘you alright?’; ‘all good?’; ‘you ok?’. Featuring Pikala and hired actors, The Stroker re-enacts the ambivalent responses of Second Home inhabitants to touch as wellness therapy in a business environment.


Dr. Toni Ross is Honorary Senior Lecturer (Art Theory) in Art, Design & Architecture, UNSW, Sydney and Sydney reviewer for Artforum magazine. In 2021 she co-edited a special issue of Art Monthly Australasia (Issue 327 Autumn 2021) on Art and Wellness Culture, to which she contributed the essay ‘Be well, or else!’.


2 November Jane Garling, The Early Earle

The English artist Augustus Earle (1793-1838) is perhaps best known as ‘The Travelling Artist”, his reputation relying upon his exceptional travels to six continents in the early part of the nineteenth century. This title was utilised by Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones when presenting a wide-ranging exhibition of Earle’s work at the National Library of Australia in 1980.


In each destination visited, Earle established himself professionally and used whatever medium was to hand to support himself through his artistic ability. As a result, his work is scattered around the globe and scholarship since the National Library exhibition has concentrated on particular themes or geographic connections in his work. Little is known, however, of his early years and, in particular, the two years he spent in North America. In this paper this time will be examined to interrogate what influence, if any, his North American experience had on his development as an artist.


Jane Garling is currently undertaking research into the life and work of Augustus Earle as part of a Doctor of Philosophy under the supervision of Dr Anita Callaway. She was drawn to this artist during her research into the life and work of Frederick Garling, a student of Earle in Sydney in the 1820s.


Augustus Earle,The Infant Roscius, (1817), watercolour on paper, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; partial gift of William Vareika


For more information contact Professor Mary Roberts, Seminar Convenor, mary.roberts@sydney.edu.au

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