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  • Writer's pictureART HISTORY

Art History Research Seminars

Semester 2, 2022

When: Most Thursdays 3-4.30pm

Where: On Zoom

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520), 'The School of Athens', 1509-11, fresco; Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

László Moholy-Nagy enthusiastically embraced photography as an art form that might concretize the fourth dimension by integrating light with space and time. His experiments with new materials and techniques, which fostered this aesthetic enterprise, drew inspiration from recent advances in optical science and modern conceptions of space influenced at the time by theoretical advances in the fields of geometry and physics. Moholy’s pioneering development of painting with light was advanced by technology-driven experiments that he used to progress what he called “camera vision.” Through his writings and photographic practice, Moholy embraced a way of thinking beyond representation and the ability to provide a trace of something seen to that which lies beyond sight. This paper takes key examples to explore the ways that Moholy extended the medium to represent the fourth dimension of space-time, both as visually ambiguous and beyond the physical as a way to embrace time and motion in the still-moving image.

Avant-garde studies has extended beyond a narrow Western European-North American framework and is now turning its attention to a wider discussion of the avant-garde in a global context. We consider what might constitute “an oceanic avant-garde.” It would simultaneously encompass very different trajectories: (i) a history of avant-garde projections about the oceanic and Australasian regions; (ii) examining avant-gardists and fellow travellers who visited the region; (iii) exploring how artists from these regions fared when visiting Europe to engage with the avant-garde spirit when their position was considered peripheral or provincial; (iv) First Nation artists who played host, willing or unwilling, to a stream of European artists on ‘research’ visits as well as their interaction and reinvention of Indigenous forms in exchanges inspired by customary cultures; (v) pondering the intersections and disconnections between the avant-garde legacy and indigenous traditions. The challenge is how to narrate such an episodic history of artistic and cultural encounters.

Taking as a focus Giotto’s Black man in the Mocking of Christ scene at the Arena Chapel (1300-05), this paper examines, contextualizes and critiques the assertion that such a figure embodies evil incarnate. While such racist stereotyping is evident in imagery from northern Europe, at the time there was no similar pattern in Italy. Giotto’s character is situated in a liminal position and suspended stance, neither actually beating Christ nor yet siding with him. I argue that his presence signifies the story’s location far away but in historical time and specific geographical place, and implies the possibility of conversion. At a time when tales of Prester John (Christian king of Ethiopia) were spreading, as were tales from pilgrims and crusaders, and long before Africans were transformed into regular commodities in the European slave trade, such Black figures principally present the assumed superiority and universal truth of the Catholic faith.

This presentation will reflect on the research outcomes and wider impact of the Hamilton Gallery 60th Anniversary project; a research project that took place between 2020-2021. Nine art historians from the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, La Trobe University, ANU, UTS and the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) collaborated with the staff of Hamilton Gallery in regional Victoria during the COVID lockdowns on the development of an exhibition (based on the permanent collection), accompanying publication, symposium and educational online resources. Hamilton Gallery houses a highly significant, eclectic collection of European, Asian and Australian works of art, both historical and contemporary. Our team of experts generated new object biographies and reassessed the history of the collection and its relationship to its regional, national and international audiences.

Why does History painting so often disappoint its public? This may seem a strange question, especially after many years of reception studies, often involving the particular public success of works (such as those of David in the 1780s) But I contend that disappointment, perplexity and scorn are in fact far more common reactions to History painting as a genre, from the earliest public art exhibitions onwards. Why is this? My paper explores a couple of moments in the history of French history painting and asks whether History painting as a genre is an eternal victim of historical and social circumstances, or whether instead we might see it as set up for failure by its hubristic ambitions and undefinable aesthetics.

22 September: Chiara O'Reilly, 'Art and Place: The Artist's Studio Museum in Australia'

More details coming soon

Octagonal shell mosaics – colloquially known as sailors’ valentines – were produced in a cottage industry in Barbados for the burgeoning Caribbean tourism industry in the Victorian era. As a commercial colonial craft, sailors’ valentines are occluded in art historical discourse. Nevertheless, these vibrant, textured collages embody the legacy of European aesthetic responses to the natural environment in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; their multivalent forms are inflected with Enlightenment natural philosophy, rococo design, and the picturesque envisioning of an industrialising, natural landscape. This paper will trace the material evolution of sailors’ valentines from their origins in conchology and craft to the rise of modern seaside leisure and its adaptation in the Victorian Caribbean. It will argue that sailors’ valentines were object emissaries of a post-emancipation island identity enlisted in rebranding the Caribbean from a plantation to a paradise.

13 October: Nicholas Thomas, 'Possessions: Indigenous Art / Colonial Culture / Decolonisation: A Panel Discussion'

More details coming soon

27 October: Shima Gholami, 'Persian Nomadic Warp and Weft in MAAS: A Story of Intangible Cultural Heritage'

More details coming soon

3 November: Luke Naessens, 'Cosmogonies of the Industrialised World'

More details coming soon

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