Symposium: Shifting Terrain: Mapping a Transnational American Art History
October 1, 2015

Victoria Burge

Victoria Burge's Island

On October 16th–17th, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will hold the final event in its five-part series: "The Terra Symposia on American Art in a Global Context." This fall's capstone event, "Shifting Terrain: Mapping a Transnational American Art History," speakers will discuss the transformation of the field over the past decade and suggests future directions for scholarship.

The panels will focus on American objects and their display, changing approaches to studying identities in American art, the role of art in international commerce and diplomacy, the U.S.'s involvement in networks of information distribution, and the place of American art within the global discipline of art history. Speakers include professors and curators from around the globe whose research concerns the history of American art from the Revolution to the present day. In addition, graduate students from Canada, Brazil, Switzerland, England, and the United States will present their current research projects, demonstrating growing interest in the art and visual culture of the United States among art historians worldwide.

The series, which is supported by the Terra Foundation for American Art, began in 2006 with "American Art in a Global Context," a three-day symposium held in celebration of the reopening of the museum after its renovation. Convening leading scholars in the field, this pioneering symposium moved beyond the age-old question, "What is American about American art?" to consider American. art in terms of exchange, migration, trade, and travel. Subsequent symposia held in 2009, 2011, and 2013 examined the ties that bind U.S. art and artists to other regions of the world, such as Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

This closing symposium is a fitting conclusion to series that has been instrumental in encouraging an international dialogue on American art and its place within a global art history. More than 115 scholars from six continents have contributed to the series. Thanks to travel support from the Terra Foundation, each international presenter was able to invite a graduate student from his or her home country to participate in the events. Recordings of all five Terra Symposia will be available as webcasts so that people around the world can watch the entire series.

"Shifting Terrain: Mapping a Transnational American Art History" will be held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum October 16th–17th. Register at

Rebecca Singerman, research intern, wrote this post.

Posted by Jeff on October 1, 2015 in American Art Research
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Hiram Powers' The Greek Slave at The Crystal Palace
September 29, 2015

Karen Lemmey, SAAM's sculpture curator, has organized an installation entitled Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers' Greek Slave. Powers' Greek Slave was one of the most popular sculptures of the 19th century. As part of her preparation, Karen worked with Smithsonian X 3D, part of the Institution's Digitization program, to create a 3D model of the this sculpture. Karen continues to provide context to Powers' work. You may also read her other posts on Powers' work: his then-scandalous use of body casting instead of modeling and creating a 3D model of the sculpture, as well as a piece about conserving the Greek Slave.

Greek Slave at Great Exhibition

Statue of the Greek Slave in the east nave of the Great Exhibition; London, England; 1851. From a hand-colored lithograph courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

Hiram Powers' first marble version of the Greek Slave appeared more lifelike than ever at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, where it stood on a rotating pedestal under a lavish red canopy that gave the marble a rosy hue. Six million visitors attended this international fair, which took place in London in 1851 in the glass pavilion known as the Crystal Palace. It was the first exhibition of its kind to include a section dedicated to the United States.

Powers' Greek Slave served as the centerpiece of a display that included a tipi, Native Americans, portraits of presidents, a cylinder engine, and other objects associated with progress and national identity. The Greek Slave was celebrated for its extraordinary beauty and earned Powers international praise. The sculpture also became a site for abolitionist demonstrations at the fair, including several staged by African American fugitive slaves, and sparked the British press to criticize the endurance of slavery in the United States.

The popularity of the Greek Slave at the fair contributed to market demands for reductions, replicas, and photographic images, only some of which were authorized by Powers. Miniature knock-offs extended the appeal of Powers' artwork to people who could never afford to buy his original marble versions. Like the plastic reproductions of the Colosseum that prove irresistible to many tourists today, reduced replicas of the Greek Slave satisfied a nineteenth-century demand for souvenirs. Many firms sold reductions but none were as accurate as those produced by the British firm Minton and Company, which used a mechanical reduction machine to capture the details from Powers' original Greek Slave.

In time, Minton's mass-produced porcelain replicas of the Greek Slave were collected in their own right. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass displayed a Minton reduction of the sculpture in his home.

SAAM's installation, Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave continues until February 19, 2017.

Posted by Jeff on September 29, 2015 in American Art Here, American Art Sculpture
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In This Case: Pioneers of the West
September 23, 2015


Helen Lundeberg's Pioneers of the West

Is it possible for a painting to describe two histories? Take a step back in time to both the Oregon Trail and the Great Depression, both periods of unknown adventure, uncertainty, hard times, perseverance, and optimism. What links these two eras together? The answer is Helen Lundeberg's 1934 painting Pioneers of the West, now on display in the museum's Luce Foundation Center.

Helen Lundeberg was a member of the New Deal's Public Works of Art Project, which aimed to beautify the nation with images of American heritage and everyday life. Attempting to capture a shared heritage, Lundeberg decided to paint an "American scene" that captures the mood of the 1930s within an image of United States history. Unlike many of her colleagues who drew scenes from 1930s life, like Ray Strong's Golden Gate Bridge, Lily Furedi's Subway, and Millard Sheets' Tenement Flats, Lundeberg's mural uniquely describes United States heritage and community as a group of Anglo-Americans families traveling west into the distant Rocky Mountains. Difficult economic times, strength in community and family, and hope for the future are characteristics that define both America's Manifest Destiny, but also the New Deal. Though this image describes a scene from the Oregon Trail, the memory of this challenging time also characterizes the feelings of the Great Depression. Viewers today can look upon the painting like a dream within a dream, or in this case, a history within a history.

Lundeberg's Pioneers of the West painting shows how our present can affect how we look at the past. Just as art can be interpreted in many different ways, so can history. Does this artwork reveal the truth about the past? As a student of history, this is a question that interests me.

Posted by Ryan on September 23, 2015 in American Art Here, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Trevor Paglen: Surveillance in Life and Art
September 17, 2015

Artist Trevor Paglen spoke last week in the Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series, and said his goal as an artist is to “help us see the historical moment we live in.” Paglen made a case that this is true for all art over time, no matter the time period, and showed examples from Turner to Rothko, leading up to present times.

And what exactly is the artist's role in the post-Snowden era? For Paglen, who contributed images to the film Citizen Four, what he wants from art are "things that help us see the historical moment that we live in." These include "new metaphors and new ways of seeing." Paglen, at home "in the artist's studio and the researcher's lab," has looked at the surveillience state that marks our lives, and from it has drawn questions, answers, and thought-provoking works of art

"What does surveillance look like?" is a question that informs Paglen's work. The answer is not always clear. It could resemble, Paglen noted, "bad powerpoint." First you have to find the satellites, machinery and hidden buildings, the underwater cables and landing sites. Sometimes the search even reveals poetry: did you know a group of satellites was known as a constellation? Some of his photographs are taken from a distance of more than forty miles away, when "things begin to collapse." From these, Paglen makes memorable images that in themselves, have an abstract (evasive?), unreal quality to them. As he told us the other evening, "I've always been attracted to hazy and indistinct images because I think the world is that way and difficult to see."

In one of my favorite moments, Paglen referenced western photographers Timothy O'Sullivan (1840-1882) and Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904), whose careers included work as survey photographers for the U.S. government. In essence, they were doing 19th-century reconnaissance.

There may be nothing new under the sun...expect for the countless satellites keeping track over us. Paglen's work helps make the invisible visible.

If you missed Paglen's talk, watch it now:

The Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series continues on October 7 with critic Christopher Knight's talk: Warhol's Wig: Cracking the Pop Art Code

Posted by Howard on September 17, 2015 in Lectures on American Art
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Luce Artist Talk: Kyle Bauer
September 16, 2015

Kyle Bauer

Kyle Bauer's Memphis Billboard, slip cast porcelain, wood, paint, metal, Masonite, streamers, 43 in. x 16 in. x 11 in., 2015

Ever since Marcel Duchamp took a urinal, turned it upside down, called it a "readymade," and demanded we consider it art, sculpture has been open to a variety of methodologies. Kyle Bauer's work is a reflection of this. And he will start off our fall Luce Artist Talk series on Saturday, September 19th at 1:30pm with a discussion of his sculpting methods. He will also reflect on some of the artworks in the Luce Foundation Center's collection and how they have influenced his practice. Bauer's talk begins at 1:30pm. Coffee and tea will be served from 1:30 to 3:30pm.

Bauer's art continues the history of taking ordinary objects and elevating them. His mixed media sculptures combine fine art materials with every-day objects. By utilizing tools he trusts, Bauer's materials range from building supplies like plywood, Formica, and latex paint to more specialized fine art mediums, such as slip cast porcelain. Bauer's penchant for experimentation leads to new and exciting compositions in his sculptures that combine both familiar and foreign materials. Additionally, his experience working in the Baltimore Museum of Art conservation department has informed his practice on how to best use materials and get consistent, long lasting results.

Not only does Bauer use tools he has a personal history with, but the themes represented by his artwork also draw on personal experiences. Referencing summers he spent sailing the lakes of Wisconsin, Bauer's work centers on navigation and way making. By incorporating a sense of journeying into his composition and installation layout, Bauer invites viewers to simultaneously consider the individual components of each sculptures and the installation as a whole. When making a site specific installation, Bauer wanted to make sure that his sculptures had space to breathe and that visitors would have room to navigate.

In addition to his talk at Luce, Bauer's work will be on display at CulturalDC's Flashpoint Gallery. Come for our talk, then walk over and see Kyle's work.

This post was written by Adrienne Iannone, Luce Center program assistant.

Posted by Jeff on September 16, 2015 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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