Special Topics Courses Spring 2018



ART H 1: First-Year Seminar

“Modern Architecture”

Prof. Craig Zabel

MWF 1:25–2:15, Borland 242


This seminar will explore the history and ideas of “modern” architecture from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century.  The rise of industry, new structural materials (iron, steel, reinforced concrete), and the mass production of glass began to challenge the traditional assumptions of architecture in the 19th century.  Rather than continuing the revival of past architectural forms, some architects began to explore the development of a “modern” architecture for the contemporary age.  But if one jettisons historical precedents, what guiding principles will the new architecture be based upon?  We will find that there is not one “modern” architecture, but many different agendas for creating an appropriate architecture for the modern world. We will explore such topics as the Arts & Crafts Movement, the early skyscrapers of Louis Sullivan, the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the client-based architecture of Julia Morgan, Italian Futurism, German Expressionism, Russian Constructivism, Adolf Loos & ornamental crime, Le Corbusier’s Toward an Architecture, the German Bauhaus, Nazi architecture, Alvar Aalto & Finland, Post-War Modernism from Levittown to Mies’s glass boxes, the Philadelphian Louis I. Kahn, Robert Venturi & Learning from Las Vegas.



ART H 350: Undergraduate Seminar in the History of Art


Prof. Nancy Locke

TuTh 1:35–2:50, Borland 242


When Claude Monet made “a few rough sketches” at La Grenouillère in 1869, he began painting in a style that would not only provoke controversy in the short term, but also go on to become an influential movement that found new ways to paint the urban and suburban spaces of modern experience. This course is meant to be an introduction to original research, methodology, analysis, and writing on a scholarly level. We will focus on Impressionism by looking closely at the evolution of avant-garde painting in France from the Salon des Refusés in 1863 through the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, and by considering global interpretations of Impressionism. Writing on Impressionism has been an intersection of competing methodological statements and approaches, and our discussions of readings will compare and critique social historical, formalist, Marxist, feminist, and other methods of research in Impressionism. Students will write short précis as well as longer papers that contrast approaches to single objects or develop an original topic of research; each student will also give a presentation in conference paper format.



ART H 462: Studies in Latin American Art

“The Colonial Period (1492–1820)”

Prof. Amara Solari

TuTh 12:05–1:20, Borland 110


The arrival of Europeans on the American continents in the late fifteenth century encompassed one of the most violent moments of “encounter” in human history. This course examines the hybridized artistic production that resulted from this culture contact as early modern European aesthetic and social ideals confronted those of equally developed Amerindian cultures.  While focused on Latin America, and more specifically the viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru, this course is expansive in its investigation, including the study of various mediums such as urban design, architecture, painting, cartography, sculpture, and enacted ritual.  Multi-disciplinary in its methods and approach, we rely on both primary and secondary sources as well as studies conducted in the normally distinctive fields of history, anthropology, art history and religious studies.


ART H 470: Contemporary Art

“The Real Rebels: Avant-gardism in Postwar Asia”

Prof. Chang Tan

TuTh 1:35–2:50, Borland 110


This course takes a series of snapshots on major movements of avant-garde art in Asia after 1945, which, despite its extraordinary boldness and richness, remains periphery in the studies of contemporary art. We will learn about the emergence of body art, “anti-art” and “non-art” movements in Japan, the transition from monochromatic abstraction to Pop and installation in Korea, the provocative and ethically problematic performances as well as socially-engaged, participatory projects in China, postcolonial art in India and South Asia, and identity politics in the art of Southeast Asia. We will also look into the rapid growth of biennials, museums, auction houses, and other regional networks in Asia, as well as the increasingly prominent roles played by diaspora artists. The goal is not to identify “Asian characteristics” within those diverse practices, but to broaden and modify our preconceptions of modernism, and to understand the avant-garde movements as global phenomena, interconnected yet distinctive in each context and locale. In addition to reading-based discussions and a midterm paper, you will also create a virtual exhibition on a topic of your choice, and present your curatorial work to an audience.


ART H 497, section 1: Special Topics

“Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture”

Prof. Daniel Zolli

MWF 10:10–11, Borland 110


This course offers a focused introduction to European sculpture between roughly 1350 and 1650, years defined by sweeping innovation, and broad interest, in the theory and practice of the plastic arts. During this period, sculpture served the rituals of Christian cult, it commemorated the peninsula’s most oppressive tyrants, and, scaled down, it was collected, circulated, and studied. It was the chosen medium for some of the period’s most formidable undertakings, and the focus of its most bitter controversies, both at home and abroad. The course’s ambition, then, is to introduce you to this diverse —and comparatively understudied—field, as well as its unique interpretive and methodological challenges. Lectures will cover a broad geographic base and address many artists, from the canonical (e.g., Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini, Bernini, Duquesnoy) to the less well known (e.g., Properzia de’ Rossi, Juan de Juni, Melchiorre Cafà). Although readings in a given week will range widely, particular attention will be given to primary sources, one of which we will study in each meeting.


ART H 497, section 2: Special Topics

“Conceptual Art”

Prof. Victoria Salinger

TuTh 3:05–4:20


Conceptual art is, as the name suggests, art that is ‘about’ concepts or ideas, often emphasizing those concepts over any particular physical manifestation or visual choice. But does that mean that all art since then is conceptual art if it engages with ideas or builds on the legacy of conceptual artists, or that art before conceptual art did not engage with ideas? 


This course will provide a survey of conceptual art focusing primarily on America and Europe in the mid 1960s to mid 1970s. But, moreover, in examining the many claims that have been made for and about conceptual art, we will consider issues crucial to broader narratives about postwar art, including the globalization of the art world, the relationship between art, labor, and technology in the information age, changing roles and relationships between artists, curators, and critics, and the role of language in and as art. We will discuss the work of artists including Adrian Piper, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Hanne Darboven, and more.



ART H 515, section 1: Seminar in Modern Art

“Investigating of Materials of Art: Plastic”

Prof. Sarah Rich

Mondays 2:30–5:30, Borland 242


“There’s a great future in plastics.  Think about it.”

             — Middle-aged man giving a recent college graduate unsolicited advice in the film The Graduate, 1967, screenplay by Buck Henry


“I sometimes think that there is a malign force loose in the universe that is the social equivalent of cancer, and it’s plastic.”

             —Norman Mailer, interview in 1983


This class will explore the possibilities for art history when one focuses primarily upon its materials, with a special focus on a key ingredient in contemporary art: plastic.


While the term “plastic” originated in English at the start of the 17th century, denoting the additive technique of sculpture through modeling (as opposed to subtractive techniques of carving), the word quickly morphed into an adjective describing substances generally hospitable to transformation. In its latter function, plasticity would become paradigmatic of Modernity itself, effectively capturing the era’s ethos of instability.  With the advent of synthetic and petroleum products, material plastic became a chief ingredient in everything from radios to nylon stockings, and in the process became an emblem of technology’s triumph.  As decades progressed as its environmental impact became more clear, however, plastic reversed its connotation and increasingly became emblematic of technology’s destructive power.  


We will begin our investigations by looking at key sources that discuss the issue of art’s materiality in general (from ancient thinkers like Plato and Pliny to modern writers such as Bachelard and Deleuze).  We will proceed to look at specific uses of plastic in art (plastic paints, styrofoam, celluloid, plastic tubing, inflatables, nylons...), at properties often associated with plastic (oozing, melting, hardening, softening, bending, molding…), and at artistic movements that explicitly expressed interest in “plasticity” (from early and mid 20th century movements such as De Stijl and Abstract Expressionism to Andy Warhol’s traveling psychedelic party known as “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”).  We will also explore vitally important tributary themes such as the spread of consumerism, the democratization of design, youth culture, the petroleum industry, credit cards, plastic surgery, the mutability of identity, artificiality, toxicity, and sustainability.  Brief field trips and consultations with campus laboratories that deal with plastics will supplement our investigations.


This course will benefit from many important objects, events and speakers that will be available through the Palmer Museum's forthcoming exhibition of plastic in contemporary art (opening in February 2018).



ART H 515, section 2: Seminar in Modern Art

“Haunted American Art”

Prof. Adam Thomas

Wed. 2:30–5:30, Borland 242


This graduate seminar delves into the art and visual culture of ghostliness in the United States. All manner of paranormal phenomena and occult beliefs are fair game. Whether trading in blatant gothic tropes (haunted houses, doppelgängers, graveyards) or treading the borderline between phantoms and hallucinations, many artists have reckoned with questions of ghostliness and representation. We will attempt to untangle some of the different aesthetic categories associated with this elusive and expansive topic through selected episodes in the history of American art. From the sublime horror of a Thomas Cole landscape in the nineteenth century to the eerie silence of an Edward Hopper interior in the twentieth, paintings will be the jumping-off point for investigation of a range of media. Spirit photography, proto-cinematic technologies, illustrations, and literary texts, for example, are all fodder for scrutiny. This course engages a variety of critical approaches throughout the semester as we consider the importance of haunting to ideas about race and repression, the disenchantment of modernity, the so-called “spectral turn” in cultural theory, and haunting as a methodological disposition in the writing of (art) history itself.