This Year’s Art History Symposium Goes Regional at Meijer Gardens

First Annual Grand Rapids Undergraduate Art History Symposium
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park — Friday, 20 April 2012

The 2012 Art History Symposium (Calvin’s 9th) has been organized in conjunction with Grand Valley State University, and will take place at Meijer Gardens on Friday, April 20, from 10:30-3:15, in the Garden View Room. You’re invited to come and hear our students present their research papers.


BETSY ZANDSTRA (Calvin College), Albinus’s Perfection

As a prominent Leiden anatomy professor, Bernard Siegfried Albinus (1697-1770) strove for an objective mode of idealism in his most famous publication, the Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani of 1747. He formed a close working partnership with the artist Jan Wandelaar, aiming for objectivity, symmetry, and vitality in the anatomical representation of his “homo perfectus.” Objectivity was sought by minimizing perspectival distortions, and perfect symmetry came through a Zeuxisian approach to synthesizing multiple forms drawn from numerous skeletons. For Albinus, vitality required the skeletons to appear strong, beautiful, and graceful—equated not with death and mortality but with life. Albinus’s anatomical atlas was one of the last books to express a connection of the arts, sciences, and faith, in this case, grounded in the Calvinism of the Dutch Enlightenment.

ALYSSA DAYLEY (GVSU), Edmonia Lewis and the Question of Nineteenth-Century African American Female Artists

Using Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907) as a case study, I address art history’s approach to late nineteenth-century African American female artists. Exploring issues of Lewis’s identity (both her Native American and African heritage), her relationship with her patrons, her religion, sex and location, I try to draw out some of the complexities of both being an African American female artist and also being represented as an African American woman in art. In addition, I explore the ways this otherness is often oversimplified, sometimes appearing as tokenism, with Lewis’s work taken as fully representative of her life and identity. I try to address the complexity of approaching this issue and explore other ways we might learn to see the creative works of African American women in this period.


PAULA MANNI (Calvin College), The Fragmented Female: Hannah Hoch’s Understanding of Germany’s Neue Frau

Hannah Hoch (1889-1978) is best known as the singular female artist within the Berlin Dada movement of the early twentieth-century. With the period marked by radical political, social, and technological change, the rise of German democracy under the Weimar Republic brought more political freedom while technological advancements opened new doors in the workplace. These changes especially shaped the role of Germany’s modern woman, or neue frau, as assertive, competent, and forward-thinking. Hoch was an advocate of the neue frau, and this is evident in her photomontages of the period. This paper analyzes the fragmentary forms of the female subject found within Hoch’s work, with an emphasis on machine aesthetics as a mode of understanding the new woman as progressive. True to dada form, however, Hoch’s works can be read in multiple (often contradictory) ways; so I also seek to unpack Hoch’s understanding of the repression or objectification of woman through the use of a machine aesthetic. In the early twentieth century, Hoch stood on the periphery of what was then considered a men’s only ‘dada club’. However, we can now see that her contributions to the movement reached beyond dada aims in that she fashioned a multi-layered understanding of what it meant to be female in the modern world.

KRISTIN SKINNER (GVSU), Traditional Textiles and Contemporary Fine Art Textiles in Relation to Postmodernism

My paper explores some of the ways contemporary artists use textiles to create works that integrate postmodern concepts with traditional folk textile aesthetics or methods. A traditional quilt by Irene Williams of Gee’s Bend is used to represent the latter. Contemporary works by Susan Brandeis, Merill Comeau, Karen Reimer, Nancy Crow, and Steve MacDonald are explained in reference to appropriation, hybridization, and other postmodern concepts, along with the traditional aspects integrated in their works. The rejection of modernism serves as the vital connection between these textiles. In comparing and contrasting these works to traditional textiles, this paper addresses how contemporary textile artists reject modernist ideals, eliminating the line between craft and fine art and using traditional textile aspects of folk culture to engage postmodern ideas.


ABBY BAAS (Calvin College), Dutch Politics in the Tavern: Jan Steen’s Prinsjesdag

Jan Steen’s Prinsjesdag (ca. 1665) depicts a chaotic tavern with patrons grouped around two large tables. The landlord kneels, slightly off center, drinking to the health of the Nassau line with a sword held firmly at his side. His patrons toast, converse, laugh and go about their personal business. There are also references to the House of Orange scattered throughout the painting. With a title referencing the birthday of the Prince of Orange, we know that the figures are celebrating the holiday, Prinsjesdag. Consequently, the picture can be seen to offer insight into the political culture of the decade, and particularly attitudes toward William III of Orange – who, starting in 1688, served as both Stadholder in the United Provinces and King of England. The attitudes of the Dutch citizens towards their leaders varied widely, as represented within the picture by the landlord and the patrons in the tavern. Prisnjesdag presents an abundant collection of smaller scenes and iconography representing various attitudes of seventeenth-century Dutch citizens towards the royal family, a theme that continues to resonate in the Netherlands today.

BETH VALENTINE (Calvin College), Alexandr Rodchenko and Visual Communications in the Soviet Union

In March of 1918, the Bolshevik leadership seized control of the government in St Petersburg and signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending Russian involvement in World War I. This moment signified the end of the Revolution and the beginning of many building projects in the Soviet Union, all aimed at encouraging a collective life. Within this context, Alexandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) used industrial design, visual communications, and applied arts for the sake of clearly designed communications that would be accessible to viewers of all social classes and educational levels. This paper discusses three areas in Rodchenko’s work: photography, perspective, and the integration of these in posters for political events and commercial products. I demonstrate his commitment to the arts and applied design as the political language for the new Communist State.

PATRICK HEKMAN (Calvin College), Situationism and Alternative Narratives in Contemporary Art History

This paper explores the ideology, method, and historical context of the Situationist Internation movement. Situationism offers an opportunity to discuss the disconnect between the mainstream narrative of contemporary art history, found in standard texts like Arnason’s History of Modern Art, and the ‘end of art’ proposed by Arthur Danto. The paper explores why Situationism doesn’t fit a standard art historical narrative, what effect such standards had on the experience of Situationist work, and how the movement may provide a way forward for contemporary practice.

BRIANNA THIEL (GVSU), The Art of Ai Weiwei as Social Critique

My paper addresses Ai Weiwei’s combination of art and social critique. Through his provocative yet poetic oeuvre, Ai has confronted a variety of political and social injustices he perceives in Chinese society. This paper considers the multiple layers of meaning in some of Ai’s major works, specifically in how he appropriates the material history of China. It also explores his use of postmodern aesthetic themes such as copy and détournement, authenticity and authorship, and a culture’s present relationship to its past.

The conference organizers are especially grateful to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for providing generous support.

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