UCLA Department of Art History

Graduate Student Symposium

"The Dog From Pompei," by artist Allan McCollum, keynote speaker.

The annual UCLA Art History Graduate Student Symposium is the longest running symposium of its kind in North America. Initiated in 1965, the symposium provides a forum for graduate students from our department and from universities across North America to present original research in a scholarly format. Generally held each spring, the symposium is organized around critical themes and issues addressing the current state of art historical scholarship.

Although the symposium is entirely run by graduate students, it would not be possible without the generous support of such organizations as: the UCLA Friends of Art History, the UCLA Art Council, the UCLA Graduate Student Association, the Center for Student Programming, and the Department of Art History.

35th Annual UCLA Art History Graduate Student Symposium


April 22, 2000

9:30AM to 5:00PM

UCLA Campus: Charles E. Young Salon, Kerckhoff Hall

Keynote Presentation, 1:15PM - Allan McCollum, Contemporary Artist

Schedule of Speakers and Abstracts

Previous Symposia

Questions should be directed to us at ahsympos@humnet.ucla.edu.

This Symposium is sponsored by the UCLA Department of Art History, Friends of Art History, the UCLA Art History Graduate Student Association, the UCLA Graduate Student Association, and the UCLA Campus Programs Committee of the Program Activities Board.

Getting here...

If you need a map of the UCLA campus, please click here . Daily parking is available on-campus and can be purchased for $6. at the entrances. The closest on-campus parking to Kerckhoff Hall is located in parking structures 6, 8, and 9.

Buddha image


9:00-9:45 AM Continental Breakfast

9:45-10:00 AM Welcome: Professor Robert L. Brown, Department of Art History, UCLA

10:00 AM-NOON Morning Panel, Respondent: Saleema Waraich, Department of Art History, UCLA

NOON-1:00 PM Lunch

1:15-1:30 PM Reconvening, Kenote Speaker Introduction

1:30-2:45 PM Keynote Address, Allan McCollum, Artist

2:45-4:45 PM Afternoon Panel, Respondent: Colette Apelian, Department of Art History, UCLA

4:45-5:00 PM Closing Remarks

Allan McCollum

Texts about and by the artist can be found here.


"Ideal Image" or Exception to the "Rule?"

The Wieng Sa Buddha and Gupta Stylistic Influence in Early Mainland Southeast Asia

Paul Lavy

Gupta-period art from northern India (ca. 4th-7th cent. C.E.) is frequently argued to have been an important stylistic source for the earliest sculpture from the areas of what are today Thailand and Cambodia. Virtually all important studies of Preangkorian sculpture (pre-802 C.E.), including the recent catalogue that accompanied the Millennium of Glory exhibition of ancient Cambodian art (1997), consider the Gupta style to have been the major formative influence in early mainland Southeast Asia. Rarely, however, are direct comparisons between Gupta and Southeast Asian works made or effectively argued. Nor, due to the lack of any clear archaeological evidence, are the connections or contacts between these regions ever explained. The Wieng Sa Buddha (found in Peninsular Thailand), with its unmistakable Gupta affinities in terms of style and iconography, has provided scholars with the only presumed example of a Gupta export to Southeast Asia. Reevaluation of this tiny (7 in.) relief and its place in the development of early Southeast Asian styles and Buddha imagery, however, raises questions about its origins and the commonly-held assumption of Gupta stylistic primacy in ancient Southeast Asia.

The high regard for Gupta art in India and the west has developed in tandem with the notion that the Gupta period represents "the classical phase of Indian art." This idea was first expressed in 1927 by the eminent art historian, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and has been continually perpetuated in the art historiography of the last seventy years. The culmination of the Gupta-as-classical paradigm came in 1978 with Pratapaditya Pal's well-known exhibition and accompanying catalogue, The Ideal Image: The Gupta Sculptural Tradition and Its Influence. Included was the Wieng Sa Buddha, a piece that has frequently been published but never thoroughly analyzed.

For Pal and others, the Wieng Sa Buddha represents a clear example of a Gupta work made for export and one of the few known transmitters of Gupta style to Southeast Asia. Close stylistic analysis, however, reveals features that are consistent with mainland Southeast Asian artistic styles. The Wieng Sa Buddha, therefore, may have been a locally made copy (of a Gupta Sarnath original) rather than an Indian export. Furthermore, the iconography of the Wieng Sa image is extremely rare in Thailand and Cambodia. Thus the Wieng Sa Buddha, while perhaps reflecting the spread of general Gupta stylistic characteristics to Southeast Asia, can no longer be seen as a source of specific influences. In short, it is a poor candidate to serve as a linchpin in arguments that privilege Gupta stylistic influence in early mainland Southeast Asian sculpture.

Creating Traditions: Competing Excavations and the Political Uses of Invented Language

Hans Bjarne Thomsen

In 1819, the scholar Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843) published a controversial work that was to have wide impact on not just Kokugaku thought but also the language and arts of contemporary Japan. The book, the Jinji hifumi den, supposedly marked the discovery of Japanese alphabets, the so-called jindai moji, pre-dating the introduction of Chinese characters. According to Atsutane, the alphabets constitute the world's first written language that had been handed down from the gods to the Japanese long before the arrival of the imports from the continent.

Atsutane's theory was to have wide repercussions as inscriptions in the new alphabets began to appear on the art and visual culture of the nineteenth century: in calligraphy, on stone inscriptions, in Shinto rituals, and even in the design of paper currency. Excavations also supposedly revealed ancient Japanese artifacts with jindai moji characters. Later in the Meiji and into the Showa, these "uniquely Japanese" characters were taken up by State Shinto and figured in the dialogue vis-à-vis the newly conquered territories: the inscribed objects dug up in Japan competed in a sense with the inscribed bronze vessels excavated in China. In 1953 Yamada Yoshio finally sets an end to the controversy by proving conclusively the characters to be later forgeries and the once popular topic disappeared almost entirely from scholarly discourse.

This paper proposes to reexamine these invented alphabets and to postulate on their origins and function. It will be seen that they, rather than stemming from the gods, come from Japan's neighbors to the west: while some are direct copies of the Korean alphabet created in the 1440's, others stem from Chinese Ming and Qing dynasty studies of inscriptions found on excavated artifacts from earlier dynasties. The fundamental irony of the jindai moji remains that, although proclaimed by scholars and artists to be uniquely Japanese creations, they ultimately are as foreign to Japan as the Chinese characters that they supposedly predate.

Counterfeit and Artifact in Trompe l'Oeil's Paste-up Memories

Meredith Davis

The late Nineteenth-century American artists William Harnett and John Frederic Peto were "re-discovered" in the 1940's by Downtown Gallery owner Edith Halpert, who marketed their paintings as relating to both the (highly saleable) American Folk Art Tradition and to a 'surrealistic' aesthetic. They were quickly bought up by the likes of Nelson Rockefeller and Alfred Barr, who admired their formal strengths and apparent links with modernist sensibilities. Most of the art historical scholarship that has followed the reintroduction of this work onto the market has been focused on reinserting these stranded painitngs into history, on giving them an authentic and stable relationship to a historical context. This paper will emphasize that the relationship of these works to history in general, or to a particular historical moment, is uncertain and unstable at best.

After a brief discussion of the structural conditions of trompe l'oeil as a mode of represntation, the first part of the paper will argue that trompe l'oeil is itself a problematic non-artifact, an expressly ahistorical,inauthenitc mode of painting. Trompe l'oeil occupies an uneasy place within art historical discourse because of its periodic reemergence over several millenia of the history of Western painting, which theatens the developmental ideal within the discipline. The broader question this provokes will be: What is the place of the artifact outside of a teleological model of history: is it the Benjaminian monad, a "chip" of messianic time? In the case of trompe l'oiel, I prefer Hubert Damisch's idea that there are some objects which function as "models for thought" do not obey the laws of history.

This analysis leads to the second part of my paper, which consists of a discussion of how the imagery of the paintings address these very issues. The illusionistic surfaces support a range of objects with legible historical implicationsranging from the public to the very private: Civil War pistols, tattered letters, stamps, ticket stubs and currency. I will focus on the prevalent representations of money in these works, suggesting that this imagery echoes the structural conditions of trompe l'oeil itself, moving beyond the largely iconographic analyses of the represntations of currency which have been written

Raiding the Refrigerator: Representing Canada in the Cold War

Alan C. Elder

In 1957, Canada's National Industrial Design Council (NIDC) organized a display for an international design exhibition in Milan. This exhibit focused on the development of the "new town" of Kitimat by the Aluminum Company of Canada. Along with furnishings and photographs taken from the workers' and guest quarters in Kitimat were a series of objects that had received the NIDC's Design Award. The Canadian government's use domestic objects to represent ideas of modern nationalism during the Cold War period is not an isolated case. Signs of domestic comfort became weapons to be used by opposing forces alongside their display of military arms. In 1959, this battle reached its peak when American Vice-President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev engaged in what would become one of the most famous verbal sparring matches of the Cold War. Standing in a mock-up of an American kitchen, the two statesmen debated the strengths of their political ideologies based on the qualities of their respective kitchen designs in what came to be known as the "kitchen debate." Home appliances, along with the kitchen spaces themselves, heightened awareness of the technical innovations and the introduction of new, more "modern," materials--many developed by the international war machines active in World War II. But what does Canada's representation at the Triennale di Milano indicate about the nation in 1957?

The Second World War had thrust Canada onto the international stage as an autonomous nation. During the immediate post-war period, Canada strove to maintain its newfound autonomy while simultaneously struggling with the sometimes contradictory influences of Britain and the United States. Through its development of social, economic and cultural policies, the nation attempted to extradite itself from its old world ancestor and differentiate itself from its continental partner. In this paper, I will analyze the Canadian government's display in Milan in order to investigate the way that Canada represents itself as separate from the old worldliness of Britain and the rugged individuality of the United States. Through its focus on contemporary materials and products made from aluminum, the NIDC presented Canada as a modern nation that encouraged new industry and technology. These technologies and industries, along with the utopic vision that formed the basis for the planning of Kitimat, are used to depict Canada as a sophisticated and caring nation. Simultaneously, the physical location of Kitimat in the northern half of British Columbia enabled the designers to utilize traditional elements of Canadian identity--the rugged North and the white male conqueror--in new ways. The landscape was now being civilized with modern design and technology, rather than conquered by force. Finally, the juxtaposition of a photograph of a male Alcan worker with domestic objects in the display allows for a blurring of traditional gender binaries. No longer is he a hard-hatted, hard-headed industrial worker; instead he is portrayed as a sophisticated individual working in a modern technological sphere in a civilized community. His presence calls for a rethinking of the dichotomies of male/female, producer/consumer, public/private. My paper investigates the suitability of softening these traditional classifications in order to form a visual representation of Canadian identity.

During the Cold War, the struggle for ideological supremacy was not only taking place outdoors, but inside--in the kitchen as well. And the siege for domestic superiority has resurfaced. On Thursday, 13 January 2000, Bill Gates, when announcing his retirement as Microsoft's chief executive officer, stated that he was going to "focus 'almost 100 per cent' on the company's next generation of software." This next generation of software--unlike the academic and security based technological innovations of the recent past--is destined for the kitchens of the world. As Simon Tuck noted in the Globe and Mail the following morning, "The guy who runs your computer wants to take over your kitchen." The kitchen remains a contested site for the transformation of everyday lives. In 1957, it also served as a fitting metaphor for the construction of a new Canadian identity.

The politics of perpetuation: Samoan necklaces and the legacy of collecting

Tobias Sperlich

The aim of this paper is to explore how ethnographic objects were active in creating their own histories and how they can be seen to act as links between a variety of discourses today. These processes will be exemplified by Samoan sperm whale necklaces ('ula lei) collected in German colonial Samoa around the onset of the 20th century and now housed in German museums. Coming from a cultural background that valued these necklaces as exchange objects and ornaments of rulers, their meaning and function have frequently and dramatically changed in the process of collecting and exhibiting them.

Collecting in Samoa in the late 19th/early 20th century was heavily influenced by such paradigms as salvage ethnography and evolutionary documentation. As such, 'ula lei were valued mainly because they were seen to give testimony of a soon-to-disappear culture and of technological advances of "savage" industries. Thus they were no longer regarded as gifts by the people who were in contact with the objects but entered the commodity phase of their existence (cf. Appadurai 1986). At the same time, the 'ula lei was used to portray Samoa and Samoans in terms of exoticism and notions of paradise and thus illustrates a longing for the paradise that Germany had obtained in Polynesia (Western Samoan became a German colony in 1900).

Subsequent shifts in anthropological focus made it possible to regard 'ula lei in German collections as the expression of internal Samoan social relationships, manifested in the exchange rituals in which the necklaces would take part. Yet, they were still seen as passive objects, detached from their contextual Samoan framework. Recent work on the "entanglement" of objects with history and individuals (e.g., Thomas 1991) and the recognition of objects' agency (e.g., Gell 1998) allows one to now view these objects as not only having a history, but as agents active in the creation of that history. Having experienced and formed the history associated with them, 'ula lei today act as a nexus between a multiplicity of discourses, past and present, including the collector and the museum, museum ethnography and colonialism, Samoa and Germany.

Dante's Bones

Jeffrey D. Feldman

In 1933, Italian craniologist Fabio Frassetto (1876-1953) published Dante's Bones (Bologna: Instituto di Antropologia), a study that used Dante Alighieri's skeletal measurements to test the authenticity of major artistic representations of Italy's most famous poet. Frassetto distinguished between good and bad art by overlaying cranial drawings onto a given image of Dante. In this paper I read Dante's Bones to theorize the implications Frassetto's approach to connoisseurship held for the visual and narrative link between racism and culture in fascist Italy. I argue that the broader context for Dante's Bones was the development of an Italian ethnology based on the creation of mask- and portrait-based racial typologies using photographs and plaster casts collected in the African colonies. As a result of these studies, Italian racist science developed a visual agenda. Accordingly, the analysis of skeletal structure in relation to surface elements in the human face became the most sophisticated methodology to determine racial authenticity. By analyzing portraits of Dante as if they had skeletal inner structures, Frassetto ushered in the language and logic of racial essentialism not just to one chapter in Italian art history, but to central "corpus" of Italian cultures.

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