Spring 2017 Travel Seminar: “Sunshine/Noir: Minor Histories of California Art”

In spring 2017 I will teach a newly-designed travel seminar in the Department of Art History & Archaeology at Columbia University. The title of the seminar is “Sunshine/Noir: Minor Histories of California Art,” and it will feature a week-long trip to the Bay Area where students will meet with artists and curators and visit sites and institutions of art historical and cultural significance.

Seminar blog: https://sunshinenoirseminar.wordpress.com/


What would the history of American art look like if we turned west instead of east, and focused on artists living in Los Angeles and San Francisco instead of in New York? This seminar asks students to examine art since WWII as it developed under the Southern California sun and the Northern California fog. Moving away from a traditional auteur-driven narrative focused on individual artists, curators, critics, or works, this seminar will also focus attention on pivotal exhibitions, events, performances, and catalytic encounters that happened on the peripheries of, and often, in opposition to, traditional institutional contexts like the gallery and museum.

Questions shaping our discussion will include: How have California artists responded to their environmental surroundings and cultural geography—for instance, the influence of automobile and surf culture, or close proximity to the desert, ocean, and to Mexico? How did major West Coast industries—such as Hollywood cinema, popular music and television broadcasting, military and aerospace engineering, and Silicon Valley—impact artistic production? How did West Coast artistic engagement with counter- and sub-cultures—from the Beats and hippie psychedelia in the 1950s and 1960s, to punk and hip-hop in the late 1970s—differ from its East Coast counterparts? How have artists associated with historically marginalized identities—African American, Latinx, Asian American, immigrant, queer and female-identified—taken advantage of California’s marginal position within the art world as an opportunity to chart new directions?

Simon Rodia, Watts Towers, 1921-1954

Utilizing the immense archive assembled by the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative as both a foundation and a point of departure, this seminar aims to evaluate and question the relevance of established taxonomies, categories, and criteria emerging from New York-centric narratives—for instance, the modernist preoccupation with medium-specificity—for the study of West Coast art. Topics covered will include: Bay Area figurative painting, California assemblage; craft   hierarchies in fine arts production; Finish Fetish and Light and Space; art & technology; art & political activism; the role of art schools and collectives; experimental film, video and music; and the emergence of post-studio practice.