Modernist Encounters and Contemporary Inquiry:  Art, Appropriation, and Cultural Rights

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center and the School for Advanced Research (SAR) co-hosted a symposium on September 6-7, 2013.  The symposium arose from questions encountered by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum staff as they prepared the exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam, and the Land.

Carolyn Kastner, Curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and Cynthia Chavez Lamar, Director of the Indian Arts Research Center at SAR, were the co-organizers of the symposium.  Native and non-Native scholars, curators, and artists addressed shared intellectual and cultural interests in the encounters between Euro- and Native-American modernists and indigenous artists and cultures.

The keynote address “Global Indigenous Modernisms” was given by Ruth B. Philips, Professor of Art History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Panel presentations aimed to promote discussion on questions of interpreting and representing indigenous arts.

Speakers included:
Jim Enote (Zuni), A:shíwí A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, Zuni Pueblo,
Aldona Jonaitis, University of Alaska Museum of the North,
Nancy Marie Mithlo (Apache), Art History and American Indian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Ryan Rice (Mohawk), Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, Santa Fe,
W. Jackson Rushing III, Native American Art, University of Oklahoma,
Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo), National Museum of the American Indian,
Ramona Sakiestewa (Hopi), artist and designer,
Will Wilson (Diné) photographer,
Rose B. Simpson (Santa Clara Pueblo), sculptor and installation artist.

This symposium was presented as part of our continuing advancement of American modernist topics.

Challenging 1945: Exploring Continuities in American Art, 1890s to the Present

Recent scholarship has increasingly called into question the tradition of using 1945 as a marker to separate pre-World War II developments in American art from those occurring thereafter. This division has characterized art developments of the century in terms of rupture and division, often implying that the art of its first half is inferior to that of its second. Yet, many artists who began their careers in the early 20th century lived well into its second half and produced outstanding work both before and after 1945. Moreover, the work of artists from varying decades of the period in question often depends upon or is a reaction to earlier developments in American art. Participants in this symposium explored American art from the perspective of its continuities and inter-dependencies to further expand our understanding of this complex, nuanced and pluralistic history.

From July 14-16, 2011, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center celebrated its 10-year anniversary with the symposium, “Challenging 1945: Exploring Continuities in American Art, 1890s to the Present.” The symposium coincided with the O’Keeffe Museum’s presentation of “Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph,” an exhibition that developed from our 2006 symposium, which addressed the dialogue between painting and photography that has been constant and ongoing since the invention of the latter in the early decades of the nineteenth century.

Painting and Photography in American Art: Sources, Ideas, and Influences, 1890s to the Present

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center hosted a three-day symposium, Thursday, July 6 through Saturday, July 8, 2006, in celebration of the Research Center’s fifth anniversary. Thirteen well-known leaders in the art world from around the United States participated in “Painting and Photography in American Art: Sources, Ideas, and Influences, 1890s to the Present.” Their presentations explored and offered new insights into the relatively uncharted history of the exchange of ideas between painters and photographers that has influenced both mediums since photography came into being in the 19th century.

“Because making photographs is a mechanical process, photography was first viewed as something separate from and unequal to the art of painting,” says Barbara Buhler Lynes, Museum Curator and The Emily Fisher Landau Director, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center. “Photographers first sought to legitimize their work as a fine art by infusing it with painterly qualities, but by the early 20th century a new generation of photographers, led by Alfred Stieglitz, challenged the Pictorialists by claiming that photography could achieve stature equal to painting if photographers used and asserted the distinctive characteristics of their medium. As 20th-century photographers explored and realized this objective, painters and photographers increasingly turned to what was being produced in each medium as sources of ideas for their own work. This symposium explores the history and significance of this fascinating exchange, as well as how each medium influenced and shaped the development and history of the other.”

The 1980’s: An Internet Conference

Moderated by Maurice Berger, Senior Fellow, The Vera List Center for Art & Politics, The New School and Curator, Center for Art & Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County. From October 31 – November 13, 2005, The 1980s: An Internet Conference explored an extraordinary period of change in American art and life. During this period, American politics and culture underwent dramatic shifts. The election of Ronald Reagan brought about profound changes in Federal policies. And a range of political and cultural groups-crossing all ideologies-emerged as a powerful force in the nation. The cultural response to these social changes, especially in the arts, was both intense and varied. The 1980s also saw the full flowering of multiculturalism in arts and society, the freer and broader expressions of various ethnic, racial, and sexual groups often excluded from the mainstream. During this period, the so-called “culture wars” also came to full fruition.

The 1980s: An Internet Conference addressed a range of questions central to this extraordinary moment in American art, politics, and ideas, including:  the issue of multiculturalism and its relationship to the pluralist trend of the 1970s, the emergence of the culture wars, the argument of the “death of painting,”  new methodologies in criticism, art history and cultural writing, the rise of “alternative” and community-based art institutions and activist art groups, and the impact of AIDS on the art and culture of the United States.

Museums of Tomorrow:  An Internet Conference

What is the future of the art museum? For a two-week period, October 6-19, 2003, a national group of thirty scholars, artists, museum directors, and curators discussed and debated the role of the art museum in this Internet conference. Given the increasing commercial-as well as global-direction of culture, the future of the art museum as we now know is it no longer certain. Participants explored a range of issues about the viability, relevance, effectiveness, responsibility, and role of the museum in an ever-changing world.

Organized and moderated by Maurice Berger, Senior Fellow, The Vera List Center for Art & Politics, New School University; Curator, Center for Art and Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County, the interchange of ideas never ceased during the two-week period of the conference, because the discussion was active and available on the Internet 24 hours a day.

The proceedings of this conference were published in the volume Museums of Tomorrow: A Virtual Discussion, edited by Maurice Berger, co published by the Research Center and The Center for Art & Visual Culture, University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2005.

The Modern/Postmodern Dialectic:  An Online Symposium, American Art and Culture, 1965-2000

For a two-week period, October 1–14, 2001, an international group of scholars, artists, and curators discussed and debated the issue of postmodernism. This online event was moderated by Maurice Berger, Senior Fellow, The Vera List Center for Art & Politics, New School University, and offers a continuation of Defining American Modernism (1890-Present), a symposium that was held at the new Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center July 12-14, 2001. The conference offered scholars, curators, artists, and the interested public from all over the world an unprecedented opportunity to talk to and listen to each other.

What is postmodernism and is it a useful concept for understanding American art and visual culture of the past 40 years? The Modern/Postmodern Dialectic: American Art and Culture, 1965-2000 explored the artistic practices in the United States from the mid-1960s to the present in the context of the term postmodern: When and to what extent did modernism wane as a viable force in American art? How have the various liberation movements, from civil rights to feminism, influenced American art and culture and contributed to the rejection of the modernist ethos? How has globalism changed American art and culture? How have the new technologies of the past 50 years—television, personal computers, and the internet—altered the nature of progressive art in the United States? Are any of these changes innately postmodern?

The proceedings from this discussion are the fifth volume in the series, Issues on Cultural Theory, published by the Fine Arts Gallery at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In 2003 Maurice Berger edited this book, which is tentatively titled, Postmodernism?: A Virtual Discussion.

Defining American Modernism

In celebration of its opening in July 2001, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center, organized the three-day symposium, “Defining American Modernism.” The event began on July 12 with a keynote address by Robert Storr, then curator the Museum of Modern Art and now Dean of the Yale School of Art, that addressed the meaning and significance of “modernism” in American Art from the 1890s – present. Over the next two days, thirteen distinguished scholars of American art presented papers to a standing-room only crowd about issues pertaining to American Art that dealt with various decades of the period 1980 to the present.

Symposium subjects included, among other things, discussions of Alfred Stieglitz as a major proponent and supporter of early American Modernism, the ways in which art critic Clement Greenburg’s definition of Modernism shaped thinking about this issue for generations yet was exclusive to issues of race, gender and politics, the role of photography figured prominently into the dissemination of the term “modern,” and the many ways photography has played a major role in shaping the history of Modernism in America.