Artist, Patron, Model and Muse Subjects of Art Symposium

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Ingrid Erickson

Despite recurrent technical difficulties, the fourth annual Christian A. Johnson Symposium in the History of Art and Architecture last Saturday was an engaging event featuring student and faculty artists alike.

Co-sponsored by the Department of the History of Art and Architecture and the Middlebury College Museum of Art, this year’s program, entitled “Artist, Patron, Model, Muse: Women in the History of Art,” entertained a full auditorium in Bicentennial Hall 216.

Student interest and participation in the symposium continues to increase. Two weeks prior to the event, callers asking to register were put on a waiting list, a clear indication that the event has grown too large for standard auditoriums.

Keynote speaker Whitney Chadwick ’65, professor of the history of art at San Francisco State University, delivered an address entitled “Intimate Visions/Global Perspectives,” focusing on the Biennial and Triennial as a framework for investigating the emergence of female artists onto the international scene.

Chadwick, a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award from Pennsylvania State University in 2000, has also taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford and Berkeley.

Chadwick is a Clark Fellow this year at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass., and has written several books, including a detective story and her most recent work entitled “Amazons in the Drawing Room.”

The realization that there was “relatively little discussion about issues of gender” led Chadwick to address “issues of historical, sexual and cultural identity.” She discussed revisions to her now classic text “Women, Art and Society” (1990), including a chapter on culture, ethnicity and sexuality, and a recent addition treating the topics of “internationalism” and “globalization.” The third edition is due out on June 9. “Women continue to make new places for themselves in a changing world. [This] include[s] shaping the visual culture in which we all live,” Chadwick said at the conclusion of her address.

One of the most impressive features of the symposium was the even breakdown in faculty and student talks.

The five student lecturers, Aubry Threlkeld ’03, Andrea Engels ’02, Sydney Johnston ‘02.5, Daelyn Short ’02 and Lisa Jasinski ’02, were enthusiastic and competent in the face of the minor technical glitches (lighting adjustments, microphone failure and slow slide changes) that occured throughout the conference. Their topics ranged from Threlkeld’s analysis of Japanese performance artist Morimura Yasumasa’s tongue-in-cheek re-creations of famous works of art (including “Mona Lisa in Pregnancy”) to Engels’ discussion entitled “A Casa Mia: Marisa Merz, Arte Povera, and the Theme of Domesticity.”

The faculty presentations were equally strong and varied in subject matter, ranging from History of Art and Architecture Professor John Hunisak’s lecture on “Catherine the Great as Patron of the Arts,” to History of Art and Architecture Professor Kirsten Hoving’s talk on “‘The Dreadful Hollow’: Unmasking Julia Margaret Cameron’s Women,” to Christian A. Johnson Professor of Art, History of Art and Architecture Glenn Andres’ lecture on “Countess Matilda and the Birth of Florentine Greatness.”

Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture Pieter Broucke, recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to research the Pantheon of Agrippa in Greece last year, explored the evolution of the Cleopatra myth which has allowed for various incarnations of the queen, from virtuous maiden who died for love to ruthless wanton, in a talk entitled “Cleopatra VII of Egypt: Images of Power and the Power of Images.”

Perhaps the most surprising was Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History Katy Smith-Abbott’s last-minute topic change inspired by talks with her students.

Originally scheduled to discuss 15th century portraiture, Smith-Abbott decided instead to explore the current fascination with 15th century Italian painter Artemesia Gentileschi.

Smith-Abbott argued that in exploring our need to turn Gentileschi into a “cultural commodity” like performer Britney Spears, we learn “as much about what we need art to do” as we do about her life and work.

For a modern audience, Gentileschi’s rape by her tutor Augustino Tassi is usually considered a formative moment in her career, and one that darkens the rest of her canvasses — an assumption that is, at least, an oversimplification based on hindsight. Smith-Abbot raised some interesting questions, asking, “Where does biography begin and end and how do we use it responsibly?”

The program for this year’s Christian A. Johnson Symposium was varied, and the lectures themselves were interesting and informative.

Unfortunately, the space was too small to accommodate all the students, faculty and members of the community who were interested in attending this event.

It is clear, in view of increased interest on the part of the student body and the wider community, that a new venue is needed for next year’s symposium.

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