2018 Travel Research Reports

Marianna Davison’s Travel Research Report

My first chapter considers how the topography and vegetation of the city were sculpted and ordered during the first few decades of the twentieth century, then focuses specifically on the design and displays of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition by the Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm. Researching for this chapter, I visited the University of Washington Special Collection Archives and the Seattle Municipal archives and examined maps, photographs, and correspondences. I was thrilled to study the original large-format blueprints drawn by the Olmsted Brothers as well as their detailed explanations of the designs.

My second chapter then focuses on two reclamation projects from the 1970s to highlight challenges to the region’s early decades of land use. While I have already visited and conducted research on the first, an earth sculpture designed by Robert Morris to remediate a mining pit, during this visit to Seattle I spent time at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. The Daybreak Star site was re-claimed after an extended period of protest by the United Indians of All Tribes. While researching in the Seattle Municipal Archives, I found several files containing the site’s original plans and correspondences between government officials and indigenous activists. Most notably, I found the original 1970 letter from the United Indians of All Tribes in which that declared their re-claiming of this land from the US government. I also visited the site and was able to speak with the director of the Cultural Center.

My final chapter then closely examines Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park (2007), designed as a the final phase of remediation for the oil-contaminated site. While in Seattle I toured the site and also consulted its design plans and object files in the Seattle Art Museum’s Bullitt Library Collections.

Julian Francolini’s Travel Research Report

This summer I traveled to San Francisco to spend several days observing Anton Refregier’s series of murals, The History of California, located at the former Rincon Annex post office, now part of the Rincon Center. Commissioned around 1940 by the Treasury Section for Painting and Sculpture, put on hold during World War II, and finally completed between 1946 and 1948, the murals represent an intersection of federally funded public artwork of the New Deal era, and postwar anti-Communist sentiment, reflecting the tension of conservative, regionalist—and at times culturally chauvinist—aesthetic demands against Left-wing, internationalist political stances. A committed Leftist, Refregier presents a critical vision of the state’s history, commenting acutely on European imperialism, capitalist greed, and the treatment of indigenous peoples, Chinese laborers, and labor unions. With the rise of McCarthyism in the 1950s, the murals faced severe criticism, and were almost destroyed, if not for the advocacy of a coalition of artists, art dealers, and other citizens.

My dissertation project focuses on the ways in which large-scale and/or muscular bodies of laborers operate within artworks by international artists in socialist and left wing political contexts during the middle-four decades of the twentieth century. In other words, I am interested in the ways that solid, concretely-rendered, and proportionately large bodies appear within what I call a monumental mode, which spans multiple styles, media, and national borders. Refregier’s Rincon Annex murals are key to this study as he employs this mode within a fraught social and political setting. What follows is a brief example of the issues and questions brought about by looking at the first and second-to-last panels in the cycle—captioned as “A California Indian creates” and “Shipyards during the war,” respectively—which face each other at the end of a long L-shaped corridor. Between these two scenes is the culminating installment, “War and peace.”

The mural cycle starts—if followed chronologically—in the long corridor’s far-eastern end, tucked in the righthand corner. The small beginning panel, “A California Indian creates,” although curtailed by a ventilation grate, contains a figure wearing only loincloth whose muscular frame dominates the picture plane. His back faces the viewer, while he himself faces a stone slab upon which only a glimpse of geometric shapes is visible. His turned head points in the direction of the following chronological scene, that of a group of four individuals travel within a Tule reed boat, thus implying that he is “creating” a vessel.  The panel directly across the corridor, “Shipyards during the war,” shows a very different view but also relating to aquatic engineering: the scene splits between an industrial shipyard with welders and other workers on the composition’s left two-thirds, and, crammed into the right-most third, four World War II soldiers gripping the railing of what could be a landing barge.

At first scene’s apposition seems clear: modern industry and military power contrasting the stripped-down simplicity of indigenous construction and way of life, or the a pure, prelapsarian past spoilt by greed and violence. However, they also correspond in their use of visually commanding yet distanced figures, thus complicating the legibility of the narrative. With his back turned towards the viewer, the man in the loincloth’s semi-nudity does more to create an impasse than provide disclosure. Composed of accented planar shifts, his back functions as a wall, while the shallow glaze of the casein paint, reveals the support beneath, affirming the back’s status as barrier. And just as he distances himself from the viewer in his orientation, the welders, shipyard workers, and soldiers—ample as they are in their massive coveralls and gear—are also visually removed. Although eleven figures inhabit “Shipyards during the war”, only two faces are seen. All the soldiers have their backs against the picture plane. Three of the workers are also facing away from the viewer, while two of the four welders hide their faces behind protective masks. Thus, these historical bodies hover just out of reach: literally, as the murals occupy the top halves of the corridor’s wall, and figuratively as the figures remain undisclosed or challenge our access.

As an object of public art, a narrative history painting, a work created by an artist with strong political convictions, and as an artwork with a complex history of its own in which multiple motives converge and clash, History of California possesses a high degree of legibility in terms of iconography, patronage, and reception. But herein lies a challenge with works of such ostensible transparency and contentious production: there is the temptation to approach it merely as an index of signs or of social factors, at the expense of the work’s performance as a work within its space, and at the expense of understanding the devices employed that conjoin with and support the content provided. The images adequately illustrate Refregier’s anti-fascist and anti-imperialist stances. Yet, beyond this apparent clarity, my project will further analyze the ambiguities caused by the interaction of ideological and social factors with the mediation of these bodies within a monumental mode. 

Sharissa Iqbal’s Travel Research Report

My dissertation is tentatively entitled “Alternative Abstractions: Art and Science in 20th Century Los Angeles.” In this project, I examine how scientific thought influenced the abstract artwork of Helen Lundeberg, Mary Corse, and Frederick Eversley. Exhibiting in New York marked pivotal moments in these artists' careers. At the archives of the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney Museum, I researched exhibition records and artist files for each of my three case study artists. I was particularly excited to read through handwritten letters from the 1940s sent by Lundeberg to MoMA curator Dorothy Miller in which the artist discussed her life and work. It was also fascinating to study Eversley’s correspondence with curators at the Whitney regarding his solo exhibition in 1970, as well as Mary Corse’s installation drawings for her work at the Guggenheim in 1971.

A highlight of my trip was visiting the Whitney Museum’s exhibition Mary Corse: A Survey in Light. As Corse’s first solo museum survey, this show included an impressive array of her works in various media including light boxes and paintings with glass microspheres. Central to Corse’s practice is the viewer’s perceptual experience of white light.  After studying her works though photographic reproductions, it was truly unbelievable to see and experience so many of her artworks in person both at the Whitney and Dia:Beacon. Undoubtedly, is one thing to read descriptions of halation effects and quite another to directly encounter them through an artwork. I am in the process of researching how studying quantum physics impacted Corse’s mode of abstraction in the 1960s, I look forward to returning to the Whitney this fall to attend a symposium on the artist’s work.

Christine Mugnolo's Travel Research Report

I want to express my deep thanks for your Summer travel award and for your support of art historical research.  Your generous funding allowed me to visit Yale and Princeton libraries to access rare materials I otherwise would have skipped in my dissertation.  I combed through over 500 magazines during my trip covering three decades of humorous production.  It turns out these magazines are some of the most important and complex documents in my research on adolescence and popular print.  I hope to share my findings with you here.

I was interested in college humor magazines because their 18-21 yr old producers fell within George Stanley Hall’s definition of adolescence.   At the turn of the century, both juvenile and adolescent development were spotlighted as volatile developmental periods that were crucial for both national and white racial health.  Concurrently, cartoons published in newspapers and magazines liberally featured young and developing boys to create raucous characters, unflattering political caricatures, or criticize the degeneration of American society.  I wondered how actual adolescents absorbed, rejected, or played upon these relentless representations.

I was interested to find that college humor magazines, from their very inception, seemed fascinated by the masculine evolution from freshman to senior year.  In these magazines, the four-year college experience reenacted George Stanley Hall’s theory of staged development, even though these cartoons are published decades before Hall’s tome "Adolescence".  Much of this humor pivoted around sophomores torturing freshmen, figuring freshmen as young boys and sophomores as savage juveniles.   Juniors and seniors mimicked the adolescent phase loaded with social foibles.  This suggests that Hall’s evolutionary concept of adolescent growth was built on concepts already ingrained in popular culture.

While this theme remained consistent, the visualization of the college student changed dramatically.  Prior to roughly 1900, college magazines rendered college students in a polite, Victorian style as sophisticated men.  A technique pilfered from Puck and Judge, these drawings of upper-class parlor-dwelling figures served no purpose other than to visually brighten witty two-liner jokes.  After 1900, college students took on more garish cartoonish features, often depicted with lanky bodies and gawky faces.  The derogatory style aligned these images with the traditions of ethnic caricature.  Freshman adopted distinctly weakened, boyish physiques.  Upperclassmen frequently inherited the weak-chinned, hunch-shouldered profile of the “dude”, a caricature associated with the over-bred Englishmen.  Yet simultaneously, the stringy bodies of upperclassmen also resembled R. F. Outcault’s resilient “Yellow Kid” tenement children.  The Yale Record even featured cartoons of the graduating class as a group of lanky, raucous tenement children.  Yet a cartoon like this might appear adjacent to J. C. Leyendecker’s Arrow Collar ad depicting a polished, strong-jawed Ivy Leaguer.  These conflicting representations of the college body are jarring and chaotic, and I think this was exactly the point.

To summarize, the image of the “college boy” dramatically transformed at the beginning of the century from a budding gentleman to ineffectual man-boy.  College magazines appeared to partly absorb critical scrutiny over the male body, especially by echoing concerns about the “degeneration” of the American college student.  Simultaneously college magazines empowered the college body by aligning it with the anarchic spirit of the cartoon character and proudly flaunting grotesque adolescent forms.  These humorists appeared to be using degrading caricatures partly to explore and understand mounting pressures on the developing male body.

In addition to these findings, I stumbled across new ideas I hadn’t yet considered for my research.  These materials forced me to reconsider the seemingly inevitable popularity of humor magazines.  Despite the Yale Record’s claim to fame as the “oldest” humor magazine, it started as a paper simply to express the voice and concerns of the students against the administration and faculty.  It adopted the format of satirical critique only in the mid 1880’s, coinciding with the start of Princeton’s Tiger Magazine and the growing popularity of Puck and Judge.  Humor magazine subsequently sprouted in colleges across the United States toward the turn of the century.  So I’ve been exploring why humor arose as such an important, potent, and quintessentially American platform specifically at this time.  In addition, while these amateur publications attempted to mimic professional humor magazines, they also used their amateur status to mock them.  Jokes in college humor magazines about plagiarizing gags and mismatching text to image has helped me to discover the foibles in professional humor magazines.  I also discovered innumerable small items that aided my research.  One of my favorite was an article from the 1870’s where a freshman club announced their new policies with an emphatic “Resolved!”, providing me some additional context for understanding Buster Brown’s “Resolved!” billboards.

I’m attaching a few images to illustrate my findings.  I hope you enjoy some of the visual jokes.  This research trip was not only informative but also very colorful!  Once again, thank you so much for this opportunity.  On this trip, I discovered a whole new line of research that will provide key analysis for my dissertation and I believe will open up future projects.   I would not have been able to plunge into this material without your generosity.