Department of Art and Art History News

New works by alumnus Miguel A. Aragón featured in new book and special exhibition in Peenemünd

Mon. March 20, 2017

a man maneuvering pipes across sheets of print paper

In 2015, Gregorio Iglesias Mayo and Miguel A. Aragón (M.F.A. in Studio Art, 2014) spent the entire summer at the Historical-Technical Museum Peenemünd. They would contribute to a historical exhibition at the site, Wunder mit Kalkül:Die Peenemünder Fernwaffenprojekte als Teil des deutschen Rüstungssystems (loosely translated as Miracle with calculus: The Peenemünde missile weapons projects as part of the German defense system) and are currently exhibiting together in a contemporary exhibition of their own works titled Imprinting History.

It is worthy of note that the Historical-Technical Museum Peenemünd is not technically an art museum, but a museum born of the historical significance of the site of Peenemünd. The site served as a power plant back in the WWII era and later was used during Soviet occupation of East Germany. In recent years, parts of facilities have been re-configured as gallery spaces for permanent historical and rotating contemporary exhibitions that speak to the historical, cultural and human aspects of the site. It was at Peenemünd that early rocket technology was developed by one of Germany’s leading scientists, Wernher von Braun, who would later secretly move to the United States and work with NASA to put man on the moon.

“The Historisch-Technisches Museum Peenemünde is a place charged with history, which altered human existence,” writes Aragón on the Till Richter Museum website. “It is a place that was built solely on the fact of its potential, which would never be fully reached until after the end of the Second World War. I am attracted to this relentless drive to realize the impossible despite the constant failures.”

What began as just the inclusion of a few pieces that Aragón and Mayo produced on site during their residency in a historical exhibition for the museum’s permanent galleries has turned into Imprinting History, a group exhibition of work from the two resident artists. Covering the museum grounds, Aragón would utilize the dust, earth and rust in his cyanotype process to imprint the land itself onto each print sheet.

Reflecting on the work in the exhibition, Aragón writes, “This body of work [created for the Historical-Technical Museum Peenemünd] is connected to my research as an artist, research that explores attempts to capture and freeze a specific moment, the marks of time, conveying the transitory nature of memory, reflecting on the process of recollection, fading memory and alluding to the transitory nature of human existence.”

A courtyard-length painting by Mayo, a large installation by Aragón as well as the documentation by the Catalan photographer Gala Oró will be exhibited in the Turbine Hall of the power plant Peenemünde from May 2016 to August 2017.

See more from the exhibition and Aragón at work in the video from the Till Richter Museum.

Hotel Mexico awarded the Arvey Foundation Book Award from the Association for Latin American Art

Mon. March 20, 2017

depiction of book cover with blue tinted skyline of mexico and title of book
Hotel Mexico: Dwelling on the '68 Movement by George Flaherty

Each year the Association for Latin American Art (ALAA) selects a book representing the best scholarly work published on the art of Latin America from the Pre-Columbian era to the present for the Arvey Foundation Book Award. This year, the selection committee honored Art History assistant professor George Flaherty with that award for his most recent book, Hotel Mexico: Dwelling on the '68 Movement (University of California Press, 2016).

“In his abundantly detailed, thoughtful, and theoretically sophisticated study, Flaherty engages a pivotal episode, the 1968 massacre of 300 student protestors in Mexico City ten days before the Olympics,” said Charlene Villaseñor Black, ALAA Chair, during the award presentation. “Flaherty considers Mexico in 1968 and its cinematic, photographic, and literary afterimages in an analysis of the diverse ways in which the Tlatelolco Massacre is remembered, evoked, and memorialized.”

Flaherty publishes primarily on Latin American and U.S. Latino visual and spatial cultures since 1940, with emphasis on Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His research and teaching interests extend to Cuba, film and media studies, postcolonial and subaltern studies, and the historiography of global contemporary art. Hotel Mexico investigates the spatial dimensions of the 1968 student-led protest movement in Mexico City and its representation. 

UT Antiquities Action Symposium: Landscapes of Identity: Global and Local Models for Heritage Preservation program

Sun. March 19, 2017

artifact starkly lit with dramatic shadow, text in pinkish red
Image credit: D C Trein

Landscapes of Identity: Global and Local Models for Heritage Preservation

Program Presentation Abstracts

9:00 a.m.
Coffee and opening remarks

9:30 a.m.
Dr. Alex Walthall (University of Texas at Austin) and Dr. Jared Benton (Old Dominion University)

Looting, Looters, and Stakeholders in Aidone, Sicily: the Economic and Cultural Valuation of Repatriated Art in Rural Communities
During the 1990s and early 2000s a belief pervaded among archaeologists that, if cultural property remained in—or was returned to—its location of origin, it would stimulate the local economy, increase local stakeholding in cultural heritage, and curb looting. The central Sicilian town of Aidone, as a site of both repatriated works of ancient art and ongoing looting, offers an unique opportunity to study the intersections of repatriation, symbolic capital, stakeholding, and economic benefit in a community outside of the major tourist networks. From 2007 to 2011, several high-profile artifacts were returned to the city of Aidone from the United States. As it became clear the works of art would return, the residents of Aidone enthusiastically embraced both the restitution of their own cultural property and the possibility of a reinvigorated local economy. Now, a decade after the first repatriation, it is time to reflect on the initial promises of restitution.

10:00 a.m.
Dr. May al-Ibrashy (American University in Cairo, founder of Megawra)

Heritage Conservation as a driver for development: Athar Lina Initiative in Historic Cairo
Athar Lina is a participatory conservation initiative to establish modalities of citizen participation in heritage conservation based on a vision of the monument as a resource not a burden. It is based in al-Khalifa in Historic Cairo and run by the Built Environment Collective|Megawra. Athar Lina believes that conservation can be a vehicle for development if practiced in a participatory inclusive manner. Athar Lina’s activities in Khalifa are based on the five lines of action proposed in the first participatory workshop; 1) Conservation and rehabilitation of heritage sites as nodes of cultural and socio-economic development; 2) Heritage Education; 3) Development of craft and design through knowledge exchange and capacity building; 4) Tourist promotion; 5) Improvement of quality of public space through projects to improve infrastructure, upgrade public space and provide spaces for sports and recreation.

10:30 a.m.

11:00 a.m.
Dr. Astrid Runggaldier (University of Texas at Austin)

Where do ‘Orphans’ Belong? Local Engagement with Global Concerns Through the Art and Art History Collection at the University of Texas at Austin
In the context of museum collections, “orphaned antiquities” are objects with unclear or undocumented provenance, or collecting history. For archaeologists, the term “orphan” additionally refers to objects that lack information about their original context of recovery. Orphan collections tend to form when objects are donated by private collectors, as in the case of the Art and Art History Collection (AAHC) at UT Austin, which includes a number of indigenous American artworks that present complex ethical concerns for art historians, archaeologists, and museum specialists. However, as this presentation discusses, these concerns also present excellent opportunities to teach locally about global issues of cultural heritage protection.

11:30 a.m.
Dr. Robert B. Pickering (University of Tulsa)

Antiquities, Museums & Research: A West Mexico Example
Museum-based research of archaeological collections has an important role to play in preserving the past. The benefits and liabilities of using museum collections will be presented using examples from West Mexico.

12:00 p.m.

1:00 p.m.
Dr. Eric Tang (University of Texas at Austin)

Those Who Stayed: The Impact of Gentrification on Longstanding Residents of Austin's Eastside
A handful of longtime African American residents of East Austin remain in what is arguably the most heavily gentrified neighborhood in the city. They steadfastly refuse to relinquish their property, presence and place in the community. How do these remaining residents understand the profound changes brought on by gentrification and the displacement of their neighbors? Have they reaped any of the benefits of new housing development and the influx of new businesses and resources as some defenders of gentrification claim? Or are they only embattled, forced to defend what remains of their historic and beloved community?

1:30 p.m.
Dr. Stephennie Mulder (University of Texas at Austin)

Local or Universal: Imagining Antiquity and its Localities in Islamic Societies
Long before the emergence of ISIS and other so-called Islamist iconoclasts, and perhaps as early as the rise of Islam itself, Muslims imagined Islamic and pre-Islamic antiquity and its localities in myriad ways: as sites of memory, spaces of healing, or places imbued with didactic, historical, and moral power. Ancient statuary were deployed as talismans, paintings were interpreted to foretell and reify the coming of Islam, and temples of ancient gods and churches devoted to holy saints were converted into mosques in ways that preserved their original meaning and, sometimes, even their architectural ornament and fabric. Often, such localities were valued simply as places that elicited a sense of awe and wonder, or of reflection on the present relevance of history and the greatness of past empires, a theme so prevalent it created distinct genres of Arabic and Persian literature (aja’ib, fada’il). Sites like Ctesiphon, the ancient capital of the Zoroastrian Sasanians, or the Temple Mount, where the Jewish temple had stood, were embraced by early companions of the Prophet Muhammad and incorporated into Islamic notions of the self. Furthermore, various Islamic interpretive communities as well as Jews and Christians often shared holy places and had similar haptic, sensorial, and ritual connections that enabled them to imagine place in similar ways. However, although traditional locally-grounded relationships to sites of heritage were precisely the means of their preservation into modern times, the interjection of colonial rule imposed a new paradigm of “universal” heritage that denied and erased established local practices of heritage preservation. This paper will challenge current “universal” archaeological and heritage models now prevalent by exploring several examples of local preservation of heritage sites, and in doing so, will reveal the numerous ways Muslims, Christians, and Jews preserved and revered the past throughout Islamic history.

2:00 p.m.
Keynote Speaker: Dr. Erin Thompson (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY)

Using (and Losing) Our Heads: Case Studies of Conflicts between Global and Local Heritage
What should happen when local and global audiences want to use cultural heritage in conflicting ways? Whose use should get priority? Who should be able to block another group's use? Thompson will examine these questions by presenting three case studies of artworks based on heads: the mummified head of a Maori warrior; Athena emerging from the head of Zeus on the east pediment of the Parthenon; and the head of Sarawati, Hindu goddess of wisdom, stolen from a shrine in rural Nepal.

Bio: As America’s only full-time professor of art crime, Erin studies the damage done to humanity’s shared heritage through looting, theft, and the deliberate destruction of art. She has discussed art crime topics in, e.g., The New York Times, CNN, NPR, and the Freakonomics podcast, and has been invited to lecture at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Columbia. Her book, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors, is now out from Yale University Press. Currently, Erin is researching the ways in which terrorist groups both sell and destroy art to support their genocidal campaigns, as well as the legalities and ethics of digital reproductions of cultural heritage.

This conference is sponsored by Antiquities Action, Department of Classics, Department of Art and Art History and Middle Eastern Studies.

UT Austin professors speak out against proposed elimination of NEA and NEH

Thu. March 16, 2017

In a bid to reduce domestic spending, the White House has proposed the elimination of multiple federal programs including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in its budget priorities, according to details outlined by The Hill and The New York Times.

This is not the first time that the NEA and NEH have come under fire. In the 30-year history of the NEA, the agency has continued to work to support excellence in the arts and humanities despite continuous political opposition. In response to the recent threat to both agencies, a host of arts leaders at UT Austin have spoken out against the latest budget proposal, including Art History Professor Eddie Chambers, Art History Professor John Clarke, and Stephen Enniss, director of the Harry Ransom Center.

UT Austin professors have argued against the notion that the combined budgets of the NEA and NEH—totaling some $148 million each (about .5% of the requested $54 billion increase in defense spending)—will move the needle on reducing deficit spending. “Given that cutting the NEH/NEA will do virtually nothing to positively impact the nation's deficit, this planned axing represents a serious diminishment in the cultural and educational life and health of the nation,” writes Chambers in The Dallas Morning News. “Doubtless we would all agree that the nation continues to grapple with monumental problems on a great many fronts, but the continued operating of these agencies is most assuredly not among these problems. Quite the reverse.”

Since 1984, the NEA and NEH have contributed an estimated $14,942,822 to the success of multiple projects across the university as well as faculty publications and research benefiting the UT student body, the city of Austin and the wider scholarship of arts and culture. Among them, Art History Professor Jeffrey Smith has seen his research sustained over 25 years by NEH support, beginning with a subvention grant from the NEH in 1984 for New Perspectives on the Art of Renaissance Nuremberg: Five Essays, a book he edited to a six-month research fellowship from the NEH in 2008, which ultimately grounded the research presented in his book, Dürer (London: Phaidon Press, 2012).

As Chambers made clear, the NEA and the NEH are vital to the cultural and educational health of the nation, including those that affect the academic and professional lives of those on the UT Austin campus. Speaking on behalf of the Oplontis Project, an archaeological study devoted to the excavation, study, and publication of the site of Oplontis in Italy, professor John Clarke spoke to The Daily Texan, “It’s impossible to think about continuing research without the NEH, particularly since the humanities are so terribly underfunded in general. The important part of the NEH is to remember that the humanities feed into and overlap with both the hard and soft sciences, so it’s literally a way of bridging disciplines.”

It remains to be seen how the Budget and Appropriations committees will handle the White House budget, but as professors from the Department of Art and Art History know and will attest, the NEH and NEA are critical to America’s legacy of artistic excellence and cultural investment.

The Secret Life of Lance Letscher spotlighting life and work of alumnus Lance Letscher premieres at South by Southwest

Thu. March 9, 2017

white middle-aged man with glasses and white baseball cap looks at camera
Lance Letscher. Image courtesy of The Austin Chronicle. Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Lance Letscher (B.F.A. in Studio Art, 1985; M.F.A. in Studio Art, 1989) has been a mainstay on the Austin arts scene since graduating from The University of Texas at Austin in the 80s, but with the premiere of the full-length documentary The Secret Life of Lance Letscher, his 30-year career is given its full due. In anticipation of the South by Southwest (SXSW) release, The Austin Chronicle has published an article introducing the documentary’s subject and interviews from the director Sandra Adair and cinematographer Jason Gamble Harter.

The Secret Life of Lance Letscher will screen at 11:15am on March 12, 2017 at the Alamo Ritz in Austin for SXSW.