Affects and Arts (Dr. Flaherty)
This seminar focuses on the fruitful exchange between affect theory and the visual and performing arts across the Americas. Moving beyond notions of affects as individual, hermetic, or ineffable, artists and critics have put embodied forms of being, knowing, and bonding to work in the public sphere. Affect, then, operates on multiple registers—the sensorial, aesthetic, political, ethical and so forth—and might serve as a catalyst for social and racial justice. Special attention will be paid to case studies originating in the experience of Black and queer people in Latin America and the Latinx U.S.
Contemporary Brazilian Art (Dr. Nelson)
Art and Activism in Contemporary Brazil (Dr. Nelson)
The seminar will focus on art and activism in contemporary Brazil, and seeks to understand how artists are relating to, reflecting on, and resisting the democratic erosion underway in the country. The course serves as the second curatorial and research practicum in conjunction with the planning for Social Fabric: Art and Activism in Contemporary Brazil, an exhibition co-organized by Prof. Nelson and MacKenzie Stevens, Director of the Visual Arts Center, and originally scheduled for Fall 2021 (and now postponed until Fall 2022 due to the pandemic). Building on the recent release of the excellent bibliography of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Latinx Art Historical Resources by the Association of Latin American Art and the groundswell of excellent scholarship on Afro-Brazilian art, we will focus our inquiry on the history of Black art in Brazil from the late nineteenth century to the present, utilizing Roberto Conduru’s book-length studies and writing in academic and curatorial publications (in English and Portuguese) as well as primary sources, with a focus on the 1960s forward. We will also examine curatorial projects realized in Brazil and the US and how the formation of the field of Afro-Brazilian art history relates to and differ from the larger study of African diaspora art and Afro-Latin American art. Guest speakers include Vivian A. Crockett, Abigail Lapin Dardashti, and Edward Sullivan.
City, Memory, Representation (Dr. Flaherty)
This seminar considers the modern city and its representation as imperfect yet powerful archives for collective memory and history writing. We will treat the built environment and audio/visual media as technologies of dwelling and reproduction that, while not equivalent, operate at interpenetrating scales. The seminar will emphasize methodologies that seek to recognize and interpret urban fragments, processes, mobilities, estrangements, ruins, and recalcitrances. Readings draw from art and architectural history, film and media studies, critical geography, political philosophy, and anthropology; with case studies moving between the the Americas, Europe, and Africa.
Envisioning Latinx Art History (Dr. Flaherty)
This seminar reviews classic and recent scholarship on Latinx art and visual culture as a means of developing a theoretical and methodological toolkit for envisioning a practice of art history that does not simply add Latinx case studies but is fundamentally transformed by them, to produce a more socially just and relevant discipline. Special attention will be paid to postcolonial and transnational approaches. Students will contribute to discussions and create a course syllabus and teaching statement as their final research project.
Contemporary Brazilian Art (Dr. Nelson)
Brazilian artists working today face a paradoxical situation: while Brazilian contemporary art occupies a privileged place in global museums and the commercial art world, cultural expression in Brazil is being stifled. Initiated by the Temer administration and accelerating under the recently inaugurated far-right Bolsonaro presidency, democratic institutions in the country are being eroded and its cultural entities are being eliminated or surveilled. Artists whose work addresses topics such as race, sexuality, gender, and histories of inequity are particularly at risk.
This seminar will focus on contemporary Brazilian art and seeks to understand how artists are relating to, reflecting on, and resisting the democratic erosion underway in Brazil. The course also serves as a curatorial practicum in conjunction with the research and planning for Social Fabric: Art and Activism in Contemporary Brazil, an exhibition co-organized by Prof. Nelson and MacKenzie Stevens, Director of the Visual Arts Center, and tentatively scheduled for Fall 2021. We will begin with methodological questions around curation of so-called global contemporary art and a deep-drive into histories of art and activism in Brazil since the 1960s, including study of relevant archival and art collections at the Benson and Blanton. The majority of the semester will focus on recent Brazilian art, including but not limited to the artists on the working checklist for Social Fabric.
The Avant-Garde and Its Forms in Latin America (Dr. Nelson)
What critical work did the notion of the avant-garde do for visual artists and critics in Latin America in the 1920s–1960s, and what are the stakes of the concept’s continued use by art historians? Recent scholarship has productively challenged the parameters by which we have studied 20th century vanguards in Latin America and beyond, from questioning of the periodization of postwar and contemporary art to beginning to redress blind spots and erasures (whether U.S. Latinx art or understudied regions like Central America). In the wake of these interventions, does the concept of the avant-garde remain useful and what revisions are needed to the narratives we construct of modern and postwar art in Latin/x America?
This seminar will focus its inquiry by asking how art institutions, broadly conceived – museums, schools, magazines, art criticism – structured, formed, and interacted with experimental artistic practice in Latin America during and after World War II. Together we will study the postwar avant-gardes via case studies of the emergence and development of geometric abstraction in Latin America and the Caribbean from the 1940s–1960s.
Encounters with Mexico City Past and Present (Dr. Flaherty and Dr. Julia Guernsey)
This seminar explores the history of Mexico City as told through its art, architecture, and material culture. Collisions between the ancient Precolumbian past, the colonial era, and the modern present take form visibly everyday. One moves between centuries and civilizations, between the ancient temples and palaces of the Aztecs to those of the Spanish and modern Mexican states, in a matter of city blocks. This complex, palimpsest—and at times spectral—landscape was formed and reformed over time by the urban imaginations and negotiations of indigenous Mesoamericans, Spanish conquistadors, European friars, slaves from Africa, rural migrants, and cosmopolitan modernists. This seminar will address the Aztec Mexico City and its architecture of empire; the arrival of the Spanish and the imposition of a new imperial agenda; the conceptual challenges of “New Spain” and its implications for indigenous and mestizo visual and spatial culture from the mid 16th century through the 18th century; a reassessment of these creative identifications and dwellings through the lens of independence in the 19th century; and issues of capitalist urbanization and governance, both authoritarian and democratic, in the 20th century. We will emphasize throughout the significance of geography, built environment, and the role of artistic and architectural visualization and discourse in the creation of place and space.
The seminar included week-long study trip to Mexico City.
Cuba and the Latin/American Imagination (Dr. Flaherty)
Cuba’s 1959 Revolution forged the island’s status as a hemispheric beacon of utopian aspiration—and as a menace to capitalist modernity. It was sustained by the post-revolutionary state’s strategic internationalism, which included significant cultural diplomacy, and Cuban artists’ own seeking of interlocutors and solidarities, sociopolitical and aesthetic. This seminar places in dialog the art of Cuba from the 1950s to the present day and the responses of its admirers and detractors from throughout the Americas. Emphasis will be placed on the post-revolutionary period and the so-called “Special Period in Time of Peace” after Soviet support evaporated. Some cultural exchanges are historically verifiable—by way of people, events, visual and textual evidence—while others are imagined, or a matter of synchronicity. We will problematize several categories of analysis germane to transnational and comparative study: identification, solidarity, and commitment.
Participating students presented their research at the Adiós Utopias: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950 (2017) symposium at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
RECENT UNDERGRADUATE COURSES
Problems in Art Historical Research (Dr. Nelson)
Beyond Carnival: Contemporary Brazilian Art (Dr. Nelson)
Contemporary Latin American Art (Dr. Nelson)
Contemporary Mexican Art (Dr. Flaherty)
Other Modernities: Latin American Art (Dr. Nelson)
Issues in Visual Culture (Dr. Nelson)
Apertures: Film/Photography Through Greater Mexico (Dr. Flaherty)
Modern Art of Mexico (Dr. Flaherty)
Art Cinemas Americas (Dr. Flaherty)
Chicano Art: Histories and Futures (Dr. Flaherty)