Art History Careers Night Will Feature Alumni Panel

Together with American University’s Alumni Office, the Art History Department will host an Art History Careers Night on Wednesday, February 28th.

The evening will feature a formal Q&A session with four recent Art History graduates who now work in museums and academia, followed by a more informal networking session. The alumni will discuss the strategies they used to gain their positions, how much they use their art-historical training on the job, and advice on what students can do to achieve their own career goals.

The alumni that will be speaking at the event are: Catherine Leonard, Adjunct Professor at Northern Virginia Community College; Catherine Southwick, Curatorial Assistant, National Gallery of Art; Eliza Mullen, Institutional Giving Coordinator, Walters Art Museum; Jennifer Wu, Caroline H. and Thomas S. Royster Fellow and Ph.D. student at University of North Carolina.

The event is free and open to the public. It will run from 6pm-8pm in Katzen 210, with food and a reception to follow. We hope to see you there!

Art Career Night


Dr. Bellow to Present at CAA 2018

Dr. Juliet Bellow will give a talk during the College Art Association’s Annual Conference, titled “Medium of Exchange: Auguste Rodin and Loïe Fuller’s Photographic Dialogue,” as a part of a session on “Inter-Arts Exchange as Modernist Method, Circa 1900.”

The talk, which is drawn from Dr. Bellow’s current book project, Rodin’s Dancers: Moving Toward the Limits of Sculpture, will take place on Saturday, February 24th, at 8:30am. Other panelists include Drs. Emmelyn Butterfield-Rosen and Katherine Brion. We wish you the best of luck, Dr. Bellow!


Loie Fuller Dancing

(Loïe Fuller, c. 1901)

Student Spotlight: Nana Gongadze Discusses Her Art Crime Podcast

Nana Gongadze, an American University sophomore double-majoring in Art History and Public Relations & Strategic Communication, created an art crime podcast over the summer. Each episode explored famous art heist cases, while also educating the viewer on famous pieces of art. Here, she discusses the conception of the podcast, why she chose art crime, and how she wants to continue telling stories about art history. 

How did you come up with the idea for a podcast that focuses specifically on art crime? What about art crime captures your interest?

Last summer, I had a part-time job, so I had a fair bit of time on my hands while living at home. I knew that I wanted to do some kind of creative project, and having gotten really into podcasts, I decided that it might be a good way to create something to both allow me to learn a new skill, and to entertain and inform people. Art history is my favorite topic to learn and talk about, so I knew that the podcast would be about art. At the same time, I wanted to do something that could appeal to an audience wider than really intense art nerds like myself. And because podcasts are not a visual medium, any sort of art analysis is sorely hindered by not having reference images available.

Art crime, meaning forgery and theft, has always been a pet interest of mine—I have read a fair number of nonfiction books on the topic. It’s just the sensational, dark side of the art world, and I am interested in it for the same reasons that people like crime shows. There are so many insane stories about that underworld, like crazy heists and unbelievable forgeries. The nature of the target is what I find interesting—a theft is a theft, but the theft of a one-of-a-kind masterpiece is a lot more interesting. Once a painting is stolen, it simply cannot be replaced. Paintings, especially old ones, are also incredibly delicate, which lends these stories a certain heart-pounding quality. 

I decided that art crime would be an ideal topic because it could appeal to both art fans as well as people who like true crime and storytelling-style podcasts. Also, it was something most people don’t already know much about. There was plenty of space around each story to give lots of art-historical detail. I included plenty of background within each episode so that people could also learn about the art. I talked about art from ancient Mesopotamia all the way through the Baroque era and up to modernism, and it was a treat to geek out. I enjoy translating dense art-historical theory and analysis into something accessible and interesting that still retains nuance. I’ve always been the amateur tour guide to my friends and family at art museums, so this was like me getting to do that but for a larger audience.

How would you conceive of episodes for the blog? Where did you find ideas for the podcast? 

A lot of my ideas for topics came from the books I read: about the 1990s robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; the WWII-era Vermeer forgeries by Han Van Meegeren; the 1994 theft of one of the version of Munch’s The Scream; and the 80s-90s modernist forgeries by John Drewe and John Myatt. My fourth episode was inspired by a book I read on the Ghent Altarpiece (the world’s most stolen artwork), as well as current events in the Middle East involving cultural property destruction. Before I started my podcast, I made a list of possible topics based on my previous reading, and I ended up choosing from that. There is a lot of great popular art history nonfiction out there, and it makes up pretty much all of my pleasure reading. 


What was the production of each episode like? How long would one episode take to create? Did you know how to do the recordings and technical aspects before you began this project?

Production of each episode was done entirely by me, and involved research and script writing, the actual recording, the audio editing, and the promotion/blog and graphics creation. I tend to work really fast (almost manically) when I am inspired. Luckily, when you’re doing everything by yourself, you can keep working until you metaphorically pass out, or just lose steam. I’d record everything in one long take in Garageband, and then use a free audio editing program called Audacity to do the cutting and inserting of extra audio. I borrowed a nice mic from a family friend who does professional voiceovers, so luckily it sounded pretty good considering I am a beginner.

The style of my podcast was inspired by contemporary story-telling radio/podcasts like RadioLab on NPR, and their approach of balancing talking with pauses, music breaks, and different kinds of audio like narration vs interview portions. Essentially, the challenge was to make sure something that was 30 or 40 minutes long would stay engaging and be able to allow a listener to immerse themselves in a story through more than just words. Using different kinds of audio allowed me to do this. Also, some of this supplementary audio and mood setting helped give the listener a suggestion of the artwork without them actually seeing it.

The last thing I did was create a blog post for each episode with images of every artwork I mentioned, as well as supplementary ones. I mentioned in every episode that people should check it out, and I hope they do, because it really deepens your understanding to actually see images of everything being discussed. Sometimes I made graphics, including some unique episode art that I used for promotional purposes. 


Would you consider restarting the podcast? What future episodes or topics would you like to cover, if you did?

 The Art Crimecast is on officially on indefinite hiatus while I am back at school and doing an internship at the Freer|Sackler. I have caught the podcasting bug and would like to do another art podcast as soon as I can. I may stick to this topic, but I have also been kicking around some other ideas, like a podcast based exploring the lives of models behind famous artworks or interviewing professionals at museums around the city. I really love this method of storytelling—it gives me a chance to explore a topic I am obsessed with in a new way. 

Upcoming Talk: Dr. Susan Sidlauskas to Present on Research this Friday

This coming Friday, February 2nd, Dr. Susan Sidlauskas, Professor of Art History at Rutgers University, will speak on the subject of “An Unlikely Alliance: John Singer Sargent and the Physics of Touch” at American University’s Humanities Lab. Drawn from her book in progress, this talk will relate Sargent’s practice as a portraitist in and around London between 1885 and 1907 to contemporaneous scientific discourses.


John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Madame X, 1884, oil on canvas

Dr. Sidlauskas’s talk is organized by the Humanities Lab’s Medical Humanities Working Group, led by Richard Sha of AU and Keren Hammerschlag of Georgetown University.  We hope to see you in the Humanities Lab, at Battelle 228, on Friday at 1 pm!


Student Spotlight: Hannah Fitch Travels to Norway

Towards the end of the fall semester, second-year Masters student Hannah Fitch received a Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award to fund a research trip to Norway. Here, she shares the highlights of her experience:

“This past November I traveled to Oslo to research my thesis on the life and work of American artist Frank Wilbert Stokes. My thesis centers on Stokes’s participation in two expeditions to Northern Greenland with explorer Robert Peary in 1892 and 1893-94. The works Stokes made during those voyages made him one of the most prolific artists of the Arctic; in addition to his numerous plein-air landscapes, produced in extreme weather conditions, Stokes created portraits of native Inuit he encountered.

Last summer, I had researched his voyage to Greenland with the Peary Expeditions, a project sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. While working in the Smithsonian’s archives, I discovered that a woman currently living in Oslo grew up next door to Stokes in New York City, and had studied his work extensively. While in Oslo, I met with Stokes’s neighbor, who showed me several works by the artist in her private collection. She also allowed me access to Stokes’s original and unpublished journals, which contained copious records about his experiences in Greenland. In conversation, she relayed several personal stories about living next to Stokes and about his studio, which was later inhabited by Edward Hopper.

My initial belief that Stokes approached his subjects in a culturally sensitive manner were both challenged and enhanced by my findings in Norway. Although his drawings of Inuit convey a strong sense of individuality, they also deny a level of cultural context through the elimination of ethnic attributes. However, in comparison to scientific images, which framed the Inuit as ethnographic specimens, Stokes was governed by pictorial and professional concerns, which is evidenced by his works as well as his unpublished diaries. Although his portraits mitigate a stereotypical perception, they are also complicated by Stokes’s own uncertainty regarding prevalent social themes in America, such as racial relations in response to increasing immigration. Therefore, in navigating the genre of expedition art, Stokes presented his American viewers with a cooperative tension between aesthetic realism and ethnographic empiricism that serves as a reflection of both his historical moment at the turn-of-the-century and his personal experiences in Greenland, living and working with both scientists and natives.

Thanks to the generous grants provided by the AU Art History Department, Dr. Carol Bird Ravenal, and the AU College of Arts and Sciences, I was able to deepen my thesis research through exposure to otherwise inaccessible archival documents. My findings in Oslo allowed me to gain a greater understanding of Stokes, his artwork, and his impressions of the Arctic, which significantly improved the quality of my thesis.”

Student spotlight: Samantha Rhodes Receives Travel Funding

This summer, second-year Masters student Samantha Rhodes received funding through the Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award. Here, she describes her research experience:

“In July, I travelled to Florence, Italy to analyze and research Nardo di Cione’s Inferno fresco, located in the Santa Maria Novella Church. The fresco is part of a Final Judgment scene located in the Strozzi Chapel. Nardo’s fresco is not well documented and neither is the Florence Baptistery ceiling. My trip allowed me document the fresco and baptistery fully, to assess the accessibility of the fresco, and to account for the numerous points from which visitors may have viewed the fresco.

In-person analysis of the fresco allowed me to recognize the artist’s deviations from Dante’s literary work in his Divine Comedy, such as the handling of Limbo residing before the first circle of Hell. This specific deviation allows for debate concerning what happens after a person dies, thus seems to contradict Catholic understandings of the afterlife. This realization helped me to construct a hypothesis that the fresco allows for a very early Reformation interpretation of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, one that predated the Protestant Reformation proper. This suggests that there were diverse understandings of theology in fourteenth century Florence, and illustrates the conflicting nature of Catholic doctrine within a Catholic space.

Having seen the fresco in its original location, I could also better understand how the work related to the larger body of people attending church during the fourteenth century. The visibility of the work by the congregation would suggest a large group of people aside from the Strozzi family or the monks who resided at the church would have witnessed this fresco and perhaps understood its meaning.

The trip allowed me to spend significant time within the church and other related churches located around Florence and the Baptistery for further connections. The work that I have done since then on my thesis was only possible through the generous funding of Carol Bird Ravenal. It was an incredible opportunity, and much gelato was consumed.”

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Panel Discussion: The Monument: Past, Present, and Future

This Thursday, November 16th, Drs. Nika Elder and Sarah Gordon will host a round table discussion organized by the Art History program at American University, titled “The Monument: Past, Present, and Future.” The event will feature the following panelists:

  • Renée Ater, Associate Professor Emerita, Department of Art History and Archaeology, The University of Maryland
  • Sarah Beetham, Lecturer in American Art and Material Culture, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • Tristan Dominique Cabello, Director, American Studies, Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies Collaborative, American University
  • Andrew Demshuk, Assistant Professor, Department of History, American University
  • Alma H. Gates, Chair of the Public Art Committee, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities

The conversation will be moderated by Dr. Elder, with an introduction by Dr. Gordon. After the events and conversations this summer about Confederate monuments in the United States, the panel aims to explore the past, present and future of the monument as a cultural phenomenon. The evening will offer the American University and Washington, D.C., communities an opportunity to think through the possibilities and limitations of the monument across time and space in the modern world.

Sections_and_Reflection_Ceiling_Plan_-_Washington_Monument,_High_ground_West_of_Fifteenth_Street,_Northwest,_between_Independence_and_Constitution_Avenues,_Washington,_HABS_DC,WASH,2-_(s(Image courtesy of Library of Congress)

The event starts at 6:30pm and will be held in the Katzen Recital Hall. There will be a reception after the panel concludes at 8pm. We hope to see you there!