Art History MA students attend CAA Conference in Chicago

Every February, art historians, artists, and visual arts professionals from around the world gather at the College Art Association’s Annual Conference to present and engage with new scholarship, network with peers, and “take the temperature” of the field. This year, the 108th CAA conference took place in Chicago, Illinois on February 12th-15th. Among the hundreds of presenters American University’s Art History program was well-represented by Dr. Juliet Bellow and Dr. Nika Elder; Professors Bellow and Elder both presented new research in Modern European and American art respectively. In addition, a group of the Art History program’s current second-year Master’s students also attended the CAA conference, and spent their time attending panel sessions, networking with other arts professionals, and supporting their beloved professors.

We asked second-year MA students Claire Sandberg, Hoyon Mephokee, Taylor Curry, and Nicole Martin about their experiences at CAA in Chicago this year. Keep reading to learn more about AU at CAA!

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Second-year art history MA students Hoyon Mephokee, Kathryn Heine, Nicole Martin, and Caitlyn Carr at the Art Institute of Chicago. Courtesy of Hoyon Mephokee.

What was your favorite part/conference panel?

Claire Sandberg: My favorite panel was definitely the Women Art Museum Directors in the 21st Century! The panel included directors from various museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The talk was so empowering and I left feeling so inspired to get involved in museum leadership!

Hoyon Mephokee: My favorite session was one on titled Modern Continent Personifications: Controversial Monuments that had papers about the allegorization/personification of the continents in visual culture, from sculpture to cartographic caricatures. The session was particularly interesting to me because it aligned perfectly with my research interests, and it showed me that there is a growing interest in this visual form in the discipline. I was able to speak to the presenters about their research and was pleasantly surprised to learn about upcoming publications on this topic, which I am keenly looking forward to reading.

Nicole Martin: I thoroughly enjoyed a presentation by Oliver Wunsch called “White, Pink, and Pompadour.” Wunsch considered constructions of whiteness and race in Boucher’s Marquise de Pompodaour at her Toilette. His research overlapped with my thesis topic and provided a new way of thinking about the portrait!

Taylor Curry: My favorite panel was probably either one on Northern European Renaissance Male Nudes or one on Women and Museum Directors.

What experience did you gain as art historians?

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Photo courtesy of Claire Sandberg.

Sandberg: It was such a good experience to listen to other scholars’ research and presentations. It was nice to not only learn amazing new things in the field but also it was a good opportunity to compare my own research and see how my research fits in with the current art historical field.

Mephokee: My most valuable experience was probably attending sessions and panels outside of my own field and beyond my own interests. I was able to attend a session on Islamic art, for instance, that was eye-opening and allowed me to think about the discipline from a different perspective, which is important when our theses make it easy for us to think about art history through a narrow scope and framework.

Martin: It was exciting to experience the state of the field in person. As I am in the process of revising and polishing my thesis, hearing new research inspired me to continue teasing out the complexities in my own project.

Curry: As a grad student aspiring to produce further research, it was nice to hear other people’s talks and see Ph.D. students and realize that we are on the same plane with them in terms of scholarship. It made this whole process seem more achievable.

Would you recommend that other art history students go & why?

Sandberg: If you have the opportunity, go! It can be a bit overwhelming with so many panels and intimidating to encounter scholars you respect, but I learned so much and met so many interesting people! And scholars are so excited to engage with young art historians!

Mephokee: Yes, the conference is a great opportunity to learn more about topics you are interested in, hear from experts whose specializations lie beyond what you are familiar and comfortable with, and network with people whose works you’ve read and whose research interests are aligned with your own. I’ve also been able to reconnect with professors from my undergraduate institution and catch up with them. Additionally, the book and trade fair is also a great way to see and access recent publications at reduced prices – I myself was able to get a hold of three books, one that was published this year!

Martin: I would definitely recommend CAA to other art history students. Though it felt intimidating to sit near and hear directly from your favorite scholars, the exposure to new research and professional contacts was worthwhile.

Curry: I would recommend it for some students. CAA is really moving away from early modern art history so for early moderns, I would recommend something like RSA instead.

Any fun non-conference Chicago experiences?

Sandberg: I got together with friends in Chicago and we spent the day at the Art Institute, which is one of my favorite museums in the world! 

Mephokee: Aside from the Art Institute and Millennium Park (where one can find the infamous ‘Chicago Bean’), Chicago itself is an incredibly beautiful city that I enjoyed exploring with some friends from the program.

Curry: I had my first deep dish pizza and got to try Stan’s Donuts! I also got to explore AIC for the first time! 

The 109th Annual CAA conference will take place in New York City, February 10–13, 2021 at the Hilton New York Midtown. For more information about the 109th Annual CAA conference and how CAA members can submit proposals, visit their website here.

For more information about the College Art Association visit their website:

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