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Undergraduate Research in Art History

Pomona College students can partake in summer research focusing on a variety of subjects through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). Here are recent SURP projects that focused on art history.

2014

Exploring Strategies of “Chineseness” in Contemporary Art in China

Dingyun Zhang (2016); Mentor(s): George Gorse

Abstract: My research explores the conflicts and negotiations over what constitutes “Chineseness” in contemporary art in China today. I started by studying art fairs and expanded my journey to eight major Chinese cities as well as New York. Along the way, I documented exhibitions, visited art schools, followed journalism, met critics, talked to gallerists, participated in performance art, read journals and books, and drank beers with artists in their studios. As anticipated, the cultural, ideological, and aesthetic notion of “Chineseness” is central to conversations throughout art systems in mainland China. For the exhibition of art, an ongoing concern is how to find a compromise between the values of the international art world, China’s underground art communities, and China’s unique official art system that asserts itself as “legitimately” Chinese. In the market, there are heated debates about Chinese elements in art as commercial and political strategies. As for the creation and criticism of art, a prevailing anxiety is over how (and sometimes whether) to deal with the Chinese tradition with its language, history, and philosophy, as well as the Chinese experience of modernity. While covering diverse topics such as exhibition spaces, curation, and artist communities, the collection of writings resulting from my engagement focuses on deep analysis of the strategies of “Chineseness” of a few carefully selected artworks, including both new, little known pieces and controversial well known ones. The essays along with photographs are available online. 
Funding Provided by: National Endowment for the Humanities

2013

Pages: The Poetry of Mirella Bentivoglio

Benjamin Kersten (2015); Additional Collaborator(s): Kathleen Howe; Mentor(s): Frances Pohl; Rebecca McGrew; Steve Coomba

Abstract: Despite an early career as a verse poet, Mirella Bentivoglio’s prolific career spans many artistic genres. A poet, sculptor, performance artist, concrete poet, and visual poet, she explores the relationship between language and image using a critical approach and wry humor to challenge the given meanings and systems of authority in our society. Bentivoglio has achieved international success; however, a retrospective of her multimedia practice from the past five decades will fill a gap in the scholarly material available in the United States. My work followed key steps in the process of preparing an exhibition. The first included reading past materials, including the exhibition proposal written by Professor Pohl and key articles in order to prepare for a visit to Bentivoglio’s home and workplace in Rome. Over the course of our visit, we collected information on specific works, including interpretations and installation instructions. I also compiled answers for an interview that will be published in the accompanying catalog. Back at the museum, I photographed, accessioned, and entered new works into the museum database while cleaning up the existing archive. This public information will be necessary for constructing an exhibition layout and checklist. Bentivoglio's subversive work draws connections between the language and images of everyday life, falling in line with significant and experimental art that blurs lines between disciplines and power structures.
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP

Resonant Minds: Abstraction and Perception

Nidhi Gandhi (2015); Mentor(s): Terri Geis; Kathleen Howe

Abstract: Abstract art in all its forms – from expressionism to minimalism – echoes neuroscientific theories about how the brain works. Whether exploring a precise order or practicing more chaotic techniques, the subtle aspects of abstraction provide a platform for questioning how the brain processes our perceptions. It can provide a window into the mind’s unceasing efforts to make sense of the human experience. Abstract art may be viewed in relationship to theories and explorations of the mind, as we consider how it prompts the viewer to interpret the unexpected and indeterminate. Abstract artists often based their artistic premises on theories about how subtle shifts in form and color alter our absorption of an artwork. Similarly, neuroscientists have explored perception from different perspectives, investigating how impressions received while viewing images can trigger neuronal impulses and unconscious reactions. Resonant Minds: Abstraction and Perception explores different ways in which our perceptions of abstract art reveal our mental processes, and asks us to reflect on the ways we perceive.
Funding Provided by: Janet Inskeep Benton

2012

Making an Exhibition – Marking/Remarking: Aerial Photographs by Marilyn Bridges

Zoë Jameson (2015); Additional Collaborator(s): Steve Comba; Gary Murphy; Mentor(s): Kathleen Howe

Abstract: This SURP was an eight-week internship, culminating in the mounting of an exhibition,"Marking/Remarking: Aerial Photographs by Marilyn Bridges," at the Pomona College Museum of Art. The exhibition complements the Mellon Elemental Arts Initiative: this year's theme is Earth. The photographs included examine marks left on the earth by ancient and modern civilizations as well as geologic processes, while giving each mark equal weight through an impartial aerial view. Offering an alternative to the ancient-natural/modern-intrusive dichotomy, "Marking/Remarking" investigates the necessary cooperation between land and civilization as marks on the earth are made, erased and altered. From ancient geoglyphs to industrial farmland and impressive volcanoes, the photographs of Marilyn Bridges provide a different view of the earth, its history and our marks upon it. During my eight weeks, I learned about Marilyn Bridges and her photographs and about museum processes. I was given a lot of freedom with the project, in both analysis and action. I was primarily responsible for research and the selection and sequencing of images for the exhibition. I wrote the wall texts, press information and a short essay that details my analysis of Bridges's photographs, which we published in an exhibition brochure. My work with the exhibition acquainted me with each step of the curatorial process as well as various other museum tasks and functions, such as installation and collections management.
Funding Provided by: Janet Inskeep Benton

Adam Overton, The Bureau of Experimental Speech and Holy Theses, and Social Practice

Hannah Pivo (2014); Mentor(s): Rebecca McGrew

Abstract: The essay “Adam Overton, The Bureau of Experimental Speech and Holy Theses, and Social Practice,” represents the culmination of my research project. As the Pomona College Museum of Art’s curatorial assistant, I contributed to the conception and planning of the upcoming exhibition with Los Angeles artist Adam Overton, entitled Project Series 44: The Bureau of Experimental Speech and Holy Theses. This project explores issues of speech, power, and performance through weekly participatory events for museum visitors led by Overton and his collaborators. Overton engages in “social practice,” a term describing the recent emergence of trans-disciplinary art practices that focus on social interaction as a means of community involvement and public engagement. Social practice is currently thriving in the Southern California art scene,and in the past ten years many Los Angeles area art museums have begun to collaborate with artists and organizations engaging in social practice. Through research, personal interviews, and by working with Overton during the planning of his project at Pomona, it became clear that this type of collaboration poses many challenges to the artists and the institutions involved, yet it also represents some of the most experimental and innovative activity in the art world today. The essay will be published in the Museum of Art’s forthcoming exhibition catalogue in November 2012.
Funding Provided by: Graham “Bud” ’55 and MaryEllen ’56 Kilsby Endowment Fund for Student Interns at the Pomona College Museum of Art