Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellows in American Art

The Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art are awarded to graduate students in any stage of Ph.D. dissertation research or writing, for scholarship on a topic in the history of the visual arts of the United States, including all facets of Native American art. Although the topic may be historically and/or theoretically grounded, attention to the art object and/or image should be foremost. Since 2015, the awards have included the Luce/ACLS Ellen Holtzman Dissertation Fellowship in American Art, named after the Luce Foundation’s Program Director for American Art, who retired that year after 23 years of service. The fellowship is awarded to an emerging scholar of demonstrated achievement whose research and writing concerns American modernism and art of the 1950s and 1960s.

This program is made possible by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Read more about this fellowship program.

Please note: affiliations shown are as of time of award. Please click on fellows' names for current information.

Related Links

Search for Fellows and Grantees

Watch "Emerging Themes and Methods of Research: A Discussion with ACLS Fellows," an annual meeting session featuring recent ACLS fellows. 

Anastasia R. Aukeman
Anastasia R. Aukeman  |  Abstract
This dissertation is a theoretical and historical account of the art-making activities of the Rat Bastard Protective Association, a small, close-knit community in mid-century San Francisco that included Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Wally Hedrick, and Manuel Neri. This project studies the political, social, and aesthetic concerns in their assemblage works. Use of the term assemblage is also investigated, as it marks a specific spirit of the 1950s and '60s. Considered materially-based when Conceptual art sought to dematerialize the art object in the 1970s, the term was eclipsed by more lasting stylistic categorizations. This study acknowledges a performative dimension in assemblage, thereby casting new light on the trajectory of process-based practices in art since the 1950s.

Doctoral Candidate, The Ph.D. Program in Art History, City University of New York, The Graduate Center  -  The Rat Bastard Protective Association: Bruce Conner and His San Francisco Cohort, 1958-68

Emily L. Moore
Emily L. Moore  |  Abstract
From 1938 to 1942, Tlingit and Haida men enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps worked with the US Forest Service to restore nineteenth-century totem poles in Southeast Alaska, re-erecting the poles in “totem parks” for tourists. This dissertation provides the first extensive analysis of this New Deal program, situating the totem parks as “contact zones” where Native American and American parties negotiated the complex (and often cross-purposed) catalysts of the restoration program: modernist primitivism, New Deal nationalist heritage, and indigenous rights movements of the Indian New Deal. Attending to the carving styles as well as to tourist and government photography of the parks, the project positions the totem parks as a case study for a transcultural model of American art history.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley  -  "For Future Generations": Transculturation and the Totem Parks of the New Deal, 1938-1942

Matthew H. Fisk
Matthew H. Fisk  |  Abstract
This dissertation reassesses the European career of the American artist Colonel John Trumbull (1756-1843). While Trumbull’s tenuous status as an American artist abroad in the tumultuous years that span the American and French Revolutions has been studied assiduously by art historians, little attention has been paid to his additional roles as a Federalist diplomatic agent and a commercial speculator in Europe. Contextualized within a discursive web of profit, risk, and eighteenth-century ‘sciences’ of economy and taste, this new perspective presents the artist as an homo economicus—an artistic visionary empowered by an overreaching marketplace while simultaneously burdened by its pervasive complexity. Moreover, this dissertation explores the ambiguous rhetoric of late eighteenth-century Federalist domestic and foreign policy, and the role of artist as envisioned and performed by Trumbull therein.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara  -  Art, Speculation, and Diplomacy: John Trumbull, A Federalist Painter in Europe, 1780-1816

Claire de Dobay Rifelj
Claire de Dobay Rifelj  |  Abstract
This dissertation explores the paradigm shift that altered the content and structure of collages and assemblages made in Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s. Whereas artists from the so-called California Assemblage movement in the 1950s and ’60s looked to Beat poetics for inspiration, artists such as Llyn Foulkes, Alexis Smith, and Ilene Segalove drew from the realms of fiction, film, and television, infusing their work with temporal associations, references to the genres and artificiality of Hollywood, and, most importantly, narrative explorations. By incorporating a study of narratology—the work of Gérard Genette, Roland Barthes, and Hayden White in particular—this project investigates how works by these artists both construct and subvert artistic and cultural messages.

Doctoral Candidate, Institute of Fine Arts (Art History), New York University  -  Mediums and Messages: Los Angeles Assemblage and the Influence of Film and Media, 1970-1990

Bridget Gilman
Bridget Gilman  |  Abstract
Using the work of West Coast artists Robert Bechtle, Ralph Goings, and Richard McLean, this project examines Photorealism in light of the evolution of inter-media relationships and the connections between realist painting and the American landscape. Establishing these links allows re-evaluation of work that has been judged impotent, its subjects too ordinary and its rendering too precise. This dissertation argues that these three painters’ sustained attention to the everyday reflects the cultural impact of transformations in the built environment and middle class American lifestyles in the postwar era. It reclaims a space for works that reveal much about their era, the allegiances of critics, and how works of art are connected to the sites of their making.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor  -  Re-envisioning Everyday Spaces: Photorealism in the San Francisco Bay Area

Catherine H. Walsh
Catherine H. Walsh  |  Abstract
The project examines issues of narrative and storytelling as they apply to nineteenth-century visual culture, focusing on paintings and illustrations produced between 1830 and 1870. There are three main subjects for investigation: 1) the American viewer’s experience of objects and the propensity to tell stories about and in front of works of art; 2) storytelling as a process engaged in by the artist, with focus on self-conscious works constructing stories about telling stories; and 3) stories about art and the ways in which nineteenth-century art criticism and popular fiction treated images and objects. Narrative as process and the cultural history of sound and orality as part of the multisensory experience of an artwork will be the theoretical basis of this approach.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Delaware  -  Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Orality in Nineteenth-Century American Visual Culture

Claire R. Grace
Claire R. Grace  |  Abstract
This dissertation is the first comprehensive study of Group Material, an influential New York City artists collective, active 1979-96. From the election of Ronald Reagan to the AIDS Crisis and the Culture Wars, their installations and public projects asked: What is the status of democracy in America? What is the role of the avantgarde? Examining Group Material’s work in terms of theories and histories of exhibition design, Conceptual art, historical representation and the public sphere, the dissertation develops a rigorous analysis of an often-cited but markedly under-researched touchstone in postwar American art. It helps measure the rise of collective art practice in the late-Cold War period, and the lasting impact of the Russian/Soviet avantgarde and the social movements of the 1960s.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University  -  Red All Over: Collectivism and Social Critique in the Art of Group Material

Alexandra Davis Weiss
Alexandra Davis Weiss  |  Abstract
Images of artists published in Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar from the 1920s through the early 1950s were pathbreaking in configuring artists as celebrities. A significant group of these published pictures—including caricatures, fashion photographs, and photographic portraits of artists in their studios—visually and conceptually represents the artist in terms of a celebrity persona, configuring it as an emblem of the artist’s “signature style.” Both created by and portraying artists such as Edward Steichen, Miguel Covarrubias, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, and Brassai, this imagery thus defined and developed the figure of the “artist-celebrity,” paving the way for the conflation of art and commerce in our time. This first in-depth study of the visual representation of artists in twentieth-century fashion and lifestyle magazines demonstrates the critical role of the mass media in the development of modern American artistic identity.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania  -  The Portrayal of the Artist-as-Celebrity in American Fashion and Lifestyle Magazines, 1923-1951

Tara Cooke McDowell
Tara Cooke McDowell  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the work of the San Francisco-based artist Jess (1923-2004). Though Jess is a figure located on the margins of art history, his multimedia, collaborative, and cross-disciplinary practice opens fresh lines of inquiry into the postwar moment and offers alternative interpretive paradigms for understanding modernism. This study of Jess’s life and work addresses the household as a site of artistic production and sociability, the appropriative nature of collage as a model of self-generated myth and history, and the process and ethos of salvage as a complex form of resistance to the moment of total reconfiguration ushered in by the atomic age.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley  -  Image Nation: The Art of Jess, 1951-1991

Cassie Wu
Cassie Wu  |  Abstract
This dissertation is a monographic study of the work of Allan McCollum, one of several contemporary American artists whose practice investigates the significance of producing art within the economic and social contexts of late capitalist commodity culture. Since 1969, McCollum has mobilized the languages and materials of mass culture to create work that critiques and parodies the commoditization of the precious work of art. Yet McCollum himself continues to produce unique art objects, creating a paradoxical working method best described as the serial production of singularity. By arguing that McCollum’s enterprise is best understood as a search for ‘the perfect object’—an object that evokes both the aura of the unique work of art and the democratic availability of the mass-produced commodity—this study cuts through multiple narratives of contemporary art in order to investigate the shifting defintions of the art object as they have developed in postwar America.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles  -  Perfect Objects: The Lives of Allan McCollum's Work