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.

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

Noga Bernstein
Noga Bernstein  |  Abstract
Between the 1910s and 1950s, American textile designer, painter, and educator Ruth Reeves created a large body of work inspired by various ancient and then-current indigenous art traditions of the Americas, most notably Guatemalan and Peruvian textiles. In her travels to Central and South America during the 1930s, Reeves assumed the role of goodwill ambassador, aspiring to promote inter-American relations through her work. This project identifies Reeves’s indigenous sources and analyzes how she used them, contextualizing her stylistic methods within shifting political ideologies and diplomatic relations—from isolationist patriotism and pan-Americanism to universalism. In contrast to many other primitivists, Reeves was open, even obsessive, in her engagement with questions of artistic borrowing. Her practice of displaying her works alongside their sources, together with her discussion of those sources in her writings, provide insight into her methods of adaptation, and offer new ways of understanding how cross-cultural practice shaped American modernism.

Doctoral Candidate, Art, State University of New York, Stony Brook  -  Global Age Design: Ruth Reeves and Cross-Cultural Practice

Margaret G. Innes
Margaret G. Innes  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines distribution as a central concern of photographic production between 1926 and 1951. During this period, the American left-wing press served as a key site of reception for European avant-garde practices that retheorized the public function of art and photography’s role in reaching a mass audience. Three case studies chart the evolving visual tactics of leftist pictorials and their dialogical relationship with photographers’ work: the reception of German photomontage and worker photography in the American pictorial “Labor Defender” from 1926 to 1937; the use of the pictorial statistical methods of Viennese philosopher Otto Neurath and Cologne artist Gerd Arntz in “Photo-History” magazine in 1937 and 1938; and the formation of the New York Photo League, which was active from 1936 to 1951 and whose genealogical ties to “Labor Defender” complicate the group’s professedly straight, documentary aesthetic of the 1930s and 1940s. Taken together, these studies reframe American photography of the interwar period between art and mass culture.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University  -  Signs of Labor in the American Photographic Press, 1926-1951

Elizabeth Buhe
Elizabeth Buhe  |  Abstract
This dissertation undertakes a critical reappraisal of mid-century painting through the work of Sam Francis (1923-1994). Going against the perception that this era’s abstract painting was a progressive reduction of form or an arena for the artist’s actions, Francis shifted focus away from medium or artist onto the viewer. Francis insisted on his art’s capacity to enable self-realization in the observer, a philosophy this project calls “functional abstraction.” In the face of high modernism’s totalizing impulses, his practice opens, rather than closes, pressing questions about painting’s ontology by recalibrating the artist’s authorial function, dislocating traditional sites of production, and denying opticality’s hegemony. Francis’s work is a primary negotiating site between painting and concerns that seemed antithetical to it—like phenomenology, subjectivity, and viewer experience—illuminating an alternative passage from 1950s to 1960s art that challenges the period’s influential “death of painting” critiques and recuperates early abstractionists’ concern with self-actualization.

Doctoral Candidate, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University  -  Sam Francis: Functional Abstraction

R. Tess Korobkin
R. Tess Korobkin  |  Abstract
This dissertation argues that in the 1930s American sculptors significantly reinvented the materiality, practice, and politics of figurative sculpture in response to the era’s societal turbulence, unprecedented aesthetic possibilities, and the rise of documentary photography. The grotesque gesture of Seymour Lipton’s 1938 wood carving “Flood,” the collective body of heads and torsos brought together in Minna Harkavy’s 1931 bronze “American Miner’s Family,” and the photographic body represented in Isamu Noguchi’s 1934 Monel metal figure “Death (A Lynching),” all reimagine the potential of the human body as a central sculptural motif. In each case, sculpture becomes a site where the inventions of modernist abstraction merge with struggles to represent the era’s natural disasters, labor conflicts, and racial violence.

Ellen Holtzman Fellow
Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  Sculptural Bodies of the Great Depression

Jennifer Chuong
Jennifer Chuong  |  Abstract
Art in the eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century British transatlantic world was characterized by a fascination with surfaces in both spatial and temporal terms. While the spatial conception of surfaces has been richly developed by art historians, the significance of surfaces as sites of physical transformation has received little scholarly attention. Yet in this period Joshua Reynolds consigned his immortal fame to the evanescent mezzotint; Benjamin Franklin paradoxically proposed using paper marbling’s inconstant patterns to establish a steadfast, unassailable currency; Federalist cabinetmakers used veneers to animate their furniture by giving the impression of movement in time; and Washington Allston posited a correspondence between the duration of a painting’s making and the depth of its reception. These practices and discourses identify surfaces as visible sites, but they also explore their dynamism in time. In the American colonial context, the productive instability of surfaces provided a material, rather than historicist, basis for art’s progress.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University  -  Surface Experiments in Early America

Christina Michelon
Christina Michelon  |  Abstract
This dissertation considers the medium of print and its impact on the American home from 1830 to 1890. During this period, engravings populated cherished albums or hung on walls; images cut from periodicals and books became part of decoupaged furniture; tiny, colorful pictures called scrap appeared on greeting cards, in scrapbooks, and on vases and screens; printed fabrics upholstered furniture and enlivened quilts; and bold, printed wallpapers enveloped entire rooms. Aided by recent theoretical work on materiality and making, this study focuses particularly on homemakers’ embodied engagement with printed material, especially as it related to domestic craft and interior design. It argues that print simultaneously promoted and limited creativity, mediated between individual and collective identities, and shaped the way people experienced and transformed their visual and material surroundings. Ultimately, print provides a lens through which to explore how industrialization and creativity both clashed and coexisted in the nineteenth-century American home.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  -  Interior Impressions: Printed Material in the Nineteenth-Century American Home

John Vincent Decemvirale
John Vincent Decemvirale  |  Abstract
This dissertation investigates a constellation of arts organizations founded and managed by people of color in Los Angeles from 1960 to the present. Equal parts activist headquarters and alternative art spaces, they protested the city’s major cultural institutions and carved out physical and creative spaces for Black and Latino artists and publics. These organizations and affiliated artists formed the networks of apprenticeship, instruction, and affiliation for much of the Black and Latino artistic production in Los Angeles since the 1960s. This project centers on the artworks, exhibitions, ephemera, and alternative spaces forged within the context of Black and Latino Angelenos’ arts advocacy, activism, and community art practices. Analyzed as a series of case studies, these art formations provide insights into the popular uses and re-readings of the spaces, frameworks, and alliances through which art has traditionally been activated, curated, exhibited, and received.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara  -  Knowing Your Place and Making Do: Radical Art Activism in Black and Latino Los Angeles, 1960 to the Present

Audrey Sands
Audrey Sands  |  Abstract
Lisette Model was a pivotal figure in the development of postwar American photography. This dissertation balances close reading of her photographs with an interrogation of the networks that sustained her—the leftist Photo League, which exhibited the Jewish immigrant’s creative work; the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, which employed her through the 1940s; and the New School for Social Research, where she taught for thirty years. This analysis reveals that across these areas of her work, against the backdrop of WWII and the Cold War, Model pushed for an art that was subjective in nature. In so doing, she catalyzed an inward turn that pervaded mid-twentieth-century photography, paving the way for the psychologically inflected work of Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, and her student Diane Arbus.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  Lisette Model and the Inward Turn of Photographic Modernism

Saisha M. Grayson
Saisha M. Grayson  |  Abstract
When classically trained cellist Charlotte Moorman (1933-1991) moved to New York City in 1957, she swiftly positioned herself at the intersection of experimental music, performance, video, and the visual arts. She interpreted works by composers like John Cage, collaborated with artists such as Nam June Paik, and founded and organized the New York Avant Garde Festival from 1963 to 1980. This dissertation argues that Moorman’s career sheds new light on what it meant to be an artist in this post-medium-specific moment. Long overlooked, the generative dynamics of her collaborations with Cage, Paik, and festival participants suggest new models for valuing catalytic creativity in an art world increasingly marked by performance-oriented, open-structured, and participatory practices.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, City University of New York, The Graduate Center  -  Cellist, Catalyst, Collaborator: The Work of Charlotte Moorman, 1963-1980