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. 

Lee Ann Custer
Lee Ann Custer  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the architectural developments of the increasingly dense metropolis of turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York through its “voids”—three-dimensional negative spaces in the built environment—and argues that new artistic approaches to form, subject matter, and style were needed to capture them. Pairing pictured spaces with actual urban counterparts offers new insights into how structural, legal, and social realities of building affected the lived experience of the modern city. An analysis of works by William Merritt Chase, George Bellows, John Sloan, Alfred Stieglitz, and Georgia O’Keeffe reveals that these oft-contested and sociopolitically charged pockets of urban air—from public lawns to rear tenement yards—are embedded in the rich artistic culture of the time.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania  -  The Voids of New York: Spaces of the Modern Metropolis in American Art from Chase to O’Keeffe

Emilia Mickevicius
Emilia Mickevicius  |  Abstract
The 1975 George Eastman Museum exhibition “New Topographics” redefined the subject of landscape photography as the built environment, but its premise of a neutral style remains undertheorized. This dissertation reanalyzes the exhibition’s reception, framing the show as a nexus of the possibilities for both making and interpreting photographs of the American landscape in the 1970s. Defining neutrality as a function of viewer response, it argues that what qualifies “New Topographics” as a watershed was not its banal subject matter, but rather the interpretive work its unconventionally “cool” photographs placed on their audience. Radically departing from the romantic, expressive model of Ansel Adams, the photographs in the exhibition positioned viewers to regard the landscape critically. “New Topographics” emerges in this study as a product and agent of key shifts in the 1970s photography world, and as an important installment within the period’s theorizations of authorship, viewership, and expressivity.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Brown University  -  New Topographics and the Reinvention of American Landscape Photography, 1975

Courtney A. Fiske
Courtney A. Fiske  |  Abstract
This dissertation considers the work of Gordon Matta-Clark (b. 1943- d. 1978), an American architect-turned-sculptor, as a means to rethink the central issues of the aesthetic and discursive field known as postminimalism. Best known for his building cuts, in which he performed sculptural transformations on abandoned structures, Matta-Clark was a pivot of New York’s alternative arts scene in the 1970s. Joining discourses from art history, architecture, and media studies, this project considers the ways in which Matta-Clark alternately disorients and expands understandings of postminimalism’s central category—sculpture—at a moment when sculpture was being radically destabilized by forces both within and without art’s disciplinary purview.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University  -  Rethinking Postminimalism: Gordon Matta-Clark and the Cut, ca. 1970

Jeffrey Richmond-Moll
Jeffrey Richmond-Moll  |  Abstract
US artists and audiences found in religious subjects a means to navigate early twentieth-century experiences of mobility and displacement. These works located a spiritualized sense of place in an increasingly dislocated world—roots in the midst of routes—and challenge theories that modernity's forces were unilaterally secularizing. This dissertation looks across decades of unprecedented movement of people and capital to examine artists, viewers, and objects in motion: from stereographs of Palestine in northeastern parlors to Marsden Hartley’s still lifes of southwestern santos; from Henry Ossawa Tanner’s and John Singer Sargent’s expatriate paintings in Europe to Violet Oakley’s altarpieces on battleships in the Pacific; and to John Steuart Curry’s scenes of spirituality in the migratory Midwest. Together these examples demonstrate how differently positioned individuals—from diverse racial or ethnic groups, mainstream or marginalized—experienced American modernity’s unmooring effects in distinct ways, and sought a means of anchorage through artistic representation.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Delaware  -  Roots/Routes: Spirituality and Modern Mobility in American Art, 1900-1935

Shannon Flaherty
Shannon Flaherty  |  Abstract
This dissertation investigates the role of confession in recent artistic practices, as a recurring motif and as a method for addressing questions of identity formation and institutional power. Although deeply historical, confession also saturates the western contemporary moment. Its ubiquity, however, masks the devices of power that elicit confession. Through close examination of selected works by artists in the United States and United Kingdom, this study argues that analysis of the sensory experiences offered by art contributes to understandings of confession in a significant way, distinct from other disciplines. In considering ways artists engage conventions of confession, this project argues for the potential for artworks to reimagine relationships of power and ways of expressing truths about the self.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  -  Tell Me About It: The Role of Confession in Contemporary Art

Xuxa Rodríguez
Xuxa Rodríguez  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines Ana Mendieta, Carmelita Tropicana, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, and Coco Fusco together, arguing that their work embodies diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba in the late twentieth century, such as the 1960 embargo and 2001 Third Border Initiative. Case studies of select works by each artist use archival research, oral history interviews, and discourse, performance, and visual analyses in conversation with critical race, intersectional feminist, and queer theoretical lenses to show how they use the body in performance and performative works—as well as in installation, photo, and video documentation—to track the experience of exile from political event to its impact on the diaspora community through policy’s scripting of citizenship. The resonating effects of exile can be seen in meditating on Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s work in relationship to President Barack Obama’s 2014 announcement of normalizing relations between the two countries.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  -  Performing Exile: Cuban-American Women’s Performance Art, 1972-2014

Holly Gore
Holly Gore  |  Abstract
In the mid-twentieth-century United States, some modernist sculptors and designers embedded their practices in the professions of carpentry and furniture making. In small workshops, these makers cut, chiseled, gouged, assembled, sanded, and finished a myriad of abstract forms. Modernist woodworkers engaged cutting edge visual vocabularies in the making of functional objects. But when they participated in the established woodworking trades, they made themselves vulnerable to class distinctions that might have marked their works as merely manual had they not also been forward thinking in how they conceived their artisanry. This project investigates how modernist woodworkers navigated the intersections of avant-garde art, applied design, and skilled trade. By examining the careers of Mary Gregory, George Nakashima, Isamu Noguchi, and J. B. Blunk through the lens of skilled trade, it demonstrates that by reframing the physical labor they performed, modernist woodworkers subverted class distinctions and reinvented work.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara  -  Reinventing Work: Modernist Wood and Skilled Trade, 1940-1970

Abbe C. Schriber
Abbe C. Schriber  |  Abstract
This dissertation analyzes David Hammons's street performances, installations, and found object sculptures in New York between 1974 and 1989 as experimental gestures revealing conditions of aesthetic and social legibility for ordinary black Americans. Though Hammons has actively exhibited since 1967, the project argues that he strategically wields obscurity by withdrawing from art world conventions and blurring traditional mediums, if not disciplines. He does so precisely to call attention to a nuanced, overlapping range of constituencies, whose presence depends on the institutional and archival frameworks through which one looks. The project moves away from conventional interpretations of the artist as “trickster,” arguing instead that Hammons challenges notions of outsider status and the role of visibility in the age of multiculturalism. His ambivalence toward full institutional participation acts as an intentional obscuring of structures that dictate how black art is codified, raising questions about how art is produced and for whom.

Ellen Holtzman Fellow
Doctoral Candidate, Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University  -  For a Politics of Obscurity: David Hammons and Black Experimentalism, 1974-1989

Alexis Bard Johnson
Alexis Bard Johnson  |  Abstract
“Turning the Page” is the first scholarly consideration of the visual culture in lesbian magazines in the United States. The photographs, drawings, paintings, posters, prints, diagrams, and cartoons by leading lesbian artists, both contemporary and historical, helped create and define lesbian existence in social, political, racial, and sexual dimensions during the second half of the twentieth century. This dissertation argues that these magazines supported and encouraged collaboration and creative expression and functioned as exhibition spaces for lesbian art and artists. As women, these artists put pressure on social constructions of gender and, as homosexuals, these artists questioned the normativity of heterosexuality. Thus, analyzing the content of these mostly overlooked periodicals offers access to a broader history of lesbian culture. Furthermore, examining the artists and artwork in these magazines expands the conversation on feminist and queer art.

Doctoral Candidate, Art and Art History, Stanford University  -  Turning the Page: Image and Identity in US Lesbian Magazines

Andrew P. Vielkind
Andrew P. Vielkind  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the ways in which US avant-garde cinema and multimedia installations from 1958 to 1980 became grounds for experimenting with technoscientific knowledge and generating new modes of artistic practice. Within the context of this seminal interface between art and science during the Cold War, experimentation does not suggest aesthetic improvisation, but rather a systematic interrogation of the theoretical underpinnings and intellectual matrices surrounding cybernetics, mathematical logic, systems theory, molecular biology, and information transmission. This project contends that artists and filmmakers who experimented with techniques such as numerical precision in ordering film frames, adoption of multiscreen projection, integration of live video feeds, recursive film loops, and painterly manipulation of the filmstrip’s surface critically engaged with the radical shifts in the conceptualization of relationships between information and meaning, body and technology, and language and image.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  Studio as Laboratory: Experimental Cinema and Technoscience during the Cold War