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Three art historians honored with research awards

By : Merrill Douglas

Three members of the Univer-sity’s art history faculty have won prestigious awards from prominent research centers and foundations.

Assistant Professor Aruna D’Souza received the Clark Fellowship from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass.; Associate Professor Tom McDonough won a major award from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program for a collaborative project with the artist Nancy Davenport; and Professor John Tagg has received the J. Clawson Mills Art History Fellowship from the Metropolitan Museum of Art for research in its Department of Photographs.  

D’Souza will work on her new book, Open Secrets: Intimacy between Public and Private Lives in Late Nineteenth Century France, which considers how the transformation of Paris by new technologies and urban development in the 1890s changed the way people thought about and conducted intimate relationships. For example, public spaces became potential sites for personal encounters, D’Souza said. “The department store could be a place where men and women could meet for their assignations.” Inventions such as the streetcar and the telephone altered relationships. “There was excitement about the ways in which they could bring people together, but there were also anxieties about what that closeness could mean,” she said.

The book will also look at how visual culture refl ected those changes. “For example, one of the chapters is on the representation of marriage and the Dreyfus affair,” said D’Souza, referring to the scandal that attended the wrongful conviction of a Jewish military officer for treason. Many cartoons of the time depicted husbands and wives who had stopped speaking to one another because they took different positions on the issue. “The traditional space of intimacy is now infected by the political, the public realm,” she said.  

McDonough’s project, “Inhabiting Authoritarianism: Students and the Iranian Pavilion in Paris, 1961-79,” will create a “biography” of the building commissioned by the Shah of Iran and designed by avant-garde architect Claude Parent as a dormitory for Iranian students.

“We were really interested not only in the structure itself, but in this odd conjunction. You had a reactionary government commissioning a modernist, progressive, forward-looking building,” McDonough said. During the French student uprisings of 1968, the building housed many left wing Iranian dissidents. Then, in the late 1970s, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, recently expelled from Iraq, came to live in Paris while the Shah’s regime was crumbling.

McDonough and Davenport want not only to portray this complicated political history, but also to fi nd a new way to write about a building, describing how it allowed for or resisted various uses over time. Instead of a conventional journal article, they plan to produce a large-scale, color poster to be published as an insert in selected journals on art and architecture.

Tagg’s fellowship is the only one the museum awards for senior art historians. He will spend six months in the museum’s Department of Photography conducting research for his study, “Politics and Meaning on the Eve of Revolution: Walker Evans’s Photographs for the Crime of Cuba.”

The Crime of Cuba, a 1933 book by Carleton Beal, documents the conditions of life for ordinary Cubans under the dictatorship of Machado y Morales. Evans’s photography for the book has often been dismissed as just an opportune commission, Tagg said. “I’m interested in taking it more seriously than that, thinking about the work as having some political impetus, trying to fi nd out what that might be.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08