Vanderbilt University History of Art Blog

Laurenhaynes-400x392Lauren Haynes, curator of contemporary art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, will speak at the Insight Series Q&A Forum at Fisk University on Saturday afternoon, September 23.  Moderated by Jamaal Sheats, director and curator of Fisk University Galleries, the forum will be held at 2:00 pm in the second floor rotunda of Cravath Hall on the Fisk campus at 1000 17th Avenue North.

Prior to joining Crystal Bridges in October 2016, Haynes, a scholar in modern and contemporary African American art, was associate curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem for nearly a decade.  She oversaw the permanent collection as well as acquisitions and exhibitions and curated dozens of exhibitions at the Studio Museum and contemporary art institutions in New York.  Haynes is also a recipient of a 2016 Gold Rush Award from Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. .

Free and open to the public, the popular Insight Series Q&A Forum is sponsored by Seed Space  and brings influential art professionals to Nashville for public conversation.

akisasamotoAki Sasamoto, a New York-based, Japanese artist, will open the Department of Art’s 2017-2018 Studio VU Lecture Series with a lecture on Wednesday, September 20, at 6 pm in Room 220 of the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Arts Center.  Free and open to the public, her lecture is entitled Today’s Special.

Sasamoto’s performance/installation works revolve around gestures on nothing and everything.  Her installations are careful arrangements of sculpturally altered found objects, and the decisive gestures in her improvisational performances create feedback, responding to sound, objects, and moving bodies.  The constructed stories seem personal at first, yet oddly open to varying degrees of access, relation, and reflection.

Sasamoto teaches sculpture at Rutgers University.  Her works have been shown both in performing art and visual art venues in New York and abroad. Besides her own works, she has collaborated with musicians, choreographers, scientists and scholars, and she plays multiple roles of dancer, sculptor, or director.

Her works appear in gallery spaces, theater spaces, as well as in odd sites. She has shown at SculptureCenter, the Kitchen, Chocolate Factory Theater, Whitney Biennial 2010 at Whitney Museum, Greater New York 2010 at MOMA-PS1, New York; Mori Museum, Take Ninagawa, Yokohama Triennale 2008, Japan; Gwangju Biennial 2012, South Korea; Shanghai Biennale 2016, China; Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016, India, and numerous other international and domestic venues.

The Ingram Studio Arts Center is located at 1204 25th Avenue South (25th and Garland Avenues) on the Vanderbilt campus.  For more information, contact the Department of Art office at 615.343.7241 or email

Photo of Aki Sasamoto by Paul O’Reilly




Norman_YoffeeOld Assyrian texts from Mesopotamia, ca. 1950-1750 BCE, shed light on merchants and markets in Mesopotamia and the relationship between merchants and the Old Assyrian state. In his September 19 lecture entitled New Perspectives on Ancient Trade, Mesopotamia ca. 1950-1750 BCE, Norman Yoffee, professor emeritus, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology, University of Michigan, will review recent research on Old Assyrian trade and its implications for understanding trade in other times and places. He will also discuss the recent explosion of studies on trade by archaeologists and the reasons why these studies are important developments in the understanding of ancient societies.

The lecture will be held Tuesday, September 19, at 4:30 pm in Cohen Hall 203, with a reception to follow the lecture.  Free and open to the public, Yoffee’s lecture is sponsored by Vanderbilt’s Program in Classical and Mediterranean Studies, Department of Anthropology, and Department of History.

Yoffee is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University, and editor of Cambridge World Archaeology; New Directions in Sustainability and Society (Cambridge University Press).

Cohen Memorial Hall is at 1220 21st Avenue South, on the western edge of the Peabody College campus. Parking is available in Lot 95, accessible from 21st Avenue South.  For more information, call Joy Porter at 615.322.2516.

An exhibition of contemporary photographic portraits opens the fall exhibition season at the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery in Cohen Memorial Hall.  On view through December 7, Who Are We?  Identity and the Contemporary Photographic Portrait examines how—in our image-saturated world—photographs have increasingly played a primary role in shaping identity. An opening reception will be held from 5-7 pm on Friday, September 15, in conjunction with Vanderbilt Parents’ and Family Weekend and Fall for the Arts.

The photographic portrait, with its roots in early nineteenth-century France, has continually challenged how we view ourselves. Such works have become increasingly fluid over time and almost as difficult to grasp as the nature of identity itself. These portraits, in their early form, insisted on their realism, a mirror within the context of traditional painting. Photographs “furnish evidence,” as Susan Sontag observed in On Photography (1972), her seminal collection of essays on photography.

The contemporary photographic portrait, as explored in this exhibition, is diverse, yet tends to incorporate a common thread: the desire to say something about us as people. Some artists approach the medium as a means to tell a larger story, as seen in two portraits by Shirin Neshat, made in response to the Arab Spring and, specifically, to the harsh reality of displacement. Andres Serrano uses the photographic portrait to explore American identity. Still others, such as the photojournalist Donna Ferrato, employ photography as an agent for social change, in this instance, her crusade against domestic violence.

Several artists featured in the exhibition approach the tradition of the photographic portrait conceptually, in that the actual work of art is less about a specific person and more about the ideas the artist is trying to convey. Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson often use this strategy to confront issues surrounding race and the marginality of the black figure in art and culture. Kelli Connell, exploring the fluidity of gender roles and sexuality, employs forms of digital manipulation to give the appearance that what we see is an intimate moment between two people who almost seem to be mirror images of each other (in fact, they are the same person).

A number of artists are drawn to capturing the inner lives of their sitters or, in some cases, themselves. Kiki Smith, in Las Animas, depicts multiple representations of her body that can be characterized as a form of cathartic introspection. Four portraits from a larger body of work by Joyce Tenneson depict women in what she termed the “third phase of their lives.” Tenneson’s women face us with a fearless attitude, perhaps brought forward with age and the passage of time. Their histories are written in their faces, in their eyes, and across their bodies. Nan Goldin’s landmark, Clemens Cruising in the Glass, Tour d’Eiffel, Paris, is part of the artist’s ongoing project to document the intimate lives of her circle of friends, often those on the periphery of mainstream society, taking private moments into the public sphere.

What does it mean when the creation of identity takes place in societal isolation, a space void of all external associations and influences? The Dutch artist Roy Villevoye has confronted these ideas for more than two decades with a subtle, non-invasive approach to his subject, the Asmat in Papua New Guinea. We can imagine that the construction of these images must be strange for the sitters, as many Asmat living in these isolated communities have never even seen their own reflections in a mirror, much less captured in a photograph. For us, these photographs point to how little we know of those beyond our sphere and how ill-equipped we are to understand who they are as people. Yet, the very fact that we are able to see them in an art gallery or museum points to an end-game position, where even the most remote peoples on our earth are, in some respects, not far from us at all.

As noted by Joseph Mella, director and curator, “Portraits, in all their diversity, serve not only the needs of the sitter and artist, but also those of the viewer. Portraits give us clues to who we are as humans and the possibilities of what we could become.” Instagram and other forms of social media dominate the cultural landscape while the reliance on photography in our own lives increasingly presents questions about representation and identity that artists continue to navigate in surprising ways. Who are we, indeed, and what do we wish to become, and just how easy can it be to craft our own identities?

The first in a three-part series on portraiture, Who Are We?  Identity and the Contemporary Photographic Portrait, is organized by the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph Mella, director, with support provided by The Ingram Commons and Leslie Cecil and Creighton Michael, MA’76.

Free and open to the public, the exhibition will be on view through December 7, with closures for Fall Break (October 12–15) and Thanksgiving Break (November 18–26). Gallery hours are Monday to Friday 11 am–4 pm, weekends 1–5 pm.

The Fine Arts Gallery is located in Cohen Memorial Hall at 1220 21st Avenue South, on the western edge of the Peabody College campus. Parking is available in Lot 95, accessible from 21st Avenue South.  For more information, visit the gallery’s website at or call 615.322.0605.


The Resilient Souls Project, a photo exhibition by Cathy Lander-Goldberg, will be on display in the Kissam Center from September 11 through October 6.

The exhibition of portraits and writing celebrates women’s perseverance through life’s challenges—the individual strength and beauty of spirit in a diverse group of women. A follow-up to Lander-Goldberg’s 1996 work “Resilient Souls: Young Women’s Portraits and Words,” the current exhibition follows approximately 20 women from their teens or 20s into middle age. The result:  a collection of black-and-white past portraits and current color images accompanied by texts reflecting their struggles, losses and mistakes as well as successes, strengths and triumphs.

An opening reception for the exhibition is scheduled for Monday, September 11, at 6 pm in the Kissam Center. A workshop on resilience led by Lander-Goldberg follows at 7 pm in Kissam C216. The Resilient Souls Project is sponsored by Warren and Moore Colleges.

Resilience is defined as the ability to become strong, healthy or successful after something bad happens. But why do some people appear more resilient than others?  “Research shows that although there are protective factors that foster resilience, we all have the ability to build more resilience in each of our lives,” said Lander-Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker who facilitates workshops using expressive arts. She is the author of Photo Explorations: A Girl’s Guide to Self-Discovery Through Photography, Writing and Drawing (2015).

Resilient Souls: Young Women’s Portraits and Words first opened in St. Louis and traveled the United States during the late 1990s. The topics explored included disabilities, illness, adoption, mental health issues, violence, school problems, unhealthy relationships, immigration, teen pregnancy and grief. Two decades later, Lander-Goldberg revisited the subjects of her photographs, including:

  • Sandy, who lost her leg as a child due to a congenital disability. Sandy became a two-time Paralympic bronze medalist in skiing, a mother and an activist. She recently climbed a volcano in Ecuador to raise awareness for amputees.
  • Roeshelle, who failed the fourth grade but went on to pursue her master’s degree in social work. At 39, she uses her social work background to run her own business, which helps low-income families rent and purchase homes.
  • Nani, a high school gang member and drug user. At 37, she recently was the first person in her family to finish college while holding two jobs and playing in the Chicago Women’s Football League.

The Resilient Souls Project is part of the university’s ongoing initiative to support holistic and inclusive approaches to mental health and well-being at Vanderbilt. For more information about this initiative as well as campus resources, visit

The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Office of the Vice Provost for Learning and Residential Affairs, The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons, and the Center for Student Wellbeing. (Vanderbilt News article)

Jared_Moore_Wondry_art_installation-585x439What if the websites you visited on your phone were visible to the people around you?  They are at the Wond’ry’s newest art installation, vuExposed.

Visiting researcher Jared Moore, a graduate student in computer science at the University of Washington, said his fascination with internet privacy led him to turn his coding skills into art. He wants visitors to understand how companies use their online information.

“Only through informed understanding can we have advocates and guarantee our rights,” Moore said. “If this installation makes you uncomfortable, then buying internet from virtually anywhere in the U.S. should make you uncomfortable. This is bigger than ‘I don’t want people to know what I look at on the weekends.’”

He looked to internet privacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy & Technology to inform himself and his work.

Installation visitors will log on to a specific, unsecured Wi-Fi network, then consent to a minor hack – allowing sites they visit on their browser to be displayed on screens. Moore used outdated monitors from a free recycling center for the piece because he believes in creative reuse and that the 1980s-era technology will grab attention.

Mary Dockery, who earned her master’s in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt in May, volunteered to build a platform for the installation.  “It interested me because I have always operated under the assumption that there is no privacy online,” she said. “Jared’s exhibit really highlights this reality and the need for everyone to take more care, especially with use of free Wi-Fi.”

The installation is at the Wond’ry, located inside the Innovation Pavilion at 25th Avenue South and Garland Avenue on Vanderbilt’s campus. vuExposed will be on view throughout the fall semester.  The Wond’ry routinely hosts interactive art projects that complement its mission of encouraging creativity, technological advances and entrepreneurship.

*Jared Moore, computer science graduate student, University of Washington, is the artist behind vuExposed. (Vanderbit News article and photograph by Heidi Hall)

Nashville’s Cumberland Gallery concludes the summer season with New Arrivals, an eclectic group exhibition of recent work by several established artists, among them, the Department of Art’s Marilyn Murphy, professor emerita of art, and Farrar Hood Cusomato, senior lecturer of art, as well as guest artists.

These works will be on view through Saturday, September 16, at the Cumberland Gallery, 4107 Hillsboro Circle, Nashville.  Gallery hours are 10 am-5 pm, and admission is free.

Earlier this summer Murphy’s work was featured in an exhibition, Marilyn Murphy: Magic Realist, at the Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA.  Murphy’s painting, “Traveling Light,” is included in an exhibit on view (through October 21) at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, MS.

Cars in Art II explores artistic response to the automobile, which has transformed life in the 20th century more significantly than any other single factor, irrevocably changing the appearance of our environment and our experience of it.


The Conversation, “Remembering America’s Lost Buildings(August 31, 2017) on historic preservation:   Unfortunately, all cannot be salvaged. Preservation efforts must be galvanized; they require mobilization, time and resources. We reached out to five architecture professors and posed the following question: What’s one American structure you wish had been saved?

While their responses vary – from an unassuming home nestled in the suburbs of Boston to a monument of 19th-century wealth and glamour – none of the structures could resist the tides of decay, development and discrimination. . . . Read more in The Conversation, including Kevin Murphy’s article on the Rachel Raymond House, Belmont, Massachusetts.  Murphy is Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Humanities and professor/chair of the History of Art department.

Miranda Pepin, an Arts and Science senior and the HART department’s work study student,  is currently performing in the Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s signature program, “Shakespeare in the Park,” Thursday through Sunday evenings,  now until September 17, at Centennial Park’s bandshell.

Pepin will play Dorcas, a shepherdess in love with a clown, in A Winter’s Tale, and Dercetas, a soldier of Antony’s in Antony and Cleopatra.  “The two plays are fascinating romances—Antony and Cleopatra beginning as a comedy and ending as a tragedy, The Winter’s Tale starting as a tragedy and ending as a comedy,” said Denice Hicks, the festival’s executive artistic director. “These shows complement each other in ways that will make seeing both of them rewarding.”

Active in Vanderbilt University Theatre since she was a first-year student playing Margaret in Much Ado About Nothing, Pepin also was in Othello and served as stage manager for A Shaya Maidel last fall.  Right after “Shakespeare in the Park” performances come to an end, Pepin will begin rehearsals as The Stepdaughter in Vanderbilt University Theatre’s adaptation of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.  A classic work of the absurdist genre, the play opens on November 3.

Pepin is majoring in physics with minors in theatre and scientific computing.  “The communication skills I’ve learned in the theatre are extremely helpful when I am presenting my research projects related to the sciences,” Pepin said.  “I hope to go into both theatre and computer programming when I graduate.”

Check the festival’s season calendar for specific dates for The Winter’s Tale and Antony and Cleopatra.  “Shakespeare in the Park” is free and open to the public, with a $10 per person suggested donation. On performance evenings, food and beverage vendors will open at 6 pm, pre-show entertainment will begin at 6:30 pm, and the performance will start at 7:30 pm.  A limited number of royal packages are available for those who would like a VIP experience.

Vanderbilt University and Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt are among the longtime sponsors of Shakespeare in the Park, which is marking its 29th season.  The festival also will return to Williamson County for its second annual Shakespeare in the Park in Academy Park September 28–October 1.

For more information, visit Shakespeare in the Park or call 615-255-2273.

Over the past five days, Tropical Storm Harvey, the worst storm to hit the Houston, Texas, region in 50 years, has devastated the country’s fourth-largest city.  Along with being home to one of the most diverse populations in America, Houston and its surrounding areas also house a stunning accumulation of modern, contemporary and community-based art.
How did museums throughout Houston and its surrounding area prepare for the Category 4 hurricane and the catastrophic flooding in its wake? And how are they dealing with, or preparing to deal with, its effects?

The Huffington Post (August 30, 2017) reached out to a variety of art institutions in the area, who graciously took the time to describe how they readied themselves for Harvey and what they plan to do after the storm subsides.  Read more….

*Rothko Chapel, Houston

For more information, ARTnews has a webpage on the hurricane that “is being continuously updated with details about Harvey’s effects on Texas’s art community.”

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