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. Although the topic may be historically and/or theoretically grounded, attention to the art object and/or image should be foremost.

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. 

Lacey Baradel
Lacey Baradel  |  Abstract
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commentators often claimed Americans’ frequent geographic mobility as a distinctive cultural trait. Most celebrated locomotion as a constructive force and expression of individualism, yet some worried about its destabilizing effects. Certain forms of mobility, especially those of marginalized populations, elicited calls for greater regulation. Artists ranging from painter Eastman Johnson to filmmaker DW Griffith probed and complicated these distinctions through their depictions of modern life. This dissertation investigates the central role artistic representation played in shaping contemporary debates about locomotion and US culture through a critical examination of works that complicate the popular, romanticized mythology of Americans’ unbridled freedom to move.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania  -  Mobile Americans: Locomotion and Identity in US Visual Culture, 1860-1915

Emily K. Liebert
Emily K. Liebert  |  Abstract
This dissertation provides the first book-length study devoted to the pivotal San Diego-based artist Eleanor Antin (b. 1935). The project focuses on Antin’s work from 1965 to 1979, which demands that the standard segregations between the categories of Conceptual art, Performance art, and Feminist art be reconsidered. Antin’s performance-based Conceptualism from these years provides a model of art informed by feminism that acts as a set of embodied political positions; importantly, these positions evade the confines of style or time that have tended to structure feminist art history. This study of Antin sheds light on new geneaologies that account for some of the most influential interdisciplinary artists of the 1970s and situates these artists as “missing links” between two crucial moments in American art: Conceptualism in the 1960s and postmodernist performance-based practice in the 1980s.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University  -  Roles Recast: Eleanor Antin and the 1970s

Jill Patricia Baskin
Jill Patricia Baskin  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the visual culture of antebellum African Americans in Liberia, West Africa as a window into the formation of black American identity in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. Focusing on the period from 1821, the year of Liberia’s establishment by the American Colonization Society, to 1865, the end of the United States’ Civil War, it argues that art, architecture, and material culture produced in this American ex-patriot community critically participated in antebellum US debates about slavery as well as in emerging transnational dialogues about the destiny of free African Americans in a post-emancipation black Atlantic world.

Doctoral Candidate, McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia  -  Picturing Freedom's Shores: The Visual Culture of African Americans in Liberia, 1821-1865

Joe Madura
Joe Madura  |  Abstract
Concentrating on the years 1984-1998 and addressing the work of Robert Gober, Félix González-Torres, and Tom Burr, this dissertation investigates how American artists revisited the formal devices of 1960s minimal sculpture in the midst of the AIDS crisis in New York. While the influence of minimalism has been cited in monographic accounts of these artists, this study approaches the redeployment of minimal art comparatively across a rapidly changing political landscape, as a particular strategy of representation in the realm of art informed by AIDS. By analyzing this tendency within the legacy of feminist art and the critical discourse around AIDS practices, this project reconsiders art historical debates on abstract art and politics in the final decades of the twentieth century.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History Department, Emory University  -  Revising Minimal Art in the AIDS Crisis, 1984-1998

Alison Boyd
Alison Boyd  |  Abstract
This dissertation analyzes how Philadelphia art collector Albert Barnes (1872-1951) created his own vision of American modernism by gathering both people—African Americans, the working class, and women—and objects in unexpected formations at his art and education Foundation. Barnes hung the walls of his galleries with “ensembles:” compositions that brought works from different periods and locations into dialogue according to “plastic” qualities such as color, light, texture, and line. The ensembles structured surprising relations between objects: for example, the common textures in a Picasso painted figure and a Kota reliquary sculpture, or the rhyme between the curve of the neck in a Modigliani portrait and a nineteenth-century American ladle. Although his galleries are often considered merely strange or quirky, this dissertation demonstrates that the way that Barnes understood and displayed objects offers a potentially socially transformative, alternative model for modernism and its particular meaning in the United States.

Doctoral Candidate, Department of Art History, Northwestern University  -  Ensemble Modernism: Orchestrating Art and People at the Barnes Foundation

Christopher C. Oliver
Christopher C. Oliver  |  Abstract
Though often overlooked in art-historical scholarship, moving panoramas were one of the most viewed forms of American art in the mid-nineteenth century. Whether it was across the Atlantic, down the Mississippi, or into the Arctic Circle, moving panorama exhibitions relied on the effect of virtual travel to engage the audience in a two-hour performance, intent on edifying its participants. The exhibitors and lecturers framed their panoramas in a variety of conversations: about religion, scientific discovery, national expansion, and the viability of slavery within the US This dissertation argues that the consumption of these exhibitions as art by urban Americans allowed them to declare shared values through the didactic entertainments they embraced, as well as those they eschewed.

Doctoral Candidate, McIntire Department of Art, University of Virginia  -  Civic Visions: The Panorama and Popular Amusement in American Art and Society, 1845-1870

Miriam Kienle
Miriam Kienle  |  Abstract
This dissertation focuses on the networked art of Ray Johnson (1927-1995) and the model of community-at-a-distance he constructed. Concerned with a decentralized understanding of the self that emerged in the US in the latter half of the twentieth century, it analyzes Johnson’s radical assertion of interconnection and network position as central to the construction of subjectivity. Johnson’s work deconstructs the modern subject, as it confronts new forms of liberation and domination that emerged with the expansion of global capitalism and communication technologies during the 1960s. Building a community based on long-distance communication, rather than inherent commonality, Johnson’s networked art provides a key model for contemplating issues of our increasingly globalized society.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  -  Community at a Distance: The Networked Art of Ray Johnson

Austin Porter
Austin Porter  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the dynamic evolution of American print propaganda seen on the home front during World War II. It argues that as the war intensified, the visual preferences of federal bureaucrats for propaganda became increasingly conservative, thus the forms and content used by many progressive American artists during the 1930s were deemed less appropriate than a more comforting “Saturday Evening Post” sensibility. By synthesizing interrelated forms of print propaganda, including posters, cartoons, and magazine advertisements, this project emphasizes how American World War II propaganda avoided the horrors of war by conforming to an idealized commercial realism that later dominated Cold War era advertising.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Boston University  -  Paper Bullets: The Visual Culture of American World War II Print Propaganda

Matthew Levy
Matthew Levy  |  Abstract
This dissertation undertakes a critical reappraisal of Minimalism through an examination of three key painters—figures who have historically been considered lesser participants in a predominantly sculptural movement. By establishing these artists’ substantive engagements with minimalist discourse, this project builds on recent revisionist efforts to posit Minimalism as a polemical field, one in which painting was a particularly fraught subject. In addition to recuperating the literalist dimensions of these painters’ practices, it also historicizes and challenges the period’s “death of painting” critiques that have been so influential to theories of modernism and postmodernism in the visual arts.

Doctoral Candidate, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University  -  Abstract Painting after the Minimalist Critiques: Robert Mangold, David Novros, Jo Baer

Zachary J. Violette
Zachary J. Violette  |  Abstract
This project interrogates the immigrant-built and highly-ornamented tenements constructed in Boston and New York at the turn of the twentieth century. These “decorated tenements” confound the usual class-based hierarchy in which elaborate decorative forms are associated with the elite; they were built in spite of the progressive reform advocacy of strict simplicity in the material culture of the working class. To reformers, the decorated tenements were cheap shams and bad housing, making these buildings a site of contested meaning over questions of taste and propriety; workmanship and honesty; and class, ethnicity, and control of the built environment. This study focuses on the way immigrant tenement builders and architects used architectural ornament to create meaning in a rapidly evolving urban environment.

Doctoral Candidate, American and New England Studies Program, Boston University  -  Ornament and Identity in the Immigrant-Built Tenements of Boston and New York, 1870-1920