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. 

Lauren Applebaum
Lauren Applebaum  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines how American art, from paintings to quilts and decorative desk sets, engaged early electronic telecommunication practices between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on media theory, it conceives of such objects as active agents of communication that negotiated the shifting nature of social connection bridged by new technologies like the telegraph and telephone. While the fluid transmission of information over vast distances purported to provide democratic access, works by Frederic Church, Enoch Wood Perry, John F. Peto, and Louis C. Tiffany demonstrate the uncertainty of these aspirations through their own specific media and formal tropes. Due to its precarious form, the elusive matter of electronic mediation becomes the very figure for this uncertainty. Though invisible as a raw material, its presence in the spaces between social and national bodies is deeply inscribed in material and visual culture.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  -  Elusive Matter, Material Bodies: American Art in the Age of Electronic Mediation, 1865-1918

Solveig Nelson
Solveig Nelson  |  Abstract
Art historians have positioned video as a rupture initiated by the commercial release of the Sony Portapak in 1967. As the story goes, artists in their studios turned the black-and-white portable video camera directly on their own bodies, initiating a return of figuration after the dominance of abstraction in American painting. Mythologies of the Portapak have limited an understanding of video’s import for artists and critics. This project asks what video art promised and how, in fact, it transformed American art practice and art criticism. It argues that video in the US emerged out of the nexus of three image-based practices within midcentury modernism: the televisual as it was assimilated in writing and art objects; shifting notions of performance; and strategies of mediation in nonviolent direct action.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Chicago  -  Direct Action, Mediated Bodies: How Early Video Changed Art

Niki D. Conley
Niki D. Conley  |  Abstract
An American artist best known for a 1919 watercolor series that depicts scenes of WWI, Claggett Wilson’s varied oeuvre includes oil paintings, stage sets, costumes, murals, and decorative interiors. Whether rendering the theater of operations or crafting spaces within which inhabitants performed fashioned identities, his work was heavily influenced by New York theater and cosmopolitan, salon-style communities. Using the tools of social art history and queer theory, this dissertation calls attention to Wilson’s historically specific mode of performativity, predicated on erudite camp humor, that employed a range of references, from historical aesthetic styles to contemporary racial stereotypes and political events, and spoke to particular interpretive communities that became increasingly narrow as his artistic projects moved from the New York art scene to midwestern domestic interiors and back.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History and Archaeology, University of Missouri  -  Lt. Claggett Wilson, Queer Masculinity, and the Formation of American Modernism

Kristine K. Ronan
Kristine K. Ronan  |  Abstract
This dissertation follows Karl Bodmer’s “Mandan Buffalo Dancer” (1834) across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as the portrait of a Mandan “beróck-óxatä” (buffalo bull society) leader traveled in and out of various historical and cultural contexts, forms, and genres. Treating this image’s journey as a biography, this project tracks “Mandan Buffalo Dancer” across both Native American and non-Native settings and develops the first book-length study that bridges American and Native American art histories and Native studies. Tracing how this story’s various agents used print, it argues that: nineteenth-century systems of racial oppression emerged in part through the very mechanics by which print operates; and Native communities simultaneously formed an alternative history of print that eventually fed Native political activism in the 1960s.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor  -  Buffalo Dancer: The Biography of an Image

Randall Edwards
Randall Edwards  |  Abstract
Between 1967 and 1975, Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011) countered the historic preeminence of the material work of art by prioritizing site over object. He executed actions to the land or his body as a counterpoint to the space of the gallery or museum, and then exhibited corollary documentation. This juxtaposition engendered what Michel Foucault theorized as heterotopias—actual, marginal sites that converge with the spaces to which they are conceptually linked. This dissertation contends that Oppenheim positioned the fringes (his chosen sites) against the center (institutions), thereby questioning normative cultural models. It reconsiders the heterotopia as a model for assessing conceptual art, and is the first full examination of Oppenheim’s role in advancing that then-nascent movement.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, City University of New York, The Graduate Center  -  Beyond Land Art: Site, Body, and Self in the Work of Dennis Oppenheim, 1967-75

Laura Lake Smith
Laura Lake Smith  |  Abstract
Since 1964, the American artist Richard Tuttle (b. 1941) has made approximately 300 discrete series in the mediums of drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and painting. Although Tuttle’s commitment to serial art is unrivaled within the postwar period, his art has yet to be interpreted in conjunction with seriality, perhaps because it so deliberately confounds our expectations of the series. Unlike most serial art, Tuttle’s series neither repeat nor progress in any discernible way. Instead, they appear incoherent, unfinished, and unresolved. As the first study of Tuttle’s serial art, this dissertation examines the artist’s subversive reliance on serial modes of production, arguing that Tuttle uses seriality in order to challenge conceptions of art as a solution by imaging a process that is always in-between a question and its answer.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Georgia  -  Imaging the In-between: The Serial Art of Richard Tuttle

Christopher Ketcham
Christopher Ketcham  |  Abstract
This dissertation assesses the urban forms of minimal art and the politics of the bodies organized by those forms. It studies the significance of the city and its modular architectures as a source of material, form, and logic in artists’ work and writing in 1960s-70s New York. In the early reception of this work, much critical rhetoric mirrored that of urban renewal. By the mid-1960s, minimal art’s urban references were occluded by the phenomenological discourse of the body, sensation, and perception. However, for many artists working in New York, as well as urban critics, theorists, and historians, the problem of the city was a problem of the body. The core phenomenological concerns of minimal art did not represent a turning away from the urban; rather minimal art’s phenomenology was a response to the crisis of the modern American city.

Doctoral Candidate, History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  -  Minimal Art and Body Politics in New York City, 1961-75

Emily S. Warner
Emily S. Warner  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines the abstract mural as it was redefined by a range of artists in New York in the decades before and after World War II. Following a resurgence of interest in the mural, several artists expanded abstract compositions to mural scale. The abstract mural promised collective engagement at the same time that its potential kinship with decoration stoked anxieties. This dissertation approaches these issues as posed in several sites in and around New York City, sites that ranged from public to private to complex hybrids of the two. Through close analysis of works by Stuart Davis, Ilya Bolotowsky, Jackson Pollock, and others, the project offers an alternative account of midcentury art and its publics.

Ellen Holtzman Fellow
Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Pennsylvania  -  Painting the Abstract Environment: Abstract Murals in New York, 1935-55

Nico Machida
Nico Machida  |  Abstract
During the 1950s through the 1970s, the widespread restructuring of US cities brought on by vast planning and engineering projects emerged alongside new categories of art intent on structurally intervening into urban systems. Cutting across now-established historical divisions such as site-specific art, systems art, and land art, these diverse practices reconceived the era’s urbanist conditions—both the physical reorganization of urban grounds and the systems-based planning language underlying those transformations—as prospective fields for artworks. This dissertation examines the dialectical relationship between art and urbanism during critical decades of transition for both fields, through in-depth studies of works by Isamu Noguchi, Robert Smithson, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. It proposes that these artworks performed an epistemological inquiry into the era’s urbanist plans as a new “syntax of sites,” and so helped set the terms for an artistic mode specific to the scale and logic of late twentieth-century space.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of California, Los Angeles  -  City-Site-Syntax: Art and the US Urban System, 1950s-70s

Nicole Williams
Nicole Williams  |  Abstract
This dissertation argues that American artists helped to consolidate a new, modern notion of privacy in response to the expansion of the mass media and the emergence of invasive journalistic practices at the turn of the last century. Examining key works by Edward Lamson Henry, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Thomas Eakins, and John White Alexander in relation to contemporary critiques of the press and the development of a legal discourse on “the right to privacy,” this study explores how artists sought to defend the private nature of their social, sexual, and creative lives against the forces of publicity. In so doing, they set the groundwork for later attempts to navigate the shifting boundaries between private and public experience in the twenty-first century.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, Yale University  -  The Shade of Private Life: Privacy and the Press in Turn-of-the-Century American Art