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. 

Jessica Bardsley
Jessica Bardsley  |  Abstract
This dissertation traces uses and representations of water in post-1960s contemporary American art, focusing on instances in which water functions as a figure for a specific mode of convergence between ecological thought and artistic practice. The term “fluid materialism” is used to describe how artists have turned to water to temporalize matter and materialize time, setting in motion a distinctly ecological and process-based perspective on the world. These fluid materialisms are substantive artistic efforts to theorize and materialize interconnections between humans and nonhumans, and to grapple with spiritual, ethical, and environmental questions amidst climate change. Further, a deeper engagement with water and its fluidity in contemporary art opens up methodological possibilities, offering alternatives to conventional art historical periodization.

Doctoral Candidate, Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University  -  Fluid Materialisms in Contemporary Art, 1960s-Present

Sharrissa Iqbal
Sharrissa Iqbal  |  Abstract
In Helen Lundeberg, Mary Corse, and Frederick Eversley’s artistic practices, histories of astronomy, quantum physics, and astrophysical engineering both converge with and complicate existing art historical narratives of abstract painting and sculpture in Los Angeles. This dissertation examines Lundeberg, Corse, and Eversley’s explorations of space, light, and energy alongside the scientific theories influencing their work. Taken together, these case studies reveal how theories of modern physics prompted new modes of conceptualizing the subjectivity of human vision, experience, and knowledge through abstract form. Through the project’s interdisciplinary approach, abstraction emerges as a process of mediation between the realms of the conceptual and the material in both art and science.

Doctoral Candidate, Visual Studies, University of California, Irvine  -  Alternative Abstractions: Art and Science in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles

Jessica M. DiTillio
Jessica M. DiTillio  |  Abstract
Modern and contemporary American art contains abundant examples of visual parody, yet there is little analysis of this pervasive form. This project focuses on American artists of color who have used parody as a technique to generate new readings of art history. It examines parodies by Robert Colescott, Glenn Ligon, and Nao Bustamante to ponder questions of race, sexuality, authorship, and power. Reading these parodies in dialogue with the artworks they target, each chapter uses the dialogical structure of parody as a method for integrating the insights of contemporary art with the study of earlier periods of art history.

Doctoral Candidate, Art and Art History, University of Texas at Austin  -  After the Punchline: American Visual Parody since the 1970s as Generative Form

Brian T. Leahy
Brian T. Leahy  |  Abstract
This project examines the historical connections between corporate public relations (PR) and contemporary art and art institutions in the United States during and after conceptualism. It argues that the art world increasingly employed the tactics, principles, and media of PR between 1967 and 1990 to imagine—and produce—publics for contemporary art. By analyzing these PR practices in the context of period discourses on public art and the developing theoretical framework of postmodernism, this dissertation demonstrates that a careful attention to conflicting ideas and practices of “the public” yields new insights about the relationships between seemingly disparate threads of art-making. Throughout, artists’ works are foregrounded to better understand the challenges and opportunities this shifting media and institutional landscape presented for US-American artists working in these years.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Northwestern University  -  For Immediate Release: Public Relations and Contemporary Art in the United States, 1967–1990

Theresa Downing
Theresa Downing  |  Abstract
This dissertation investigates four fiber conditions—stain, fold, infestation, and accretion—present in the contemporary artwork and craft by artists Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Sonya Clark, Binh Danh, Ann Hamilton, Meryl McMaster, Rachel Meginnes, and Dread Scott, and compares these to historical fiber objects. By closely reading material traces in cotton, silk, horsehair, and paper as part of a dynamic ecology with affective power, this study demonstrates fiber's paradoxical vulnerability and affinity for its environment, and its ability to archive its past. Incorporating textile conservation terminology with new materialist, haptic, and affect theories, this interdisciplinary approach transcends the art-craft binary and reinserts racial, ethnic, and gendered human dimensions into fiber art histories. With fiber’s condition as a primary lens through which to understand and think critically about how people conceptualize their relation to the past, the artworks contribute to and question the definition of the American experience.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities  -  Traces: A Transhistorical Study of Fiber Ecologies in Contemporary Art

Cyle M. Metzger
Cyle M. Metzger  |  Abstract
“Deep Cuts” argues that works by Forrest Bess (1911-1977), Candy Darling (1944-1974), Greer Lankton (1958-1996), and Cassils (b. 1971) illuminate the history of gender transformation in the United States, exceed the definitions of gender that are prescribed within medical definitions of transsexuality, and produce alternative methods for shaping transgender bodies. Through direct engagement with objects made by these artists, their personal archives, and histories of sexual medicine in the United States, this dissertation is the first book-length project to address transgender history in postwar American art. By resisting anatomically determined gender categories in favor of more expansive approaches to gender in art and contemporary culture, it constructs a more capacious and accurate picture of gender in American art of the second half of the twentieth century.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Stanford University  -  Deep Cuts: Art and Transgender History in the United States

E. C. Feiss
E. C. Feiss  |  Abstract
This dissertation argues that the War on Poverty was a force traversing several seemingly segregated art worlds active in New York City in the years 1959-1973. African American and Latinx artists employed by community action agencies held sculpture classes in vacant lots in Harlem, utilized empty storefronts on the Lower East Side, and produced street performance with antipoverty’s constituencies. Many of these artists remain undocumented in the history of American art. Others, like the painter Norman Lewis, translated their distinguished practices into pedagogy as part of community action programming. Simultaneously, the emergence of happenings and artistic participation can be read alongside antipoverty’s occupation of urban space. The dissertation seeks to challenge existing narratives concerning the development of American art since the early 1960s by introducing an unrecognized catalyst and correspondent: the liberal state’s antipoverty program and its theories of art, civic participation, and community development.

Ellen Holtzman Fellow
Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of California, Berkeley  -  Maximum Feasible Participation: Art in the War on Poverty, 1959-1973

Talia Bess Shabtay
Talia Bess Shabtay  |  Abstract
This dissertation examines visual practice at the intersection of art and science in the United States during the early Cold War. It focuses on artists and scientists who utilized or invented new technologies for seeing the world beyond the limits of the unarmed human eye. From artist Berenice Abbott’s macro-photographic apparatus for Supersight to mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot’s use of early computer graphics to invent a new form of geometry, it looks at how machine-assisted seeing restructured vision in America during a cold and invisible war. In attending to the emergent interface between the human eye and the machine between 1946 and 1961, the project reframes twentieth-century art historical debates about opticality, scale, and the human body. Key analyses of photographs, design objects, and visual models offer a new set of terms for evaluating the nexus of mid-twentieth-century American art and American vision.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Northwestern University  -  Machine-Eyed Modern: Art, Science, and Visual Experience in Early Cold War America

Julia Fernandez
Julia Fernandez  |  Abstract
This dissertation takes a comparative temporal and geographical approach to analyze and compare the networks of Mexican graphic artists and collectives in the 1930s and 1940s with the Chicano graphic artists of the 1960s and 1970s, highlighting the influence of the Taller de Gráfica Popular. It traces the artistic networks created by Mexican and US artists who travelled across the border to collaborate. As specific case studies, it examines the influence of Mexican printmaking on graphic art in social movement newspapers and graphic experimental workshops in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, Theory, and Criticism, University of California, San Diego  -  Vanguardias Transnacionales: Reconciling the Local and the Global in Chicano Art

Jillian B. Vaum
Jillian B. Vaum  |  Abstract
By the time of the full abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865, visual culture had served as an arena to address the social upheaval of emancipation for more than half a century. The growing visibility of free African Americans in Northern antebellum cities prompted their frequent visual representation in genre paintings, minstrel shows, and printed caricatures. This project argues that unlike the generalizing impulse of these formats, portraiture enabled individual narratives and experiences to find rare pictorial expression. “Facing Freedom” places portraits by Charles Willson Peale, Thomas Waterman Wood, and William Sidney Mount in dialogue with a broader visual culture responding to emancipation to probe the limits of visualizing freedom between the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

Doctoral Candidate, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania  -  Facing Freedom: Tracing African American Emancipation in Antebellum Portraiture

Maya Harakawa
Maya Harakawa  |  Abstract
This dissertation reconceptualizes the artistic geography of postwar New York City to include Harlem—a neighborhood deeply rooted in African American and Puerto Rican culture. Art histories of 1960s New York focus almost exclusively on downtown, while histories of Harlem often overemphasize a declension narrative that portrays the neighborhood as the paradigmatic American ghetto. In contrast, this dissertation considers the fundamental role of artistic practice in defining Harlem’s vibrant political and social landscapes in the 1960s. By analyzing exhibitions, abstract painting, photography, and collective practice, this dissertation argues that African American and Puerto Rican artists challenged monolithic characterizations of Harlem as a national symbol of dispossession by grappling with the complexities of urban place and racial politics that defined one of the most turbulent decades in postwar American history.

Doctoral Candidate, Art History, City University of New York, The Graduate Center  -  After the Renaissance: Art and Harlem in the 1960s